Jon Chesto’s Feb. 17 Business column, “They need to talk about downtown,” overlooks a crucial piece of the equation in drawing people back to downtown Boston: arts and culture.
Boston has consistently relied on the creative community to attract people to downtown and every other neighborhood of the city. From our annual First Night celebrations, to Now + There’s 2019 Augment and Joy Parade, to this month’s Lunar New Year celebrations at the Pao Arts Center, artists have always helped Bostonians engage with their city in new ways. The Boston Center for the Arts itself looks forward to welcoming back thousands at our annual Boston Art Book Fair in early November.
If Mayor Michelle Wu, business leaders, and others seek a partner in reigniting downtown Boston, the cultural community is it. An Americans for the Arts report notes that every visitor to a Boston arts and cultural event averages $30.26 in spending in neighboring businesses — specifically retail and restaurants. ArtsBoston’s 2019 Arts Factor notes that more than four times more people attended arts and cultural events than all major Boston sporting events combined.
But city and business leaders cannot take the arts sector for granted. The pandemic has only accelerated artist displacement and underemployment, as the peril Allston’s Sound Museum now faces shows. Storefronts, office buildings, and federal and city dollars could support a downtown renaissance — if the arts were a partner. But we cannot do that if our community isn’t at the planning table.
Emily Foster Day and Kristi Keefe
Boston Center for the Arts