A great song makes you want to dance. A sublime heartfelt moment in a movie can bring you to tears. We have all walked away from an incredible film or amazing concert feeling moved or inspired; the impact of the arts on an individual person is very easy to gauge based on our personal experiences. But how do we measure the impact of the arts as a whole on the greater community?

Modeled after popular “restaurant weeks” in many major metropolitan centers, Boston’s ArtWeek is an initiative that launched in 2013 with the goal to consolidate and highlight all of the great arts programming happening across the state. Since then, the movement has grown to over 600 events and experiences for the greater Massachusetts community. IVY sat down with Sue Dahling Sullivan, who serves as the Chief Strategic Officer for the Boch Center, who also serves as ArtWeek’s Lead Champion, to ask about the potential the arts have in building and shaping a community.

Sue Dahling Sullivan, Chief Strategic Officer of the Boch Center & ArtWeek’s Leading Champion

What was the need in the community that spurred the genesis of ArtWeek? 

Inspired by the popularity of Restaurant Week, we wondered – why isn’t there an ArtWeek? Americans for the Arts’ research confirmed that the public saw arts/culture as important to their lives, but National Endowment for the Arts’ findings are what informed what we now call “the ArtWeek twist” – people are looking for more learning-based, socially-oriented, and hands-on experiences. (More recently, LaPlaca Cohen’s Culture Track 2017 showed that the contemporary definition of arts and culture includes genre-bending ideas, memorable encounters, and cool learning experiences as well as community festivals, street art, and food/drink celebrations.) We also knew price and access remained barriers to widespread civic and cultural engagement. So ArtWeek started as a blank canvas just waiting for the color to be added! This year, ArtWeek will feature almost 600 unique hands-on, interactive, behind-the-scenes, and learning-based events – many free – over ten days, responding to these paradigm shifts by putting creativity center stage while making it affordable and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, no matter their socioeconomic status or geographic location.

What are some examples of concrete impact of the arts on the city of Boston and across Massachusetts that can you share with us? 

The power of arts, culture, and creativity never fail to amaze and inspire people so it isn’t surprising that ArtWeek’s statewide expansion has proven the ideal stage for cultural innovation and investment. Success stories include the reopening of a recently-closed 100 year-old-school with a 5-year lease as an arts center, a suburban mayor increasing his town’s arts programming budget, and four neighboring towns collaborating to make culture their connective thread. ArtWeek events have shined the creative spotlight on women’s rights, immigration, religious tolerance, cultural diversity, LGBTQ rights, climate change, and civic debate – all timely and relevant issues amplified using an arts lens. And with over 70% events free and 90% free or under $25, ArtWeek has made access and affordability a cornerstone so that everyone can explore their creative side while discovering the vitality of creative communities across the state.

Plymouth Harbor Lighthouse Cruise
2018 Plymouth Harbor Lighthouse Cruise, where attendees could paint, photograph, and sketch local lighthouses.

What are some of the experiences offered this year as part of ArtWeek? What are you personally most excited about this year? 

With almost 600 experiences to choose from, ArtWeek is like being a kid in a candy store and has become my favorite time of year. Budget-friendly, it is an amazing ten-day creative vacation where I discover new places and faces, learn new things, stretch my mind, and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Demos, workshops, panels, tours, classes, lessons, festivals, talkbacks, etc. … it is all there. And it happens in very cool places across the state. A Salvador Dali or James Audubon inspired dinner event? Pop-up performances along a bike trail or commuter train stops? Poetry Knock-down or Pakistani art/music bus event? Video game design or interior design inspiration? Bird decoy carving demo or launch of a jug band festival? Art-making on a historic boat tour or at an iconic lighthouse? VIP curator’s archive tour at a world-class museum or sculpture sanctuary tour including an 80-foot fire breathing dragon? Making music or making public art? If I could, I would do it all!

