Maria Jan Carreon and Gideon Bautista as children on their own.

Why Art Should Imitate the New America

National trends and demographic data shared by Dr. Manuel Pastor continue to resonate with the Boston arts community.

Weeks later, the sentiments of Dr. Manuel Pastor’s presentation on “Arts and a Changing Boston” are still reverberating in the arts community. Writer Spencer Shannon, who attended Dr. Pastor’s talk, pointed out a direct connection between the insights shared during Pastor’s visit this spring and current events in the Boston theater scene in her article “Being Real: A. Rey Pamatmat and the New American Identity” for the national theater commons HowlRound.

The jumping-off point for her piece came from the Boston premieres of two plays by A. Rey Pamatmat. Pamatmat, a Filipino-American playwright who grew up in rural Michigan, includes Filipino characters in nearly all of his plays because this truthfully reflects America and its people. The plays sparked a heated debate when an early review suggested that the race of the characters was not emphasized enough, and others pointed out that a character’s race does not need to be the centerpiece of a work. Shannon outlines the need for new American plays to reflect the changing America that Dr. Pastor’s demographic data highlighted; theatres should be producing stories that more accurately reflect the lives of Americans, most of whom, by 2040, will not be white.

In her assessment of the American theater scene, Shannon also echoed Dr. Pastor’s point that everyone should have a stake in the artistic and cultural life of a community. Art is a crucial part of how we see our world, allowing us to embrace and interpret our collective identity. Art connects us and inherent in this connection is the responsibility to include all voices. This is easier said than done, and missteps are common. Yet many arts organizations are doing good work to be more relevant to new audiences. In a recent blog post, both Lyric Stage Company Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos and Huntington Theatre Managing Director Michael Maso shared about progress in this vein. And we look forward to featuring more examples of arts organizations bringing effective practices to Boston.

In addition, the City of Boston is consciously trying to incorporate voices from all Boston neighborhoods in its cultural planning process, Boston Creates. Community conversations are in full swing across the city, providing a forum for people to weigh in on what should be Boston’s cultural priorities.

Dr. Pastor’s talk was timely for Barr as well. As the Foundation engages in its own planning efforts, we want to ensure that our thinking is sharpened by external perspectives like Dr. Pastor’s and that we are responsive to a changing region.

Read Spencer Shannon’s full essay on HowlRound

Read a recap of Dr. Manuel Pastor’s presentation

Download Dr. Manuel Pastor’s PowerPoint presentation

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Alexandra Juckno

Former Program Associate, Arts & Creativity