I made this statement to the Burlington City Council on January 12, 2015.
I’m here to make a couple comments about how the city could make smarter and fairer plans for supporting the arts with its annual taxpayer-funded budget for that of more than $700,000.
I work with creative people of all generations and artistic passions. Our city should be unleashing their joy with the riches it dedicates to the arts, but I have found sadness, disappointment, and fear in discussions about BCA that range from issues of personality conflicts with leadership to a sense of victimization. These conversations and my own disappointments with choices made by BCA leadership led to thinking about what the problem was.
I came to understand that BCA, unlike other city departments, doesn’t have a commission or any version of a public, transparent path for citizens to become candidates to help BCA decide about which arts it serves. I found BCA meetings hadn’t been warned by City Hall for years; that agendas and minutes weren’t posted, making participation by the public impossible in practical terms. There was no regular public forum on the agenda, no constituent services or contact information offered by the board, no ombudsman. I learned that the charter language that defines BCA sets it on course to compete directly with the arts community we assumed it should be serving as an arts office.
Change is needed to bring disenfranchised voices into the conversations about how the city supports the arts. All the stockpiled issues with BCA could be addressed constructively from within, with genuine representation and a supportive, community spirit.
A petition to create an arts commission was active for four days and gathered 350 signatures. The BCA director told me that a campaign was being prepared in response, in which “people could get hurt.” A moderated meeting with the BCA director resulted in an agreement for each of us to advocate for a plan to create a transparent process to fill some of BCA’s self-generating 21 board seats. I took down the petition and spoke at the next PACC meeting to celebrate our cooperation, but the director backtracked from her commitment without letting me know she’d made the decision to. My good faith was entirely misspent.
Little to no faith is left that the director of BCA is capable of creating this positive change. Trust is wrecked, and the quality of BCA’s private management of the city’s annual investment in the arts is being questioned by the artists it doesn’t serve. It’s your job to fix that, and my hope, on behalf of myself and the many artists who would gladly speak with each of you, is that we can be done identifying the problems and move on to fixing them.