September 22, 2013 | Richard G. Maloney and Jay A. Halfond | The Boston Herald
The Boston mayoral election provides residents with the chance to reflect on the opportunities, challenges, and prospects facing this great city. Boston has undergone many changes during Mayor Tom Menino’s two-decade tenure, adding to its long history of embracing both tradition and transformation. From Colonial roots in agriculture and trade to its emergence as a manufacturing center for textiles and shoes in the 19th century to its more recent reinvention as a hub for technology and innovation, Boston has redefined itself as often as times changed. But one thing has remained constant: Boston has maintained a powerful presence in the arts, higher education, health care, and other critical components of a strong civic culture.
Unfortunately, we often overlook the valuable role of the arts — and especially artists and arts administrators themselves — in helping make these successful transitions possible. Through their imagination and perseverance, these talented professionals establish and lead cultural institutions and businesses (as cultural entrepreneurs like designer Greg Segall of One Pica Inc.), employ their creativity and skills in the service of Boston’s most dynamic organizations (as organizational entrepreneurs such as Jason Weeks, executive director of the Cambridge Arts Council), and share their art and talents in ways that enhance community pride and improve the quality of life in Boston (as community catalysts like chalk artist Sidewalk Sam). What many do not fully appreciate is that these functions are vital to the future success of Boston.
As we move from an information to an innovation age, workers able to harness their creativity to develop new products and processes — and navigate a complex and volatile business environment — will play an increasingly vital role in our economy. A 2010 IBM study of more than 1,500 CEOs found that the most important factor for predicting future organizational success was their ability to infuse creativity throughout their organizations. Boston has more than its share of what urban scholar Richard Florida calls the “creative class.” He estimates that 42 percent of Boston’s workforce is employed in jobs that require creativity — second in the nation for metropolitan areas with more than one million residents. For Boston to enjoy continued success, however, city leaders must attract and retain workers who understand the creative process and have the skills and ability to incorporate creativity into the workplace.
Artists and arts administrators are comfortable with experimentation, trial and error, risk taking, and imagining possibilities. They understand that being creative is more perspiration than inspiration: Completing a challenging project has its inevitable setbacks and delayed gratification. Creative workers are accustomed to criticism and understand how to receive and use feedback. They start with a tabula rasa — and typically an open mind. And they are communicators who know how to connect with a wide variety of people through words, images, sounds, and symbols.
Where can we find these workers? Many future entrepreneurs, “intrepreneurs” and community catalysts are already here attending one of our many local fine arts and music colleges. Some discover they have an additional talent for organization and decide to tailor their education to use their creative skills in a managerial role.
The upcoming mayoral election provides Boston with an unprecedented opportunity to invest in Boston’s competitive advantage as a culture of creativity. Artists need better access to below-market-rate housing so they can remain in the area after graduation. Indifference only encourages our talented students to take their abilities to other cities. Community leaders need streamlined permitting processes and access to a stable amount of grant funding to establish and sustain innovative cultural events in their neighborhoods. Placing an artist in the new mayor’s cabinet would result in fresh thinking being brought to bear on a wide range of urban issues.
As the world grows increasingly more urban, the challenges our cities and towns face will grow as well. Metropolises will need to use all of their assets to maintain a vibrant quality of life and nurture conditions associated with economic growth. Boston, already the “Athens of America,” is well positioned to be where this happens best.
Richard G. Maloney is assistant director of Boston University’s Arts Administration graduate program. Jay A. Halfond is a professor at and the former dean of Boston University’s Metropolitan College.
Read the original article at BostonHerald.com.