Initial Response to Being a Member of the #BostonCreates Leadership Council

I just had a conference call with two of the consultants working on #BostonCreates. Below is a letter I send them earlier today with my initial thoughts on the Leadership Council, of which I have been chosen as a member. Meeting notes and next steps to follow.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dear David and Josiane:

Thank you for agreeing to speak with me today about Boston Creates. I am filled with a sense of energy, caution and commitment both as a member of the Leadership Council and the community at large during this process of assessing the role of the arts in our city and shaping our collaborative work going forward.

The Values of Boston Creates

As speakers shared during our first Council meeting last Monday, June 1, the values for Boston Creates include transparency and accountability, and I take these seriously. As a step towards holding myself up to these standards, I am sharing my experience on the Boston Creates Leadership Council on my public blog, including my application to be part of the council and this letter.

The Boston Creates values, as shared at the first Leadership Council meeting and first community Town Hall at English High School on Tuesday, June 2, are:

Diversity – Equity – Respect – Imagination – Innovation – Fun – Creativity – Access –

Accountability – Transparency – Collaboration

I approach my participation in this Council with both skepticism and hope. Many folks are skeptical of and cynical about government, and with reason, because government does not represent everyone, and systemic oppression silences, criminalizes and others many communities. As someone from a young community organization with a small budget, which cannot yet pay us two co-founders a salary, and often collaborating with artists who create beautiful and socially conscious work yet struggle to pay their bills, speaking up about proper representation is of utmost importance. Despite the myriad of struggles, I am also hopeful that this process could be transparent and inclusive and uplift the transformative work folks are already creating every day. I personally know and have collaborated with some of the leaders of this process and know they hold these values closely. Therefore, the values of Boston Creates must indeed be the pillar of this process for all of us involved.

Leadership Council Commitments and Expectations

After our first Council meeting, I feel that the current expectations of the Leadership Council are not enough. If we are to take advantage of the potential of this Council in ways that benefit our communities and ensure the Council is representative of all of Boston, our role cannot simply be symbolic and must be substantial and meaningful.

Our commitment thus far is to attend four meetings where we will review the research gathered during the summer months, “prioritize” the resulting action plan, and “vet and endorse” the final plan presented to the mayor.

Meeting dates:

  • Monday, June 1, 2014 (7-9a): Introduction to the Boston Creates process (was not mandatory because of short notice)
  • Tuesday, September 29 (8-10a): Look at research gathered over the summer by the 16 Community Teams
  • Tuesday, January 26, 2016 (8-10a): Comment on preliminary draft of Boston Creates plan & prioritize the action plan
  • Tuesday, March 29 (may be 28), 2016 (8-10a): Adopt and recommend a plan
  • June: Announcement of a plan for the mayor to sign

Four meetings, even with prior access to materials and time to read them, are not enough to comprehend the scope and depth of our city’s needs around the goals of Boston Creates.

During our first Council meeting last week, one of the speakers did mention these four meetings were the initial commitments and more might be added as needed. I do understand the intention of not wanting to place too many demands on a group of volunteers. However, this is too important. When our society at large already does not value the arts as vital and transformative, we can surely find a balance in our commitment to this Council to ensure meaningful contribution. I strongly urge that we add not only more meetings but also other ways to engage. If part of our role is to suggest priorities for the city to focus on and vet and endorse the plan, then we absolutely must participate at the grassroots level and be immersed in the process.

As is, these four meetings by themselves, with no other commitments, place the Leadership Council in its own silo because we are removed from the core part of Boston Creates: the community outreach and research process.

At our first meeting, we were encouraged to be involved and charged with the following roles, but without a system of accountability to clearly define and ensure our responsibilities:

  1. Ensure broad community engagement and representation within and across sectors
  2. Be a sounding board for policy recommendations, prioritize the actionable plan and edit
  3. Share this process with everyone in our networks and build capacity for implementation

At the first Town Hall, we were not asked if we were present in the room or to raise our hands (the Steering Committee and Community Team leaders were). Was it an oversight? Was it a decision not to announce to community members who the individual Leadership Council members were? Would it have been surprising if any of us actually attended? I recognized at least two people from our first Leadership Council meeting in the audience. There were definitely some of us there ready to participate in community.

Also, the Boston Creates website has as of today not yet been updated with the names of the Council members. We were told at our first meeting that our names would be shared publicly later that day. At the Town Hall, someone asked who the people are “vetting and endorsing” the plan. The answer vaguely referred to the Leadership Council members. Such an interaction between a community member and someone in a perceived position of power increases distrust for processes such as this one. Our names, affiliations and specific commitments must be available for all to see.

Privilege and Responsibility

As Leadership Council members, we have the city-appointed privilege of “vetting and endorsing” the final plan that the mayor will sign. Many council members represent the 5% (estimate from data shared at our first meeting) of local arts organizations with annual budgets of over $1 million. Therefore, we must recognize all our privileges and embody the values throughout the process and ensure we represent our community members. We must be deeply involved with what our community members are sharing: thoughts, needs, recommendations, frustrations, and hopes.

In the spirit of transparency, these are some of the privileges from which I benefit: white skin, legalized US citizenship, middle class upbringing, perceived elite higher education.

Proposed Ideas:

I propose the following as ways to help ensure that the participation of the Leadership Council fulfills the values of Boston Creates:

  • Leadership Council members attend a certain number of Community Team events during the research process (example: if there are 200 Community Team events, attend 5)
  • Pair Leadership Council members with Community Teams. There are 60 Council members and 16 Teams, which results in 3-4 Council members per Team.
  • Plan one or two informal get-togethers over the summer for Council members to get to know each other more (not all of us already know each other) and include break out conversations around the themes and specific community feedback emerging from the on-going research.
  • Council members vet the survey that will be distributed to the community as one of the test groups (I participated as one of 20 community members who test the survey at the Town Hall) to experience what questions are being asked.
  • Social media: Create a hashtag for Council members to post about #BostonCreates and for folks to follow our personal opinions. Share our Twitter handles publicly and enable ways for us to connect across other social media among ourselves. If relationships among members and between members and the community are transparent and encouraged, the Boston Creates process can only benefit.
  • The application completed by all Council members to be part of the Council shared publicly so that community members can read more about our backgrounds and hopes for this process. As a document sent to the City for review, it is already part of the public domain.

Thank you again for your kind attention. I look forward to our conversation today and continued work over the next 12 months.

Warmly,

Loreto P. Ansaldo

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