Metro, Politics

Through Joyce Linehan, Local Artists Find A Voice At City Hall

Joyce Linehan Never Wanted To Be In Politics, But Now She Is Integrating The Arts Into A Range Of City Policies

Joyce Linehan had known mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, for years, sure, had helped make support for the arts community a key part of his campaign, and had been firmly involved as a co-chair of the mayoral transition team after his victorious 2013 election—but becoming a part of his administration was something else, and she told Boston Magazine that she had no intention of joining Walsh at City Hall.

The Dorchester native had never thought she would pursue politics as any kind of career, preferring to work at her successful PR company Ashmont Media, which was heavily involved with local arts organizations. Public service was not on her mind.

But a few weeks before the inauguration, Walsh asked her if she would consider taking on a role in his administration anyway.

“And when someone asks you to do something like that, you can’t refuse,” Linehan said. “Especially in a situation where—in municipal government—you’re so close to the ground that you actually get to see change happen really quickly, which is fantastic … I really didn’t have a choice, I don’t think.”

She became his chief of policy—what she calls “the best job in the world.”

In Linehan’s eyes, Walsh has been making strides to support the arts since his inauguration—but he made his most high-profile move regarding the arts community just last week, when, after a national search that began in March, he appointed Julie Burros, the current director of cultural planning in Chicago, to be Boston’s chief of arts and culture—she will begin her role in December.

In appointing Burros, Walsh fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a Cabinet-level arts commissioner—the first Boston has known in years, as the arts had been handled through the Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events during Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration.

“I think she’ll have a great impact when she gets here in December,” said Linehan, who led a committee in its search for Burros.

Until that time, however, Linehan remains the most influential supporter of the arts community at City Hall. As chief of policy, she works across all departments in the mayoral administration, often finding ways to fit the arts into policy decisions that might otherwise not consider them. When Linehan learned that the Boston Celtics would be working to promote a White House initiative called “My Brother’s Keeper” designed to help close the opportunity gap for young black and latino males, she saw an opening.

Linehan recognized this as an inherently good thing, but she also knew that not every kid plays basketball. Alongside Walsh, Linehan brought representatives from the Berklee College of Music and other artists to act as mentors through the White House initiative.

Indeed, Linehan firmly supports the idea that the arts can be crucial at all levels of education.

“I don’t know how many more studies we need to see that say that kids who are exposed to the arts at an early age are better critical thinkers and just tend to do better in school as they go on through their careers,” she said.

In trying to integrate the arts into other policy areas, Linehan looks beyond only those issues that are related to economic development, choosing to focus instead on issues related to artist housing—designed to keep artists in the city—and the retention of Boston’s youth, including recent college graduates.

“I think that the arts are very much tied in with the late night world—music and dance—all of the things that happen in a city that young people are attracted to,” she said. “There is definitely a tie between talent retention and strengthening the arts in the community.”

Since Walsh’s inauguration, his administration has been known as friendlier to youth culture in the city, marked by the mayor’s support for an MBTA late-night transit program, which launched in March, and later hours for Boston’s bars, which were rejected by city lawmakers in June.

After years as a leader in the arts community, Linehan is finally finding her chance to effect change through government policy—and she feels right at home, especially in light of political gridlock at the federal level.

“Mayors are the ones who are actually changing the world and driving policy,” Linehan said. “How could you refuse to be part of that if you’re asked to?”

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

October 2, 2014