Sunday, November 2, 2014

Farewell to Mayor Menino

An impromptu memorial downtown.

Tom Menino was often called the "Neighborhood Mayor" - and sometimes the "Re-development Mayor."

But I also wanted to note, on the day before he is finally laid to rest, that he was our Cultural Mayor as well.

Indeed, when I recall the Boston that existed in 1993, when Mr. Menino first assumed office, I'm staggered by the number of institutions that were - well - simply missing from our cultural map.

Back then, there was no Calderwood Pavilion, for instance - or Roberts Studio.

There was no renovated Cutler Majestic, or Paramount Theatre - or any ArtsEmerson venues at all.

The Opera House had yet to be refurbished, and Boston Ballet had yet to call it home.

The ICA was still in its constrained Back Bay digs rather than its striking new home on the waterfront.

And the MFA of course didn't have its grand new Art of the Americas wing.

I'm sure there are more examples - but the point is that only two decades ago, Boston was practically impoverished culturally; indeed, it was so impoverished it didn't realize it was impoverished.  That's how bad it was.

Now I don't mean to imply that Mayor Menino was the prime mover behind all these projects; nor do I mean to suggest that I agreed with everything he did (in fact he backed the demolition of one downtown theatre I hoped would be saved).

Still, all this happened on his watch.  In a million small ways, he supported and shepherded these new spaces for art and performance.

An official portrait.
So attention should be paid.

It has become almost a cliché now to bemoan the many ways that Boston hasn't advanced even further culturally - how we're still outclassed by Chicago, for instance, or how the Greenway has only slowly begun to stumble together as a public space.

But the next time you're tempted to do that - just think back twenty years.  And how the city has been transformed in that time.

The line on everyone's lips is that Tom Menino left Boston better than he found it.

But I'd say that goes double for the cultural scene - wouldn't you?

So rest in peace, Mayor Menino - and thank you.

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