“I’m not playing tonight, I promise you, ” quips Mayor Walsh off-mic, as surprised as the audience by the drumsticks that have landed in his hand. Walsh has just cut the ceremonial-ribbon on Berklee College of Music’s new 16-story dorm at 160 Mass Ave, the first the venerable music school has built from the ground up. It’s the sort of building that will attract the best and brightest—besides dorms the building houses practice rooms, recording studios and a state of the art dining room/performance space. But the question that kept nagging at me: how do we keep the best and brightest here in Boston after they’re done with school?
It’s no secret that Boston attracts top talent to its many institutions of higher learning. It’s also no secret that if you are one of the talented, educated folks you’re probably going to haul ass after graduation. New York, L.A., Chicago, Austin, Nashville—it doesn’t matter where they go, but Boston feels their absence. This is a city that attracts talent but it also hemorrhages intelligent, educated creatives at an alarming rate. Whether it’s visual art, music, or film, the city provides many resources for learning a craft but very few opportunities to, you know, actually launch a career.
As a city, state, and community we’ve done a lot to encourage the “innovation economy” —we’ve courted corporations, cut deals, bent over backwards to incubate start ups and coddle entrepreneurs—but we’ve been myopic in our vision of what “innovation” can be. “Innovation” isn’t just sweaty-palmed bros cranking out apps that can predict what your farts will smell like and doesn’t come solely from a computer. Innovation can happen in any medium—photos, painting, pan flute— and by excluding creatives from the “innovation economy” and sending them elsewhere to find work, we are depriving ourselves of cultural currency and the economic impact that it brings.
During Mayor Walsh’s speech he talked about expanding “STEM education to STEAM education,” throwing the arts right in the mix with science and math. Which is a fantastic idea. Too many people see arts and sciences as mutually exclusive pursuits. Too many art kids are told the can’t study science and too many science kids told they can’t study art, when in reality the two disciplines are intimately entwined. And when I talked to Berklee’s director of media relations Alan Bell he talked about the school’s desire to be a bigger part of the community and the plans to open up the dining room/performance space—or “cafetorium” as we called it in middle school— to the public for shows, which is also fantastic.
(Note: The cafetorium, designed by acoustic-architecture rock-stars Walters-Storyk Design Group, sounds great and has the potential to be one of the city’s premier rooms.)
But will a little bit of STEAM and a nice room be enough to stop the creative attrition? I doubt it. A concerted effort on the part of the city, the colleges, and the community to preserve and grow this resource is needed. But before that we need to have a discussion about how we can provide the infrastructure and support, be it social or economic, necessary for fostering true creative innovation. There is certainly no easy solution—the attrition isn’t just caused by high rent and house-show busting cops. And there very well may be no solution at all, but with a city full of talented, educated, and creative people I’m sure we can come up with something.
Editors Note: We were please to stumble across this video shared by the Howard Art Project in which curator and educator Maggie Cavallo presents to classmates at Harvard graduate school of education problems in the artistic infrastructure of Boston, specifically in the contemporary art communities.