Every two years since 1993, the Massachusetts Cultural Council has bestowed its Commonwealth Awards for "exceptional achievement in the arts, humanities, and sciences." The MCC has given dozens of those awards to recipients ranging from the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival to the Boston Cyberarts Festival, and from Yo-Yo Ma to Aerosmith. But it has never bestowed a media award until this year, when it announced two: for Emmy-winning WGBH television producer Jared Bowen, and the Phoenix
We're humbled to join the company of MCC recipients, who this year also include Worcester's EcoTarium (Art/Science Collaboration), Great Barrington's Community Access to the Arts (Access), the towns of Barnstable and Shelburne Falls (Creative Community), the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Creative Learning), Community Development Corp CEO Marvin Gilmore (Leadership), Neil and Jane Pappalardo (Cultural Philanthropy), and Olympia Dukakis (Achievement).
In singling out the Phoenix, the MCC said, "Covering the arts is the heart and soul of the Phoenix. . . . Over the years, as Boston's reputation as a world-class city grew, it was in no small measure due to the vibrancy and diversity of the arts. Like a double helix, the role of the Phoenix is interwoven in the DNA of the arts community." It continues:
The Phoenix has never been a passive institution, content to sit on the sidelines. From its earliest days, the Phoenix has been an active player on Boston's cultural stage.
It worked with the late Kevin White and Kathy Kane to bring film and performance to the city — first to Boston's neighborhoods with "Summerthing," and then Boston Common — and by doing so helped set a valuable precedent in the diffusion and democratization of the arts. Before Boston had a film community, the Phoenix joined with commercial interests and connoisseurs to start the Boston Film & Video Festival, which has since blossomed into several local film festivals. Through its initial support of BosTix, it has championed programs to bring discounted tickets to college students and the broader community, entered into thousands of partnerships with institutions of every stripe, and remains the go-to source for the city's internationally acclaimed music scene.
The Phoenix has advocated forcefully for taxpayer support for the arts — not just because of the sound economic benefits, but because the Phoenix has always believed that the arts have an intrinsic, undeniable benefit in and of themselves.
The Phoenix has stirred controversy, as it did when it stepped forward to sponsor the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the ICA when no other for-profit business would do so anywhere else in the country where the exhibit was shown. And its sense of social responsibility remains acute, as illustrated last year by its sponsorship of "Anonymous Boston," a collaborative, community-based gallery exhibit that took a tough look at the media's role in cycles of urban crime, and the effects of violence on victims' families.
As protean as the arts it covers, the Phoenix has changed shapes and sizes over the years, now appearing as weekly magazine with a growing presence online and in new formats, from web radio to social media to mobile apps. But while the look has changed and the mediums evolved, the values endure.
The Commonwealth Awards will be presented February 19 at the State House. For more info, visit massculturalcouncil.org