Mayor's Arts Task Force - Meeting Notes

First meeting of the Mayor's Arts Task Force
Date: October 11th, 2018
Location: Workbar, 45 Prospect St. - Central Square
Meeting Start: 5:37pm
Meeting Adjourned: 7:33pm

In attendance as members of the Task Force were: Alanna Mallon, Chair; Liana Ascolese, Aide to Councillor Mallon; Afiyah Harrigan, Mayor's Office Liaison; Sarah Gallop, Government and Community Relations at MIT; Geeta Pradhan, CEO of the Cambridge Community Foundation; Jero Nesson, founder of ArtSpace, Inc., former Brickbottom Gallery; Kelly Sherman, visual artist and innovation consultant; Michael Monestime, Executive Director of the Central Square Business Association; Ben Simon, Musician at the former EMF and Cambridge Arts Coalition; Khalil Mogassabi, Deputy Director and Chief Planner, CDD; 'Folakemi Alalade, visual artist, MatriArts; David DeCelis, architect and Public Art Commission: Martha MacKenna, Director of the Creative Commons at Lesley University; Eryn Johnson, Executive Director of the Community Arts Center; James Pierre, visual artist and public art coordinator at the Community Arts Center; Jason Weeks, Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council; Robert Reardon, Office of Budget and Finance; Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager; attending via Skype was Olivia D'Ambrosio, Director of the Bridge Repertory Theater.

Invited as a Guest Speaker was Greg Laikos, Communications Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Members of the Public in attendance were: Robert Goss, Alex Lemski, Joseph Stohlman, Jesse Moore, and Luis Cotto.

The meeting was audio recorded by a member of the public.

Handouts used at the meeting are attached.

Mayor Marc McGovern was present for the start of the meeting to welcome and thank everyone for their letters of interest. He congratulated those who were chosen for the task force and thanked Councillor Mallon for her willingness to lead it and pushing the agenda of arts and the artist community. Arts are extremely important to the fabric of our community because it's getting harder for artists to live and work in the City. This task force will explore how to support people doing this work. The Mayor spoke briefly and left to lead a town hall on LGBTQ youth issues in the City. He introduced his liaison, Afiyah Harrigan.

Councillor Mallon called the meeting to order at 5:37pm and made an opening statement. She stated that artists are asked to volunteer their time and crafts more than most, so thank you for volunteering for this task force. She stated that this work began with Councillor Simmons's arts plan for the City last term. Councillor Mallon also welcomed our guest speaker from the Mass Cultural Council, Greg Laikos, who will be presenting a strategic plan as well as statewide perspective on how public policy can positively affect arts and culture in Massachusetts.

Councillor Mallon stated that this is a subject near and dear to her heart, and hopes the task force will address issues of affordable studio space, frustrations over a general lack of funding, permitting and licensing, the need for more creative placemaking, questions about the cultural district, and the lack of equity in public art. She stated we need to implement both short and long-term solutions. She stated that the economic impact of arts in Cambridge is huge, with the industry expenditures at $174M annually in Cambridge alone, while the national median for cities our size is far less at $35M, making it clear that we need to figure out how to effectively invest in people who are creating and making art in our community. She stated that she has enjoyed speaking to every task force member on the phone about what they will be bringing and hope to see on the task force. She stated that all of the meetings will be outside City Hall, as it is not a welcoming, comfortable, or creative place. She asked that people speak up because we do not have microphones, and that members of the public are welcome to attend meetings but since there will be no time for public comment, please take a card and send our office an email with any thoughts, feedback, or questions.

Councillor Mallon moved that her aide, Liana Ascolese, be appointed as Executive Assistant to the task force. The vote took place with all in favor, no oppositions, and no abstentions.

Councillor Mallon concluded her remarks by saying that everyone has an agenda handout with all future meeting dates and topics. Because so many members brought up the issue of race and equity over the phone, the City has hired Malia Lazu at The Urban Labs to dedicate next meeting's discussion to exploring how race and equity will affect the charge of the task force over the next nine months. She reminded everyone that the next meeting will be on November 8th at Spaceus in Harvard Square at 20 Brattle St, and that members will be receiving materials prior to our conversation with Malia.

Members of the Task Force went around the table for introductions.

Afiyah Harrigan stated that she was the Mayor's Office liaison and would be reporting back to Mayor McGovern.

Sarah Gallop stated that she serves as the Director of Government and Community Relations for MIT. MIT has the first private percent for art program in the country and she stated that they want to be a partner with arts and the City.

