Opinion

Can Boston Pull Off An Art Revolution?

An aerial view of Boston from Cambridge (click to enlarge) (via)

The city of Boston is not generally known for its hopping art scene. Although it is home to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (which is the only publicly funded art university in the country), the patrician Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the picturesque Institute for Contemporary Arts the city cannot pretend to boast an art market that even holds a candle to that of New York, LA or Miami. A recent article by Paper Monument’s founding editor Dushko Petrovich in the Boston Globe proposes that the Boston art scene can bring something entirely different to the table than those acquisition driven hubs.

Petrovich suggests that Boston could become more of a European style art market which focuses not so much on consumption but rather on civic art programs thus fostering the discussion about art and the development of the careers of the burgeoning artists in the area. Boston has more universities per capita than any city in the country. We are home to MIT whose endowment and annual research expenditures are among the largest of any American university. One thing that we do well here in Boston is think. And talk about thinking. And think about talking. Why not think and talk about art and why not make it totally open and accessible to the public?

Another Hyperallergic contributor and Bostonian, Kyle Chayka addressed the city’s “Art Inferiority Complex” in a three-part series last month. Chayka spoke to Boston area artists, gallerists and museum employees to get a feel for the most common pain points and to gather input on some possible solutions. He notes that instead of flocking to the art fairs and galleries of New York, Bostonians should look within. “Buy local, consume local, and support local producers, and Boston’s seedbed for contemporary art might have a chance to bloom.”

Although Chayka nicely addresses the Boston art scene’s perspective on the Boston art scene, we don’t get an idea of how the Boston community as a whole can contribute to an art revolution. In the great art cities of the world every aspect of the city is permeated and infused with the art. If Boston is going to re-define itself as a cultural powerhouse the whole city needs to be behind the action. Petrovich proposes:

That alternative would be a community more on a European model, where universities, museums, and other public institutions — including the government, which can help with health care and rent stabilization — combine to encourage a different, less market-dependent approach to creating art.

It would be interesting to find out how the community outside of the Boston art world perceives how the city is doing culturally and how they could become involved to bolster the city’s artistic confidence.

For an artist coming out of school in the Boston area the ultimate goal is to become successful and that somehow involves New York. What can Boston do to change that paradigm? Boston doesn’t need to hold the Armory Fair II in order to become a contender in the world art community. As Chayka puts it, “this city’s scene sometimes looks a lot like a branch office of New York: understaffed, and passing on its best to the mothership.”

Beantown needs to step out from under NYC’s shadow and focus on their strong suits. Can Boston get out of its own way enough to start an art revolution?

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