Mayor's Arts Task Force - Meeting #8 Notes
(as reported for the May 20, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting)

Mayor’s Arts Task Force Meeting #8 – Breakout Groups
Date: May 9th, 2019
Location: Workbar, Central Square
Meeting Start: 5:41pm

Members of the Task Force in attendance: Councillor Alanna Mallon, Chair; Liana Ascolese, Executive Assistant to the Task Force and aide to Councillor Mallon; Afiyah Harrigan, Mayor’s Office Liaison; Jero Nesson, Co-Founder of Artspace; David De Celis, Public Arts Commission; Peter DiMuro, Executive Director of the Dance Complex; Christopher Hope, Executive Director of the Loop Lab; Ellen Shakespear, Co-Founder of Spaceus; Kristina Latino, CEO of Cornersape; Kelly Sherman, visual artist; Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager; Khalil Mogassabi, Development Director and Chief Planner, Community Development Department; Eryn Johnson, Executive Director of the Community Art Center; James Pierre, visual artist; Geeta Pradhan, President and CEO of the Cambridge Community Foundation

Councllor Mallon opened the meeting with some points about housekeeping and explained how the breakout sessions and working groups would proceed. There are three outstanding topics before our last meeting next month, which will be centered around our recommendations going forward as well as topics the Task Force did not get to address. Tonight’s meeting will be about workshopping some of the conversations that are still unfinished and have been cut short.

Group #1 will be workshopping a new definition of public art and “buckets” for the funding that will be coming in from the 1% for art revenue from the Tobin School. 1% of the hard cost of construction will be roughly $2 million, so where will that funding be going? This working group should be establishing some guidelines.

Group #2 will be creating a budget for the additional funding commitments that the City has made. The City Manager and Deputy City Manager have agreed to additional funding for the arts in the form of 15% of the revenue taken in from hotel/motel taxes, which will be around $2 million. This group will have guidelines for existing deficiencies, funding goals and opportunities, and establishing benchmarks to evaluate effectiveness of funding. If we have the additional revenue, it needs to work for artists.

Group #3 will elaborate on our last conversation about the BID and Cultural District, which was an abbreviated conversation but yielded good feedback. This group should discuss whether we want to put together BID bylaws or a cultural compact bringing stakeholders together, and what that would look like. This group has an example from Melbourne, Australia of a cultural compact that brought all stakeholders together to ensure everyone was on board and codified best practices. This will be a continuation of Ms. Johnson’s breakout group from last meeting on the BID.

Councillor Mallon asked that everyone turn in their worksheets after so that we can collect notes on each breakout group’s work. Because of the common focus on funding and interest from members on both topics, breakout groups 1 and 2 combined.

Notes from breakout groups:

Group #1
The group had a discussion of what we are allowed to do with public dollars, because all funds allocated have to serve the public good and be publicly accessible. The group discussed the importance of asking who the definition of public art is for, especially if it’s for administrators who will be coming at it from a bureaucratic, not artistic, point of view. The group decided to list what they wanted funding to go toward, and then tackle the question of whether that funding would come from hotel/motel revenue or the Tobin School reconstruction.

The discussion turned to the funding of programmatic elements, rather than actual art itself:

The group also discussed broader themes, like the ways in which arts relate to equity. It is important to ask who the gatekeepers are and recognize that every person has the potential to be an artist. The City needs to create an atmosphere where art is a public good, so that we can make the case for funding individual artists themselves and not over-programming from the top. Art making is also not formalized, and there’s yet to be a conversation that has really focused on culture, and how for many, art is really about food, storytelling, religion, decorating, or festivals.

The group also discussed how we can loosen up programming, suggesting that the City could have dates and funding available, and artists could apply for grants to program the City or a space. The group also suggested that any of the programs above could be turned into pilots which could be evaluated to see if it’s something that is deserving of a greater investment.

To address the issue of equity and effectiveness of funding, the group suggested that the Task Force could continue on and become an adjudicator based on an equity rubric. Different benchmarks could include neighborhood and socioeconomic diversity, community engagement, and generating arts innovation.

Group #2
Group 2 discussed the overall mission of the BID, and the history of BIDs as tools of gentrification, and how to prevent that here in Cambridge. The people who are setting up the BID right now are extremely conscious about this issue, but we need to future proof the BID to ensure that it takes care of not only the arts community, but also all members of the community that gather in Central Square.