Greg Laikos introduced himself as the Communications Director for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the State agency supporting STEAM through grants, initiatives, and services.

Geeta Pradhan stated that she is the President of the Cambridge Community Fund, a local giving platform supporting culture and social prosperity. She stated that Cambridge is a creative city, arts foster innovation, and we need to make art accessible to everyone in the City. We need to not just consume but create art, and she expressed interested in the Foundation partnering with Central Square.

Jero Nesson gave his background in urban planning and adapting old buildings for reuse into artist-owned live/work spaces such as Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville. He has spent his career working with artists to develop studio space around surplus buildings, and is also the founder and President of ArtSpace, Inc.

Kelly Sherman stated that she trained at MassArt in sculpture and text-based art. She stated she has 3 public artworks in Cambridge, does research driven work, and was a designer of the poetry banners that hung throughout Cambridge Common. She is also a design and innovation consultant who is excited to get more involved in the civic space.

Michael Monestime stated that he is the President of the Central Square Business Association. He is passionate about activating people and spaces and bringing more stakeholders to the table. He spoke about advocacy and programming to support the arts. Central Square is currently undertaking a mural project with 10 new large-scale murals. Michael stated that he would like to see more arts both in Central and citywide.

Ben Simon stated that he is a musician and after-school teacher. He is the founder of the Cambridge Arts Coalition which first formed to fight the evictions from the EMF building, but stated they are sticking around to fight for other arts issues in Cambridge.

Khalil Mogassabi introduced himself as a Chief Planner at CDD. He is trained as an architect and in City planning. He stated that be has a background working with small communities in Detroit, and that he is here to help translate the recommendations of the task force into zoning language or other guidelines. He is focused on helping to transition from policy to implementation.

'Folakemi stated that she is from The Port but has recently moved to Kendall Square. She gave her background as a member of the advisory board from the Cambridge Arts/The Foundry project.

David DeCelis introduced himself as an architect and member of the Public Arts Commission. He explained that we are in a rehabilitated cert building, he talked about how he was raised with arts, how they created community and were a catalyst for development in Miami. He talked about his background as a Cuban American growing up in Miami and how it's important that he's continued to engage in the arts with his kids who are students at CPS. He talked about the create the vote initiative. He also announced that the CAC was looking for new members.

Martha MacKenna stated that she was from Lesley University and directed their Creative Commons space. The goal is to collaborate and bring the university to the community, and it's important that so many voices are at the table to develop a real plan. This has been hard in the past because people aren't necessarily coordinated or connected. Lesley is also partnering with the Foundry to see how it can become another community center.

Eryn Johnson introduced herself as the Executive Director of the Community Arts Center, and stated she has a background and degree in theater. She stated that art is how we communicate, how we love each other, and how we see the world. Art is a language and a human right. She stated that Cambridge has a public art program and she has been thinking a lot about public space, how our spaces as a City leaves space for equity, whose art gets seen, and the importance of honoring and pursuing diversity.

James Pierre stated that he was the Community Arts Center public arts coordinator and art advocate. He stated his parents had more of an emphasis on math or science growing up, but today he gets the benefit of working with young people and engaging in the arts. He talked about art's purpose in society and designing his own arts in the park program in The Port, because he wanted to plan art and arts event that looked like himself.

Christopher Hope stated that he is a founder of The Loop Lab, a recording studio open to kids in The Port. He gave background on his workforce development program for youth ages 18-26, internships and job placement, addressing direct concerns of the community when you talk about opportunity youth, what kids not in college are going to be doing, the importance of providing mentorship, and bringing perspectives from national art placemaking collectives.

Ellen Shakespear introduced herself as the co-founder ofSpaceus, whose goal is to transform vacant and underused storefronts into arts collectives. Ellen stated that Spaceus started about a year ago because everyone benefits from artist space in a City. They are currently in Harvard Square and East Street, and are interested in how we can use physical resources to help artists.

Jason Weeks stated that he is the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council. He talked about growing up with arts in his family, growing up with theater and music. He stated that we are at the center of conversation about the arts, and we now have a greater alignment that ever in the City administration and community about the importance of the arts. He also stated that he is a founding board member of Mass Creative, the statewide arts advocacy organization.

Robert Reardon stated that he is here to provide a financial perspective, such as using the City's vast wealth to help with financing mechanisms. He stated that he grew up with family having a huge emphasis on the arts and has memories from Harvard Square street performers. He talked about his appreciation and amazement at talent of artists and the importance of their work. He discussed the importance of percent for art programs, getting major private developers to contribute to the arts community, and doing art projects that involve more people. He stated that you don't realize you've lost things until they're going, and that art doesn't come free, so we need to figure out a way to support it.

