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5 QUESTIONS: Feeding the soul


Julie Burros in her Boston City Hall office. Photo: Ryuji Suzuki.

What is your favorite spot in Boston? 
One thing I appreciate that is uniquely Boston — it lacks a grid. I walk around trying to navigate, and there is confusion: Streets change names halfway through. You catch a little glimpse of that. There are cobblestones and little lanes. There is a great sense of how everything looks and fits together. I am delighting in the feeling of a city that isn’t driven by a grid.

How does investment in arts and culture benefit Boston as a whole? 
It’s very different from investing in hedge funds or other economic mechanisms — it will benefit Boston in multifaceted ways. Research on the impact of funding for artists and arts organizations [shows] a positive impact on tourism and economic development, creative industries and education, the general culture of innovation in the city. One of the most important benefits is that it helps seed the ecosystem — arts and culture is the stuff that feeds people’s souls.

What elements are crucial to a successful cultural plan?
Assessment and analysis of what conditions exist in the landscape and the field. It also requires public and stakeholder engagement, which is the cornerstone of any cultural planning process. Then, there is a synthesis — pulling things together that reflect the goals of the people of Boston, the cultural community as well as the administration. Mayor Walsh has talked about wanting to make Boston a municipal arts leader. That’s a complex goal, but by establishing my role and initiating the plan, the mayor is creating greater visibility and beginning to put the proper resources in place.

How can the design community support your cultural planning efforts?
By being receptive to an interdisciplinary approach that embraces the role of arts and culture in the everyday lives of people and their experience of the civic realm. The ultimate collaborative approach would be to have artists on design teams at the earlier stages of all kinds of civic projects and public works. That is my dream. Beyond creating, say, a mosaic within a train station, maybe the artist on a transit project could be a dancer who is well versed on how to move people in the best possible ways. I’d ask the design community to remain open-minded, creative, and aspirational about a collaborative, interdisciplinary process.

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what piece of art would you take with you?
Here’s the thing: If I’m on a desert island, let’s just say any island, I’m going to assume that it is a physically beautiful place, so I’m not going to bring a piece of visual art with me. I would bring the collected works of Stephen Sondheim. I’ve been completely obsessed with it for a little while, listening to Sondheim all the time. I’d bring a solar-powered device so that I could listen to the music. If I had that with me, I don’t think I would ever feel alone.