The group discussed ideas such as:

Groups came back together for a report-out

Ms. Ascolese gave a report-back for group #1. She stated that the group wanted to focus on art as a public good, so they did not want to be funding specific public art initiatives, but instead put more money in the hands of the creators themselves. She stated that in outlining what the group wanted funded, the theme was centered around more programmatic, educational, and community engagement elements than actual, physical art or performances.

She stated that the group discussed how arts can be involved in more City departments and no longer be siloed in its own department by starting an Artist in Residence program and using artists for creative problem solving in City government. She also stated the group’s suggestion for a “catch-all fund” that would allocate grants to different artists for pilot programs, which would be evaluated on a basis of inclusivity, community outreach, and arts innovation. If these programs resonated well with the community and made arts more equitable, they could be expanded and funded at a higher level.

Ms. Sherman added that to administer these grants, artists would need greater coordination with the City.

Ms. Pradhan stated that the group had also discussed the importance of culture and how art can be expressed differently throughout different cultures. We have not really had that conversation.

Ms. Sherman stated that the group also made a point that the City shouldn’t look at art as something to be consumed, but to foster creativity in all residents.

Mr. Hope stated that he hoped funding could also be used for long term art institutions and paid internships.

Ms. Shakespear reported back for group #2. She stated that the group had come up with four questions/suggestions that the BID steering committee or board should consider as it sets up for operation:

  1. How do we ensure that the BID has a conscience? The BID will be a 501c3 with a variety of interests, so how do we ensure representation among stakeholders?
  2. There needs to be clarification on the connection between the BID and Cultural District. Are they separate entities? Should we have overarching bylaws or is it more strategic to give the bylaws to one entity, and where would they have the most impact?
  3. What is the makeup of the BID’s board and how do we ensure that it is diverse, and has nonprofit, neighborhood, and artist representation?
  4. What is the physical presence of the BID? Can we have a space that’s an embodiment of the values of the BID? What does street level presence look like?

Councillor Mallon added that we all love Mr. Monestime, but that he might not b around forever, so we need to future proof these values.

Ms. Johnson stated that there always seems to be a tension between art and innovation/creativity, and newness vs. culture, history, and preservation. She asked if there’s a way to have both.

Councillor Mallon stated that a big reason why we’re doing the arts inventory is so that we’re not just throwing new revenue at new people.

Ms. Sherman stated that while looking through the budget, she saw that art is siloed, and made a list of departments where art could be more relevant and powerful if it was incorporated. That’s where she thinks innovation has a place in this process, to bring these line items together around art.

Ms. Pradhan agreed that innovation was the creation of new works, bringing formal arts and culture together.

Mr. DiMuro stated that the Dance Complex is facing challenges budget-wise due to giving to the community, and he can identify with Ms. Johnson’s concerns. He wanted to add that he will not be at June’s meeting due to traveling with his company, but thanked Councillor Mallon for letting him be a part of this group.

Councillor Mallon stated that the next meeting would hopefully be at IDEO, and it would be centered around moving forward on recommendations and things the task force didn’t get to talk about. Ms. Johnson asked to briefly talk about what’s next. Councillor Mallon stated that it’s important to ask where this work will live, and that she has some ideas that we can talk about and see what people feel good about. This has been a great way to bring together stakeholders and members have been creative and giving of their time, but there are different places where this work can live whether she is on the Council or not. She stated that she did think Council representation was important, because when she introduces orders she is bringing all the members of the task force with her. It’s important to have someone constantly thinking about the intersection of arts and government, where those opportunities exist, and how to bring them forward.

Mr. De Celis stated that he was thinking about Ms. Peterson’s first comment of having a tangible mission. He stated that he loves having meetings and leaving with things that can become policy, and for him it’s been the joy of getting things done and having the “proof in the pudding.” He wants the group to help to continue moving things in this direction.

Ms. Pradhan stated that the group has built a sense of community and common understanding, and that she thought it was a good idea to keep it as an advisory group, even if it’s informal, but she could support coming together 3-4 times per year.

Councillor Mallon stated that was a great point and she was sure that other thoughts would come out. She stated that she will be working on some policy orders for the short term that have come out of our meetings that the group can sign off on that will be well thought out, intentioned, and have 23 people behind them.

Meeting adjourned at 7:10pm.