Lisa Peterson gave her background from working at the City of Cambridge, working in different ranges of projects with a particular focus in public projects and construction before moving to DPW, and then becoming the Deputy City Manager. She stated she is interested in being able to integrate art into public projects in a meaningful way.

Olivia D'Ambrosio stated that she is the Director of the Bridge Repertory Theater, which was founded in 2013 and in its 2nd year of residence at the Multicultural Arts Center. This is also her 6th year teaching theater arts at MIT and she lives in Porter Square. She stressed that theater is an extremely expensive art form to produce well, budget concems are enormous. She stated that there is a cluster of goods that any civilized urban society should organize its resources around, and art is one that should be provided by the City, especially access to arts and culture which should be a public good.

Councillor Mallon welcomed Greg Laikos of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) to give his presentation and overview of arts policy and best practices on the State Level.

Mr. Laikos stated that MCC is the State arts agency that grew out of the National Endowment for the Arts. They are unique in that they are the only State agency that also has humanities and sciences as part of its mission. The advantage to this is that MCC tells the "whole story", but the disadvantage is that funding for the arts is spread a little thinner because MCC must also account for humanities and sciences as well. Mr. Laikos explained that their biggest grant program is just over $5 million to provide general operating support, and gave some examples of the 400 institutions and individual artists that MCC helps to fund. MCC also uses this grant program to combine grant making with partnerships to ensure they are fully helping organizations by providing technical assistance and connecting organizations to other sources of funding. Mr. Laikos stated that there are 329 local cultural councils and this program accounts for $3.5 million in funding annually. The vision of this program is to take a portion of the budget and allocate it to municipalities to accomplish local goals. Mr. Laikos stated that the Cambridge Arts Council is unique because it's a professional arts organization with a robust public arts program, funding from the City, and has a high profile in the community. He stated that smaller communities only get around $4,000-$5,000 per year but use it in innovative ways, and that 2,500 volunteers are the engine for this program.

Mr. Laikos also spoke about education and creative youth development, which is a term that he wants to spread in wider circles. The role of this program is to build support for a role of the atts in schools as part of the curriculum. He stated that MCC'S STARS program brings in artists to do length residencies in schools in a range of disciplines, also focusing on some humanities and science programs. The Creative Youth Development after school programs teach principles of traditional arts education combined with youth development and creative expression, particularly to give young people at risk the tools and life skills they need through social programs.

Mr. Laikos discussed MCC's support for individual artists, and that direct fellowships to individuals in a wide range of disciplines has gone up to $15,000. He conceded that while this is still not a lot of money, it can still make a difference for an individual artist looking to get off the ground.

Mr. Laikos stated that he is messaging around building up the MCC budget. He wants to build strong networks of arts advocacy even though this is a constant uphill climb. He explained that there isn't a deep-seated belief in the unique power that public money has in promoting the arts. He explained that one of the biggest challenges is access and is continuing to make the case that this is important. Mr. Laikos looks forward to making MCC more available and helpful to local artists.

Councillor Mallon opened the floor to questions from task force members. She began by asking what innovative public policies are succeeding in other municipalities that could be applied to Cambridge.

Mr. Laikos responded that people in Cambridge feel a strong sense of place and that there are distinctive attributes of the community. It does depend on how the arts council has evolved and has been embedded in the fabric of the City, and Cambridge has a good model that can be built on. He emphasized the importance of having anchor institutions like the Chamber, cultural districts, and municipality, having City employees embedded in the planning department. The key is to make sure the stakeholders are together and talking as a mechanism for moving agendas forward, having constant conversations with elected leadership of the City to provide a link between the arts community and City Hall. Mr. Laikos stated that he was hesitant to give other models because Cambridge has a good one. He stated a local revenue stream is a more technical question that has to be done in the right context of the political environment. He explained New Bedford's home rule petition that was approved by the legislature allowing a portion of their hotel and motel tax revenue to be directed to arts and culture tourism, which seems to be working well for them.

Mr. Hope inquired as to whether MCC funded organizations that help young adults, especially when these kids don't take traditional paths, and asked about the role of arts in workforce development because helping young adults is very vital.