"Moses Supposes" Arts Fest Saturday
“Moses Supposes,” at Boston College Arts Festival; Saturday night on April 28th, 2018 (from left): BC bOp! singers Michael Lyons ’21 and Michael Mastellone ’18, Nicholson, Simoneau, Amanda Sackmaster ’18, Rowland, and Yates.

How have the arts changed the city of Boston and Massachusetts since the inception of ArtWeek? 

In 2013, ArtWeek Boston launched with just 28 interactive events thanks to the vision of the nonprofit Boch Center and the Highland Street Foundation. Since then, the city of Boston has started implementing its first cultural plan under the leadership of the Chief of Arts and Culture, a newly created position overseeing a robust department. This has fostered new funding for public art initiatives, creative placemaking projects, and creative economy investments. At the same time, ArtWeek’s popularity has exploded, fueling a 2018 statewide expansion that is already breaking records for 2019 (April 26 – May 5) with hundreds of events and unprecedented pro bono media support. Now recognized by Expedia, USA Today, and Forbes Travel as the “Bay State’s Most Creative Festival” and a “Top Annual Special Event” by the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, ArtWeek is positioning the power of culture alongside iconic celebrations like the Boston Marathon and Head of the Charles and helping to put creativity on the map.

What is the potential for the arts to build a stronger community?

Arts, culture, and creativity are the heart and soul of communities everywhere, but in today’s world, they struggle to be seen, heard, and experienced by the general population. This year’s explosive growth of 138 community partners (90% increase in one year) combined with new collaborations with groups like the Wonderfund (foster care children and families), young professional groups, and chambers of commerce, are proof that people want to support their individual creative communities as well as the larger cultural ecosystem. So it isn’t surprising that ArtWeek, as a multi-site experiential festival, has rapidly become a rising tide that is lifting all boats, sparking creativity in places, spaces, and faces across the state where people live, work, and play.

2018 Paint Your Pet Acrylic Paint Party; Painting by Lori Bradley

How does a strong arts and culture ecosystem support the economic health of the City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts? 

While embracing urban centers and gateway cities, small towns and rural communities, main streets and cultural districts, ArtWeek has helped make the social and economic benefits of culture available to everyone. It has directly spurred an increase in town arts budgets and cultural planning investments; put civic collaboration center stage as schools, government departments, cultural councils, and neighborhood chambers are starting to work together; inspired new arts walks and street festivals; and fostered new regional collaborations and intercity partnerships. Companion programs like Art of Food and Destination ArtWeek (including lodging offers) are luring curious adventurers to visit and explore, while Light Up the Night is an illuminating campaign that shines the light on how important arts, culture, and creativity is to the economic health of our communities.

What are the ways people can get involved with ArtWeek? 

The Number One way to get involved is to experience ArtWeek for yourself!  The calendar is now live, and you can discover hundreds of events ranging from Cape Cod to Cape Ann to the Berkshires, including almost 200 in Greater Boston. You are guaranteed to uncover something amazing during ArtWeek (April 26th – May 5th) so plan a day, a weekend, or even a mini-vacation and get inspired! Want some more ideas on how you can get creative?

  • Sign-up for our newsletter or follow us on social media so you get ArtWeek 2019 insider tips and early notice about ArtWeek 2020.
  • Introduce us to potential corporate sponsors who value innovation, creativity, and access for all … free festivals are really really hard to fund so we need investors of all kinds.
  • Spread the word! Maybe you know towns, organizations, restaurants, or groups that want to get involved OR you want to share the ArtWeek love with friends and family … our budget is tiny but our creative capital can be magnified with your help.
  • Are your creative juices flowing? Do you think ArtWeek is the next “First Night” or “Restaurant Week” phenomena that could become a nationally scaled creative celebration? Share your creative sparks with us at artweek@bochcenter.org!
  • ArtWeek is still looking to add Lodging Offers for #DestinationArtWeek! Learn more here and add yours by Friday, April 5th, 2019!

For more information follow ArtWeek on their socials here: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter