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Jameson Johnson is Boston Art Review's first executive director. Photo by Bountheng Tanakhone.
Jameson Johnson is Boston Art Review's first executive director. Photo by Bountheng Tanakhone.

The Boston Art Review’s founder becomes its first executive director

In a city where artists get less attention as the metro news media has contracted, the Boston Art Review is committed to uplifting their work and providing a space for discourse on art events and exhibits in Boston.

“I certainly didn’t know anything about Boston’s art scene when I moved here. But involving myself in the art spaces here was a really big part of my college experience.” says Jameson Johnson, the BAR’s first recently appointed executive director.

Johnson, a first-generation college student, first started the BAR in her sophomore year at Northeastern. During her time at her “co-op” (a Northeastern “educational program in which students alternate periods of academic study in the classroom with periods of full-time … employment in positions related to their academic and/or career interests”) in Los Angeles she was exposed to many different arts publications that contributed to that city’s art scene, which made her wonder what was missing from Boston. 

“And so when I first thought of the idea, I wanted to create a platform that could provide information about where things like opening receptions or artists talks or exhibitions or cool pop-up projects were happening,” she said. 

Getting the idea off the ground took a few years, as Johnson’s biggest barrier was money, but despite this, she would use her work-study money and a credit-card loan to fund expenses for the new publication. 

“I think in other fields, if you want to start a venture, you start with the money first and then you make the idea. And for me, it was more about the idea and just getting something, anything off the ground.” she said. 

Jameson Johnson is Boston Art Review's first executive director. Photo by Bountheng Tanakhone.

Four years into producing the publication, the BAR received its first major grant funding from the Visionary Art Initiatives in Art Fund in 2021—though it continued to rely on a team of volunteer editors.

“That’s really been the magic behind Boston Art Review … there’s been an incredible community of people who have also seen the value of this work,” said Johnson. 

Over the years as the BAR grew, it became a formal nonprofit, and developed its first strategic plan outlining goals for three and five years down the line. The first order of business was finding a way to pay Johnson. 

“The growth of the publication and of the organization was really limited when I was only able to spend my late-night hours working on this project.” she said.

Thanks to a multi-year grant from the Wagner Foundation earlier this year, Johnson was able to step out of volunteer editor-in-chief position and into the role of an executive director with a full-time salary. 

Though her title has changed, her responsibilities remain more or less the same at the BAR

“I still am doing almost everything for the publication, whether it’s going to the post office or taking out the trash or meeting with the printer, to all the high-level work.” she explained. 

Moving forward, Johnson has many plans to ensure the BAR’s success and long-term sustainability. 

“The things that we’re thinking about right now are how we can expand our audiences  and our revenue. And those two things kind of go hand in hand.” she said. 

Through flagship and partnership work the team plans to make sure that the BAR is supporting the arts ecosystem beyond just coverage and information sharing.

The publication recently kicked off a new writing fellowship program to support college-aged students in the area and give them resources and tools to learn about how to write about art, and soon plans to work with Boston highschoolers through a partnership with Teens in Print—a program that gives “students the tools to share their experiences and perspectives through writing.” 

Beyond connecting teens and young adults with Boston’s art scene, the BAR is also planning to highlight work from neighboring states, to serve more readers across New England. 

“And so, part of our goal with Boston Art Review is to shine a flashlight on our region’s art scene to go, like, look, like, stuff is happening here. You just don’t know about it,” Johnson concluded.

This article was produced for HorizonMass, the independent, student-driven, news outlet of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and is syndicated by BINJ’s MassWire news service.

Sofia Waldron (she/her) is a HorizonMass reporter. She is a student at Emerson College studying Journalism. In addition to her love of journalism, Waldron is interested in photography, music, art, and travel.

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