The Greenway as Case Study for Supporting Arts & Culture in Boston
By: Greenway Conservancy Executive Director Jesse Brackenbury
The Greenway Conservancy’s reliance on donations and grants to support our award-winning public productions—from the Janet Echelman sculpture to the murals on the Greenway Wall to dance performances—has become a successful model for funding the arts in Boston.
A major discussion is underway about how Boston and the Commonwealth should support arts and culture. The Boston Foundation released a report that showed that Boston trails other cities in funding for the arts. The City of Boston has run a year-long cultural planning process, Boston Creates, which has sparked a serious discussion of how to fund arts and culture efforts. At the state level, there has been significant back-and-forth about the merits of a “percent for art” program to provide government funding for public art.
Amidst this debate, the Greenway Conservancy has played a major role in commissioning and presenting major public art. We declared “temporary” and “contemporary” as the cornerstones of our public art strategy and we commissioned the award-winning 70’x76’ Os Gemeos mural on the Greenway Wall at Dewey Square in 2012. We’ve hired a full-time public art curator and presented cultural programming amidst our 300 free annual events: Berklee Concerts, the FIGMENT participatory art festival, movie screenings, and more. 2015 was a banner year for arts and culture on The Greenway. Most prominently, the Janet Echelman aerial sculpture—300’ in diameter, 350’ in the air, and attached to 3 buildings—was a monumental undertaking that was widely celebrated. The Boston Globe‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee called it “the most galvanizing piece of public sculpture in Boston in living memory” and Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham said “it reflects the kind of courageous, free-spirited vision for the city that many have been longing for forever.” We also presented four works as part of the Design Biennial Boston. Kyu Seok Oh’s Wandering Sheep, named one of the country’s best pieces of public art by Americans for the Arts, kicked off a new curation in Chinatown Park in 2015. Recently, we commissioned Lawrence Weiner, an instrumental figure in conceptual art, for A TRANSLATION FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER on the Greenway Wall. New programming partnerships with the Boston Ballet and Celebrity Series brought dance to the park. Our 2016 exhibitions include pieces from Ai Weiwei, Matthew Hoffman, Don Kennell, and others; the Bay State Banner celebrated the Ai Weiwei exhibit, saying that “Boston lives and breathes around the artwork. Children play in the fountain and do cartwheels on the grass. Food trucks serve hungry teens and families browse the local food and craft stands.”
We fund public art and cultural programming entirely through donations, grants, and earned revenues. Massachusetts Department of Transportation funds never pay for arts or programming – they are restricted to maintenance and horticultural care of the state land. We are grateful for major 2015 art support from The Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation; the Lynch Foundation; Autodesk; Anonymous; and ArtPlace America. We also benefitted in 2015 from additional arts funding from The National Endowment for the Arts; The Fund for the Arts, a public art program of the New England Foundation for the Arts; Robert and Doris Gordon; Radian; lumenpulse; Berkeley Investments; Kevin and Julie Callaghan; Eaton Vance; Robert Beal; Bank of America; Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau; Fort Point Operations Channel Operations Board, including Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs, John S. and Cynthia L. Reed Foundation; The Evans Family Foundation; the Massachusetts Cultural Council; and the Boston Cultural Council.
In-kind legal, marketing, and other arts support was provided by Goulston & Storrs; KHJ Brand Activation; InterContinental Hotel Boston; Boston Globe; CBS WBZ-TV; Improper Bostonian; WBUR; Art New England; Julian Tryba Photography; Above Summit; MassPort; MBTA; and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. Our efforts would not have been possible without collaboration from MassDOT and Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the City of Boston. We also owe special thanks for significant dedicated grant support for public art received recently from The Barr Foundation and The Boston Foundation.
We’re happy that the Mayor is leading a robust conversation about how to make Boston “an arts leader at every single level” and delighted that the donations and grants the Greenway Conservancy solicits are contributing to this vision.