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Boston AIR 2020: Can Artists Change the City?

BOSTON Artists-in-Residence

The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture invites artists working in all disciplines to submit qualifications to join a year-long cohort of Artists-in-Residence. 

Artists-in-Residence implement projects that imagine and test new approaches to City of Boston policies, processes, and procedures with the help of various City of Boston departments. This, in turn, helps to create a stronger and more equitable city. -Mayor Martin J. Walsh

Release:  Thursday December 19, 2019
Webinar:  Wednesday January 8, 2020 6pm est; please view here

Written Question Deadline: Thursday January 10, 2020, 5 pm est; view responses here

Application Deadline:  Wednesday January 22, 2020 5pm est

Funding: $30,000 and up to $10,000 in additional materials funding

Eligibility: Experienced artists, cultural practitioners, and/or cultural workers, aged 18 and over, working in any and all media are encouraged to apply. Full-time City of Boston employees, artists who have previously led a Boston AIR-funded project, and recipients of the Artist Fellowship Award are not eligible for consideration. 


Boston Artists-in-Residence (AIR) is an artist residency program in which a multidisciplinary cohort of artists collaborate with a parallel cohort of City of Boston partners to explore, critique, and re-imagine City initiatives at the intersection of civil service, social justice, and artistic practice. 

Civic practice projects are researched, co-designed, and implemented during the residency. While the projects are artist-driven, artists will develop their proposals over the course of their residency with a partnering City staff member and City department to collaboratively imagine and test new approaches to City of Boston policies, processes, and procedures that speak to existing issues and/or questions in that department. Artists will then share their residency work with the public through facilitated workshops, public presentations, community engagement, storytelling, and written reports.

Boston AIR has evolved over the course of four years. Core learnings from previous years of the residency program are embedded into the values of this year, including: examining City policies with a lens of resilience and racial equity (year 3); valuing proximity to people by pursuing an understanding of the impact of local government policy on the lived experience of Bostonians (year 2); and supporting collaborative and democratic creation of City policy, process, and practice (year 1).

City Partners

As part of their application, artists will express ranked interest in departments with which they would like to partner for their residency. Upon selection, artists will be matched with a City staff member who will participate in project research and design, support proposal development, and think through possible scalability of the project. 

Partnering City of Boston Departments:

  • Mayor's Housing Innovation Lab
  • Mayor's Commission for Persons with Disabilities
  • Office of Emergency Management
  • Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC): Violence Intervention & Prevention Initiative and Early Childhood Mental Health: Mental Health Awareness and Destigmatization
  • Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services
  • Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement
  • Mayor's Office of Women's Advancement

Recent plans and reports about these departments’ existing challenges, goals, and potential for collaboration are available at Boston.gov. Artists are encouraged to read about departments that they are interested in to inform their application to the residency program.


Program Outcomes

While Boston AIR seeks to connect and foster a collective of creative Bostonians, in and out of City Hall, there are three distinct areas of desired outcomes for the program:

Outcomes for Artists: Increase the ability of Boston artists to design and lead socially engaged and impactful projects by providing a diverse cohort of thought partners, workshops with subject matter experts, and knowledge of municipal work.

Outcomes for City Government: Increase capacity for City departments and employees to take risks, be creative, and think holistically about the design and success of City policies and initiatives. 

Outcomes for Boston: The City of Boston expands its integration of creativity and participation into municipal work, deepening our collective understanding of what it means to be resilient and equitable and creating new approaches, policies, or procedures by which Boston can become a better city for every resident.


As members of the Boston AIR cohort, participating artists will be required to meet program milestones, participate in cohort meetings and workshops, and have access to a variety of resources. These resources include but are not limited to:

  • An extended opportunity to learn about the internal mechanism of City government
  • Access to City Hall offices for project research and collaboration
  • A peer group of artists 
  • A diverse audience from across the city
  • Dedicated office space/desk in a City of Boston department
  • Mentorship with past Boston Artists-in-Residence
  • Feedback from an advisory committee of art leaders
  • Paid access to the Arts Equity Summit

The artists will also be responsible for the following requirements:

  • A commitment of 15 hours each week to their residency
  • Attendance at program orientation sessions and two monthly meetings
  • At least two public presentations
  • Submission of monthly reports, periodic progress updates, and budget outlines
  • Regular availability for internal check-ins with the AIR leadership team
  • Punctual submission of Boston AIR project drafts and final proposal

The City reserves the right to terminate any residencies for an inability to follow the above conditions.


