Julie Burros hails from one of the nation's most famously dynamic and active public arts and programming cities, Chicago. She joined earlier this year as Boston's first-ever Chief of Arts and Culture, appointed by Mayor Martin Walsh to spearhead a cultural plan for Boston and oversee arts and culture for the city moving forward. Burros's cultural plan for Chicago yielded the year-round programming of music festivals, crafts markets, food fests, book fairs, and ubiquitous public sculpture that is the envy of every American city. There is no precedent for the role Burros now holds in Boston, but one thing is clear—this city stands to gain a lot from her expertise in developing and implementing cultural planning.
Sasaki principal Gina Ford, ASLA, met Julie last year when traveling to the Windy City to oversee the redesign of the Chicago Riverwalk and welcomed Burros to Boston by sitting down to talk about Burros's initial thoughts on her new post and new home.
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," says Burros in ArchitectureBoston's spring 2015 issue.
Available exclusively on the Sasaki blog, read on for an extended conversation between Gina and Julie. This bonus transcript features an in-depth discussion about how social media is reshaping the ways in which people think about and participate in the arts.
How do you see new technology affecting the planning process and engagement with the arts?
I haven't read a lot of good analyses on how social media and digital engagement are changing how people do or don't participate in arts and culture. Is the digital engagement an enhancement of socialization or is it a substitute? I don't really know; I haven't seen the numbers. What I do know is that the National Endowment for the Arts has for many years commissioned research on participation in the arts. And in this last iteration, for the first time ever, it has acknowledged the digital consumption of arts and culture. They are starting to track things like downloading music and listening online, so it is being recognized formally as a way of consuming arts and culture.
I joined Twitter when we started the [Chicago] Cultural Plan, definitely driven by the need for exposure where people are. Of all the things we did for cultural planning, the ones that really gained the most traction were Facebook and Twitter. We tried all the different channels—it is a super rapidly evolving landscape and we've been talking internally about those platforms for engagement. Do you go where people are? Or do you drive people to some new engagement tool? Do the existing platforms have the analytics to gather up the information you want?
Anthony Flint wrote in CityLab that the success of Boston's new Lawn on D is evidenced by the "selfies" people are taking. All of a sudden, we are evaluating how public space is performing based on social media.
You have to be careful about the selfie as a measure of cultural engagement. (This is the first time I've uttered all those words together!) Is that really an impactful cultural experience? I just discovered, on Congress Street, that there is a Holocaust memorial. You would never take a selfie there; it's not even that much of a visual experience. But it is a meaningful and deep experience—you take the time and soak it up. For certain things, your cultural engagement is not selfie-friendly.
I wonder if we are going to look back in six months and think selfies are the most ridiculous. It is kind of funny that you have to think about it as visual engagement and the transmitting of that experience on social media. It's a new frontier for sure. I feel like we are at the absolute tip of understanding what it really means, and it is changing so fast. We were doing analytics for cultural planning, measuring exposure and hits. If you've ever downloaded analytics for your Facebook page, you've seen the workbook of data that you download. It's so much stuff! There is tab after tab of it, column after column. And it's like, what is all this stuff? And what is the right number?
I check my Twitter analytics all the time. Even if my analytics are good, what does that mean? What are people really hearing?
You've got to figure out what this stuff is. And to figure it out, you have to sign up. So, a while ago, I had signed up for Clout (an online service that measures connections and influence). I got an email from Clout immediately. It said: "Your Clout score went up." And I said, "oh, duh." It was really funny.
To access the full dialogue on subjects like the reasons for investing in Boston's arts and Burros's favorite spot in town, head toArchitectureBoston's online issue.
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