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Building on a big year for arts and culture in Boston

2021 was a big year for us in the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture!

As we move forward into 2022, it's important that we look back on the past year. Here are a few of our proudest moments:

Continuing to support COVID-19 recovery

We know just how much Boston’s arts sector has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. This year, we spent a lot of time thinking about how we can best support the artists, creatives, cultural practitioners, and organizations that make up the city’s arts community. We started by partnering with The Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation to provide $450,000 in COVID-19 relief funding to 17 local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) arts and culture organizations. We also convened these grantees to learn more about the needs of organizations founded, led by, and serving communities of color to thrive in the Greater Boston area.

Grantee OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center
Arts and Culture COVID-19 Relief Fund grantee OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center

Our support for arts organizations continued when we made more than $3 million in funding available to local arts organizations through our recurring Boston Cultural Council grants and Reopen Creative Boston, a new initiative funded by the American Rescue Plan Act that aims to support arts and culture organizations that need financial support to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 and reopen their offerings to the public.

In addition to arts organizations, we were also aware of the needs of individual artists and creative workers this year. We were so happy to be able to fund all of the remaining eligible applications from Boston-based artists who applied for the Artist Relief Fund in 2020. And on top of that, we relaunched the Opportunity Fund! We just recently raised grant amounts and shifted our funding priorities to focus on individuals that belong to geographic and identity-based communities most impacted by COVID-19.

Bringing more public art into neighborhoods that is reflective of communities

The city saw a vast array of murals, sculptures, installations, and activations pop up in neighborhoods throughout the entire city this past year. One of the biggest public art achievements of the year was that we allocated $750,000 in funding for mural projects at 10 sites across nine neighborhoods and awarded over $320,000 in grants to 27 short-term public art projects and activations as part of the Transformative Public Art Program.

"Together" mural by Mz. Icar
"Together" mural by Mz. Icar, created as part of the Transformative Public Art Program.

Projects included Mz Icar’s mural “Together”, a colorful love letter that serves as a reminder that we are connected, valuable, and on a journey, and Alex Cook’s mural series that includes one with the message "you are loved", all at the Engagement Center in Newmarket.

We also saw some huge milestones in long-term public art projects. We installed Boston’s first long-term artwork to be funded by the City’s Percent for Art Program, “Wythe & Web” by Matthew Hinçman in Jamaica Plain, a sculptural intervention that responds directly to the community’s desire for artwork that embraces the neighborhood’s identity and “keeps JP weird”.

JP public art project
Ribbon cutting for “Wythe & Web” by Matthew Hinçman in Jamaica Plain.

And artist Joe Wardwell’s project at the Roxbury Branch in collaboration with poet Nakia Hill and youth from 826 Boston’s Youth Literary Advisory Board, a colorful, layered installation of poetry and Roxbury landscapes on three walls in the building, began installation and will be completely installed this month.

In addition to the big projects, we also paid 83 artists to paint utility boxes through the PaintBox program. You might see one on your way to work, or while taking a walk in your neighborhood!

Seeing artists’ projects come to life through RIRJ

Through our Radical Imagination for Racial Justice (RIRJ) pilot program in partnership with MassArt, we awarded 16 grants at the end of 2020 to BIPOC artists imagining racially just futures in and with their community. There were so many amazing artists who developed great projects through the program this year, including: 

  • Husain Rizvi, an MIT student studying Urban Planning and Comparative Media Studies who created “Games for Justice,” a summer program for Boston-area BIPOC teens to learn game design and create video games in an equitable environment.
  • Duo Adobo-Fish-Sauce (Anthony Febo and Ricky Orng) who led “Recipes for Racial Justice”, a project where they conducted virtual workshops with “poet-chefs” to help them create their own recipes that communicate their cultural identity through food and spoken word. 
  • Lily Xie, whose multimedia project "Washing" (洗作) highlighted the embodied effects of community power, urban design, and environmental racism in Boston's Chinatown and weaves together oral histories, iPhone videos, sound recordings, and performance art in response to the legacies of the I-93 and I-90 highways. 
  • Musician Fabiola Méndez, whose project “Negrura,” in collaboration with Monica Cohen and The Boom House Productions, is a storytelling project about the Afro-Latinx community in Boston’s Latin Quarter. The finished product was a documentary that will be publicly screened soon!

Lily Xie's project "Washing"
RIRJ artist Lily Xie's project "Washing" (洗作).

Supporting Boston’s cultural spaces

Significant efforts have been made over the past year to protect, preserve, and grow Boston’s cultural spaces. A proud moment for us was definitely the designation of the Little Saigon Cultural District, and receiving a $75,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the district. We look forward to continuing to work with the district in the coming year!

Little Saigon cultural district
Walking tour of Little Saigon cultural district.

We developed a guide for supporting cultural spaces in the city, with specific ideas and models for action that can be used going forward. We’re continuing to move forward with placekeeping as a priority in our work.

We also had an exciting opportunity come out of our office this year, where we launched a Request for Proposals for an Indigenous Public Art and Cultural Spaces consultant to work with us over the course of two years. They will be working alongside our team to inform the City of Boston's public art commissioning program and governmental approaches to art, property, and land in Boston. More details about this are coming soon — so stay tuned!

Celebrating the power of poetry

Our Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola and Youth Poet Laureate Alondra Bobadilla played an instrumental role in uplifting Bostonians and bringing communities together despite the uncertainty and hardships that were experienced by so many throughout the past year. 

Roxbury Poetry Festival
Roxbury Poetry Festival.

Through virtual workshops and readings, including the HOME poetry series, they celebrated local poets while also giving residents of all backgrounds and experience levels the opportunity to express themselves creatively through written and spoken word. And we were so happy to be able to come together in person to celebrate the inaugural Roxbury Poetry Festival and Alondra’s launch of her debut collection of poetry!

Alondra Bobadilla book launch
Boston Youth Poet Laureate Alondra Bobadilla reading from her debut collection of poetry, "With Clipped Wings".

This work is continuing, and we’re excited to announce Boston’s new Youth Poet Laureate this month.

Embedding artists and creative workers in City departments

Our fourth cohort of Boston Artists-in-Residence (Boston AIR) continued the work they began in 2020 to help City departments reimagine policies and processes in creative ways. This resulted in five distinct projects that aimed to improve the wellbeing of Boston residents and create positive change within City systems.

Boston AIR final event
Boston AIR final event.

One project that we’re looking forward to continuing is the mural to celebrate the life and legacy of Rita Hester in the Allston neighborhood. This mural was proposed by Boston Artist-in-Residence Golden, and we’re currently in the artist selection phase of the process.

You can read more about each of the former Artists-in-Residence and their projects.


We’re eager to see what 2022 has in store for us, and are ready to keep working toward a stronger, more equitable arts ecosystem in Boston! 

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