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City council to vote on approving over $2 million in grants to fund local arts

mural in brookline
A public mural next to Zaftigs Delicatessen in Brookline. The Boston City Council will vote Thursday to approve over $2 million in grants to be used by the Office of Arts and Culture to fund local arts initiatives aimed at the South End. ANH NGUYEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

If the docket is approved, Boston’s Office of Arts and Culture could distribute a total of $2,051,903 for the Boston Cultural Fund to help financially support cultural spaces, artists, organizations, programs and events in the South End.

The matter will be decided in a virtual meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, where members of the public are invited to offer written or live testimony. 

Mayor Kim Janey sponsored the issue, and it was referred to the Committee on Arts, Culture, Tourism, and Special Events in April. 

The meeting to approve the Boston Cultural Fund grant is preceded by Janey’s Sept. 1 announcement of over $3 million worth of grant applications to support the arts and the new “Reopen Creative Boston:” a program through the American Rescue Plan specific to helping arts and cultural organizations recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

“The arts are necessary for both our city’s financial recovery and healing those impacted by the pandemic through creative self-expression,” Janey was quoted saying in a press release. “I am committed to investing in the local organizations that make up our diverse arts community.”

Director and cinematographer within the Greater Boston Artist Collective Elisa Garcia said she feels the Arts community typically faces a lack of financial support.

“I just feel like there’s not a lot of aid,” Garcia said. “For my team, I feel like we’re always looking to either raise funds or apply to grants … and we were successful with a couple, but it’s never a lot of money to push for advanced projects and then also really pay yourselves.”

She also expressed her hope that the city’s arts grants initiatives “will create more projects with more money to be able to pay people correctly.”

Garcia added she also hopes the new grant will encourage more respect for the work that people put into making art.  

Alexander Ciesielski, gallery director at The Guild of Boston Artists —  a nonprofit art gallery on Newbury St. that showcases the work of local artists and aims to educate the community — said the $2 million docket seems like a “fantastic initiative” for the city to invest in arts and culture organizations that are often neglected. 

He said the Guild received assistance from the Cultural Facilities Fund by the Mass Cultural Council and from the city’s Community Preservation Act to preserve and maintain their historic building.

“Especially over the course of COVID and reduced sales, reduced donations, we have found refuge, a bit, in the city and state funding that was available to non-profit arts organizations throughout the pandemic,” he said.

Ciesielski said that the $2 million fund on the docket for Thursday could particularly help arts organizations that are part of marginalized and underrepresented communities succeed. 

“Those organizations have the opportunity, with these grants, to really set up a foundation that could allow for greater integration, greater inclusion and benefit the community by filling in those areas that have in the past been underrepresented here in Boston,” he said. “This is a fantastic initiative.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic put work on pause, Garcia said she used the time to finish projects and progress more in her artistic career — even with less money available. 

“I actually feel very grateful to the fact that I’m an artist because during this time I was able to dedicate to myself and what I would like to be doing and creating every day,” she said. 

Garcia encourages Bostonians to immerse themselves in the local arts communities because artists, in her experience, can especially be a guide for students. 

“Personally, I would love for college students to come out more and enjoy themselves around other people who do art for a living and have been navigating the world,” she said. “It’s pretty life-changing, for me, it has been.” 

Ciesielski described the arts as a means for people to connect with despite their differences. He added that the funding for the grant could provide many people with new opportunities to experience art.

“In terms of community identity, in terms of being introduced to the arts, potentially for the first time, and again, having access to that universal language, the value of the programs and the value of these organizations that are providing free access to the arts really cannot be overstated,” he said. 

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