In total, artists’ awards are $30,000 artist fee and up to $10,000 for project materials. The artist fee and project budget include all expenses associated with insurance, labor, materials, contracted services, meetings, and travel required to complete the project through implementation. Any subcontractors required by the artist must be compensated out of the project budget. Any expense that exceeds this amount would be the artist’s responsibility, unless negotiated otherwise.

Please keep in mind that the City of Boston requires general liability insurance coverage for contractors to protect both the City and the contractor. Depending on the proposed project, artists may also be responsible for obtaining appropriate City permissions. 

City of Boston Orientation 

Artists must attend an orientation to Boston City Hall to better equip them for the upcoming year. During orientation artists will be given introductory sessions on City Hall agencies and civic and social practice pedagogy. Concurrently, City partners will receive orientation on the arts, incoming artists-in-residence, and previous Boston Artists-in-Residence projects. Orientation will provide context for the artists and their partners to begin the research and development phase of the residency. 

Cohort meetings and workshops

During the residency, artists will attend cohort meetings twice per month at the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. Over the course of the year, the cohort will attend workshops with artists working locally and nationally in the realm of civic and social practice art. Attendance at these workshops ensures that each artist is equipped with the proper skill-set needed to thrive in their artistry and that the cohort can serve as thought partners to each other’s AIR projects and experiences. Some of these workshops may be shared with other artist cohorts, Boston Artists-in-Residence alumnae, and City partners providing access to an even greater network for conversations around the intersection of civic media, social practice, equity, and resilience.  

As often as possible, workshops will be scheduled to align with monthly meetings; however, workshops may take place on some evenings and weekends. 

Advisory Committee and AIR Mentors

An advisory committee will participate in artist selection, review project proposals, advise the cohort halfway through the residency project, and will be invited to attend artist presentations. AIR Mentors will lead workshops with the cohort, attend events, and be available for advisory discussions at multiple points within residency. Committee members include:

  • John Andress - Bill T. Jones Director/Curator of Performing Arts at ICA, Boston 
  • Theo Tyson - Polly Thayer Starr Fellow in American Art and Culture at The Boston Athenæum
  • Leah Triplett Harrington - Assistant Curator at Now + There 
  • Rhea Vedro - Director of Community Engagement at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Rashin Fahandej - Boston Artists-in-Residence mentor
  • Karen Young - Boston Artists-in-Residence mentor
  • Shaw Pong Liu - Boston Artists-in-Residence mentor


December 19, 2019 RFQ Released

January 8, 2020, 6 p.m. EST Webinar; details will be posted at Boston.gov/bostonair

January 10, 2020, 5 p.m. EST Written question deadline; email BostonAIR@Boston.gov; responses posted here

January 22, 2020 5 p.m. EST Application deadline

February 2020 Artist selection and contracting

March 2020 Orientation and residency commencement

March-April 2020 Research

April 24-April 26, 2020 Arts Equity Summit

May-June 2020 Proposal draft development

July-December 2020 Project implementation and public presentation

January-February 2021 Project final reporting and public presentation

  • Boston AIR will be one year in length, with a two month research and development period. 
  • Artists will attend cohort meetings twice per month at the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. 
  • Project proposals must be reviewed and approved by program leadership before put in action in the residency. 
  • Artist fee awarded and paid in scheduled installments to artists upon reaching project milestones and fulfilling program requirements.

Fluidity of Residency

Applicants must understand that residencies are fluid and dynamic entities that are subject to change.  Artists should be incorporating feedback from City partners and the AIR leadership team when applicable. Boston AIR holds the right to make amendments to the structure, timeline, and content of each artist's residency.

Selection Process and Criteria

A committee of local arts leaders and Boston Artists-in-Residence mentors will conduct a first review of artist submissions using the criteria listed below. City officials will then review applications for compatibility with partnering departments. Top artists will then be invited to attend in-person interviews and submit references. The final artist cohort will include a mix of artistic disciplines and experience.

Selection criteria:

  • Artist’s body of work shows a strong, clear artistic vision. 
  • Artist has experience and expressed interest in collaborative creative work. 
  • Artist has demonstrated organizational experience. 
  • Artist has firsthand knowledge of cultures and communities in the city of Boston.
  • Artist’s body of work demonstrates interest in social justice, resilience, and racial equity.
  • Artist’s body of work or area of interest aligns with identified City of Boston departments and/or policy areas.


