Boston Gets Its First Dedicated Arts Chief in 20 Years

The arts community is thrilled about the 'history-making appointment.'
Photo by Margaret Burdge

Photo by Margaret Burdge

Chicago is known for its thriving arts scene. And now, an integral part of that artistic ambition is coming to Boston.

Following through on promises he made during his campaign to become the first new leader of the city in two decades, Mayor Marty Walsh announced the appointment of Julie Burros as Boston’s first Chief of Arts and Culture in more than 20 years.

“I’ve said from day one that I want to elevate Boston’s arts and culture profile,” said Walsh in a statement. “During the campaign, I often heard about the need for the arts to be more integrated into the lives of residents and visitors. Julie will bring a fresh perspective and a strong foundation of expertise to envision Boston’s cultural future and execute a master plan for the arts.”

Burros, who currently serves as the director of cultural planning at Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, an organization that strives to enrich the city’s “artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy,” will step into her role here in Boston beginning in December.

Burros’ appointment follows a six-month national search headed by a hand-picked panel of experts for the perfect candidate to bolster Boston’s burgeoning arts scene, something Walsh has had a strong focus on since he first took office. The move answers the calls of local talents who had high hopes that the mayor would follow through with his commitment to creating the cabinet-level position.

“During the mayoral campaign, Walsh was the first candidate to pledge to hire a cabinet-level arts commissioner, and his fulfillment of that promise is truly groundbreaking,” said Matt Wilson, executive director of MASSCreative, the group that held a community forum prior to the mayoral election where Walsh made a promise about creating the role. “Boston has never reaped the benefits that can come with coordinated and strategic arts planning taking place hand in hand with other city priorities including education, public safety, and economic development. Other municipalities around the country, most notably Chicago, where Burros most recently worked…show what can be accomplished with a cabinet-level cultural officer working directly with the Mayor to build community.”

With a strong background in fusing planning, culture, and community development together, which was built up during her time in Chicago, Burros said she’s thrilled to bring her experience to the East Coast.

“Boston has great potential in the arts world, and this is a unique opportunity to examine all of Boston’s cultural assets and align them with Mayor Walsh’s vision to make arts and culture a key piece across all city departments,” she said.

Walsh said Burros has strong policy making and grant programming skills, which will be instrumental in establishing Boston as a must-visit city for cultural activities and outdoor, public art, as well as making it easier for artists to get permits to put on events.

In her new role, created by Walsh to focus solely on new opportunities for the arts community, Burros will lead a nine-member staff using a dedicated $1.3 million budget. She will also have oversight of the Boston Public Library system.

Officials in Chicago, while certainly sad to see her go, touted Burros’ commitment to the arts while working in the Windy City, and said she was “instrumental” in developing the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan, and engaging the public in the process.