News & Updates

Summary of Performing Arts Facility Assessment

Jul 12, 2017

On July 12, 2017, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) released a draft Performing Arts Facilities Assessment that aims to understand the current and anticipated venue challenges of local performing arts organizations in Boston. The release of the draft kicked off a 30-day comment period and the public is encouraged to review the assessment and submit feedback on

The BPDA commissioned this assessment in response to a strategy in the City’s Boston Creates plan, which states that the City of Boston must support the availability, affordability and sustainability of cultural spaces and facilities for arts and cultural organizations of all sizes in Boston.

TDC, a nonprofit management consulting and research firm, was engaged to conduct the study in partnership with the BPDA and the Mayor’s Office.

A summary of the draft is below. The full draft assessment is available here.

  1. Methodology
Data collection took place primarily during the first half of 2016. 190 space users and 45 space providers were surveyed. In addition, interviews were conducted with 23 field leaders.

  1. What is the demand for spaces that serve the performing arts in Greater Boston?
There is unmet demand. Many artists and arts organizations are searching for additional or different rehearsal and/or performance spaces.
  • What do organizations/individuals look for in a performing space?
    • Appropriateness (i.e. production and audience amenities, audience capacity, and layout of the space)
    • Price
    • Location/accessibility
However, because these three rarely align, compromises have to be made.
  • This leads to a number of concerns:
    • The cost of renting space is seen as constraining across user types and sizes
    • Current space arrangement can be potentially damaging to users (i.e. costs and restrictive contracts)
    • Additional staff needs are further stressing budgets
    • Space booking cycles can hinder artistic planning
      • Boston space providers are unwilling to commit to booking dates more than 12 to 18 months in the future, when many in-demand artists require booking two to five years in advance.
    • For some art forms, Boston has few adequate venues (e.g. dance, opera, ballet)
In summary, the overarching concern of study participants is that they believe the current space
restrictions have negatively impacted their art.

  1. What is the supply of spaces that serve the performing arts in Greater Boston?
There is excess supply. Certain types and sizes of performing arts spaces have availability for rehearsals and/or performances.
  • The broadest view of the landscape resulted in 184 distinct providers of rehearsal and performance space
    • Highest number of providers are cultural centers or religious institutions
  • Nearly half of the rehearsal spaces are fully booked or nearly fully booked.
  • Pricing varied notably within and between provider groups. Variation in pricing at this level, especially among similar spaces, suggests that supply and demand are out of balance.
  • The primary concern we heard from providers is that they require additional revenue and capital to adequately support their operations.
  1. How well do supply and demand align?
The findings described suggest misaligned supply and demand. Space users seek appropriately sized, specialized spaces with high levels of amenities. However, they often do not exist; if they do, users can rarely afford rent equal to the operating, capital, and financing costs of those spaces. Space providers are struggling to support even the operating costs of their current spaces given the rental rates that users seem able to bear, and significant amenity upgrades are out of reach. All of this results in an ecosystem with excess supply that does not meet demand for reasons of space appropriateness, price, and location.

  1. Achieving Solutions
  • Potential Solutions Include:
    • The opportunity presented by an agreement between the Seaport Square development and the City, which calls for the creation of a large arts and culture complex
    • Thoughtfully repurposing Boston’s grand yet less-used spaces
      • E.g. the privately-owned Wang Theatre, the city-owned Strand Theatre
    • Rethinking how some of Boston’s legacy assets are deployed
      • E.g. facility-based cultural centers, such as the Boston Center for the Arts
        and Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, could be better equipped and more open to serving the needs of local arts communities.
      • E.g. Huntington Theater Company’s renovation of its venue on Huntington Avenue is intended to provide new spaces for the Huntington and for the broader performing arts community.
    • The creation of a new supply of rehearsal and performance space by organizations undertaking capital projects
    • However, in order to achieve these solutions, we first need to develop new tools for:
      • Enhancing partnerships between developers, the City, and the local arts community
      • Stimulating new sources of funding in a philanthropic community
      • Developing funding mechanisms that provide ongoing support
      • Ensuring that any new spaces are operated effectively

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