On Saturday Aug 1, Boston Creates hosted 17 concurrent community conversations in order to drive discussion on the city’s cultural planning process. I attended the Roxbury conversation held at Hibernian Hall.
The event began with performing artist and teacher Ramona Lisa Alexander taking the reins focusing on what it is to admire and appreciate about Roxbury. With the majority of participants being Roxbury residents, the answers ranged from the friendly people to the open environment or the smorgasbord of diversity within the community. There were people from all branches of life there, not just artists; photographers, doctors, a florist, and an entrepreneur all added to the solidarity in the room.
Julie Burrows, the head of the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, was introduced by Alexander and discussed the purpose of the conversation: “[So] arts can be on the table in the discussion of improving the life of the people of Boston.” She closed by saying that there were common threads of uniqueness found in each community, while noting the value of having a specific discussion in Roxbury and the other areas. She also announced that the final cultural plan would be released in June 2016, and quoted Mayor Marty Walsh: “When we elevate the arts, the arts elevate all of us.”
The next part of the event let participants suggest ways to improve Roxbury and offer opinions on key features of the city.
Hibernian Hall, Dudley Library, Dudley Station, the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA), and Franklin Park were all included in the list of places that people of Boston should know about (and if you don’t and care about the arts or your greater community, you should start Googling now).
Suggestions to improve the creation of art in the community included more studio, recording, and living spaces for artists, along with having artists become more involved with local schools and promoting the arts among the younger crowd. Additionally, there was a segment highlighting local figures to know about, past and present, including founder of the NCAAA Elma Lewis and Boston composer Donal Fox.
The last two questions went hand in hand with one another. “What do you want to be different in Boston?” and “What role should the arts play in Boston?” Answers ranged from better and cheaper education to more street art, and making the process for getting space permits more convenient and accessible to the average citizen.
Once the questions were asked and the suggestions were given, we split into three different groups for our final activity of the day. Our goal was to take a public space or well known festival in Roxbury and imagine how it would look 200 years from now. While everyone chose different events, there was a common theme in each one: optimism.
Malcolm X Park would become a bastion for everyone who needed it 200 years from now, the Roxbury Heritage State Park would keep the history and culture of the city alive, and the NCAAA would rise to the same level as the MFA where unique artistic experiences would be in abundance for those who sought it.
This small conversation symbolized much more than just a two-hour discussion on the arts. It was a sign that the arts have a true place in the future of Boston, and that as long as people keep caring for them, the arts would only grow more prominent as a community concern all across the Hub.