Please apply here after creating an account profile.

Please Note:

  • Artists should not submit proposals at this stage.
  • We are only accepting electronic submissions.

Please send questions to Karin Goodfellow, Director of the Boston Art Commission and Boston AIR, at BostonAIR@boston.gov. All questions must be submitted by email by Thursday January 10, 2020, 5 pm est with subject line “BostonAIR questions.” Answers to questions will be posted at Boston.gov/bostonair by January 15, 2020. You can also view the responses here.

You can view the webinar here.


 By submitting an application, the applicant assures that all copyright holders have consented to the submission and use of all media files by the City of Boston. This includes the use of the images in the following forms: multimedia, print or digital publications, presentations, or an online archive.

The City of Boston reserves the right to alter any aspect of the selection process or overall project in any way for its own convenience at any time. This Request for Qualifications does not constitute either an expressed or implied contract and these provisions are subject to change. By submitting an application, the applicant assures that all copyright holders have consented to the submission and use of all media files by the City of Boston.  This includes the use of the images in the following forms: multimedia, print or digital publications, presentations, or an online archive.

The City of Boston requires insurance coverage in place for contractors to protect both the City and the contractor. Your work may possibly qualify for adjustments to or a waiver of certain insurance requirements, depending on the project risk, and insurance cost relative to your financial circumstances. Artists may apply for a waiver of the insurance requirement. The request to waive certain requirements should identify the specific adjustment/waiver being requested, specific financial information regarding the cost of coverage relative to your financial situation and need for the coverage for the work proposed. Determining factors will include how the proposed art or design project will be displayed, performed, and if it’s installation or deinstallation of the proposed project requires the use of additional employees, contractors, subcontractors or volunteers beyond the lead artist. 


In 2015 Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Boston Creates, a 10 year cultural plan for the City of Boston. The goals of Boston Creates are encompassed within its five core areas of focus: 

  1. to create fertile ground for a vibrant and sustainable arts and culture ecosystem to keep artists in Boston and attract new ones here, 
  2. to recognize and support artists’ essential contribution to creating and maintaining a thriving, healthy, and innovative city, 
  3. to cultivate a city where all cultural traditions and expressions are respected, promoted, and equitably resourced, and where opportunities to engage with arts and culture are accessible to all, 
  4. to integrate arts and culture into all aspects of civic life, inspiring all Bostonians to value, practice, and reap the benefits of creativity in their individual lives and in their communities, and 
  5. to mobilize likely and unlikely partners, collaborating across institutions and sectors, to generate excitement about, and demand and resources for, Boston’s arts and culture sector.   

Out of this cultural initiative grew Boston AIR, a program dedicated to furthering the integration of the arts and culture in all aspects of civic life through civic practice, intrinsically tied to social justice movements and policy change through its historical role in activism. For the past four years, Boston AIR has been exploring this concept, working to enliven and support the efforts of City departments to better serve Boston communities, through the inclusion of artists as conduits for local issues of civic and social practice. 

In the fall of 2015, three artists completed residency projects over the course of the year in partnership with City departments. For the second year of Boston AIR in 2016, ten artists were stationed at Boston Centers for Youth and Families across Boston. Boston AIR’s intentionally diverse collective of artists, rich in varied experiences and skills, reflects the eclectic composition of Boston neighborhoods. The first two years of Boston AIR included visual artists, writers, a sculptor, a graphic novelist, a violinist, a percussionist, painters, and others. 

During the most recent year of Boston AIR, seven artists worked with City partners, local organizations, and community centers. All artists applied a lens of resilience and racial equity to their projects. Some worked alongside a City partner and co-designed a program with community members to understand policy impact on a personal level, others took a more objective or critical role and created artwork based on their research. 

To date, Boston AIR has supported the evolution of multimedia projects from 20 diverse artists. From a dancer addressing the impact of climate change on marginalized communities to a documentarian addressing mass incarceration through fathers’ lullabies, artists have used their residencies to examine how art can be a medium for bolstering positive outcomes, exposing inefficiencies, and possibly shifting systems to create more equitable communities.

Through Boston AIR, artists have been supported as agents of reflection, collaboration, and activism, whether through process-oriented practice, direct community engagement, or as leaders of system-wide change projects. As engaged citizens, leading thinkers, and change-makers in our community, Artists are shaping our community. 

We use Submittable to accept and review our submissions.