"Other regions commit more resources to arts and culture than [Boston does]," wrote the report's authors. "New York and San Francisco have found ways to invest many millions of dollars into their cultural economies. Even Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Charlotte make larger investments in cultural sectors that are smaller than Boston's."
Ann McQueen, the study's coordinator, editor, and now a principal at McQueen Philanthropic, found the report concerning. "It really showed quite starkly that Boston did not have the kind of support from city or state agencies that other cities have," she says.
So what's changed since 2003?
In 2007, the Foundation revisited the arts and culture sector and found that the city's smaller arts and culture organizations were still struggling to keep their doors open. And even now, nearly 10 years after the 2003 report, Boston's artists are hard-pressed to find funding opportunities and other resources offered by the City of Boston.
HISTORICAL BIAS Ann McQueen coordinated a 2003 report that found Boston's "culture of philanthropy" weak in comparison to a city like Pittsburgh.
And that's where the problem gets cultural — and deeply, historically so. As a counterexample, McQueen cites Pittsburgh as a city of similar population to Boston with a much more robust system of support. Pittsburgh industrialists like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie — art patrons themselves — established long-term endowments, while, McQueen notes, "Boston didn't have the same kind of culture of philanthropy." Rather than establish lasting foundations dedicated to the betterment of the city through a wide variety of initiatives, pools of individual donors "gave generously to build Symphony Hall, for example, and create the symphony orchestra."
Despite a small network of dynamic spaces like Aviary and UForge in Jamaica Plain, or BSA Space, Boston continues to have a reputation for overvaluing, well-funding, and elevating established institutions — like the symphony, the MFA, ICA, or the Gardner Museum — and more traditional artistic genres, such as fine art derived from European traditions, while undervaluing more contemporary, or "non-traditional" ones, like street-art-inspired work, experimental performance, multimedia, or traditionally non-Western art forms.
One possible theory for the cultural disconnect is related to Boston's historic emphasis on academic institutions and research. "Boston is so known as being this land of rigorous testing before anything happens," Neelon says.
"Everything has to be a statistic and provable and evidence and empirical," says Perry. As the saying goes, "money talks," and what Boston's money says cuts deep for artists like Neelon and Perry, both of whom cite Boston as a place that feels almost "anti-new" in its cultural identity, which has an impact on the type of collector Boston attracts, as well as where the city's public funding goes and what private dollars invest in. This speaks in part to why Boston's institutions have little trouble raising money, while its more envelope-pushing artists struggle to find funding, gallery space, and local buyers.