Mr. Laikos responded by saying YouthReach is MCC's biggest program, and it is a new program that gives directly to young people. It is grounded in successful transition to adulthood through learning about arts and culture and many programs have a mentoring track. He stated that RAW Arts in Lynn is a good model - kids come up through programs and then become mentors to the next generations. He stated that some programs are more focused on workforce skills than others; some are built on helping young artists make a living.

Ms. Johnson emphasized workforce development as a common element of many arts funding programs.

Mr. Laikos named various organizations in the area that have workforce development models.

Ms. Johnson pointed out that Boston has a plan for the arts, there are probably others around the state. She asked that Mr. Laikos provide a statewide perspective regarding the characteristics of an effective plan for the arts community with specific attention to diversity, equity, health of the entire community.

Ms. Pradhan added to Ms. Johnson's question, stating that sometimes lifting up the arts leads to gentrification, and creators are often the ones forced out. She asked for examples of practices to help
avoid this.

Mr. Laikos stated that Boston may have suffered from overly hyped expectations wrapped around the political climate. They did not have the mechanisms to meet their goals, and it's important to ask what they got out of the process. He drew attention to the fact that the City of Lowell has a great cultural plan which resulted in the creation of the Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL). COOL is the anchor for terrific cultural programming and expansion of access, especially for the immigrant communities of Lowell. He referred to Luis Cotto, a member of the public from MCC who was also in attendance.

Mr. Cotto informed the group that the cultural plan for Lowell goes back to the mid-80s and has been sustained throughout the entire time. He emphasized that sustainability and consistency are key in a cultural plan. He stated that students in Lowell who were potentially thinking about community college were targeted for new programming. Mr. Cotto stated that Middlesex Community College just created a new arts center which is also focusing on "back of house" use, not just perfonning. They offer internships after students learn to do audio and stage work.

Mr. Laikos stated that Lowell's plan was grounded and there was a vehicle to implement the goals in Lowell (through COOL). There are now 45 cultural districts around the state and this year was the first time they all received $5,000 in funding. He stated that the goal of the MAPC is to do consulting around cultural plans and that MCC wants to support this and make sure communities are involved when they begin this process. The goal is to build a community toolkit of best practices and principles when approaching this process. He emphasized that engaging immigrant communities in the City through grassroots organizing and planning in Lowell was key.

Mr. DeCelis brought the conversation back to Denise Simmons' original order about an arts plan for the City. He stated that he wanted to bring the discussion back to goals about decision regarding City planning and asked what if any other examples Mr. Laikos had for public/private partnerships, particularly success stories like Lowell's, which was a good example because zoning was involved. He wanted to specifically address City planning and the physical environment.

Mr. Laikos stated that almost everything MCC does is a public/private partnership.

Ms. Pradhan referenced a space in Providence, Rhode Island that was started by a private individual who opened his own public art gallery. Because of the success the City sold him the building for a small fee, and his gallery has a robust equity agenda for the space and those who run it.

Mr. DeCelis responded by talking about gentrification in Miami, how exclusively private development often trumps public/private partnerships and asked how we prevent this.

Mr Laikos emphasized the importance of a strong activist arts community with a strong mission to get into the conversation early with real estate developers. He stated that it's key to integrate arts into private development and illustrate how that is profitable for developers.

Mr. DeCelis asked what specific policies work to help artists be able to do this. He asked if there were any actual examples of public policies already, or whether Cambridge had to be the first.

Councillor Mallon asked if zoning was a tool that could be used or is it too blunt. She asked if zoning is too blunt, what are the other tools that can be used.

Mr. Laikos used an example of an arts firm in London that has inserted itself into real estate development projects, displacing the architect in many development conversations. He stated that the important questions to ask are how we make arts spaces in developments that are happening, and again used the example in London where a developer could get higher rents because they are home to valuable arts spaces.

Mr. Weeks stated that we haven't made these inroads into the development community that artists have wanted to.

Councillor Mallon asked how we can incentivize developers like those in Kendall Square to dedicate spaces for arts use. She concluded this part of the discussion and asked Jason Weeks, the Executive Director of the Arts Council (CAC), to begin his presentation.

Mr. Weeks stated that Cambridge was one of the first cities to have an arts council, which connects people, communities and neighborhoods. He stated that the one pager he handed out goes over a general role of the council and individual projects. He stated that the CAC likes to serve as a "presenter" for public art, open studios, and festivals. Mr. Weeks also stated that the CAC serves as a public-sector funder as well and has being doing this since the beginning as an integrated part of the City, which is unique because many other municipalities do not have these implementation mechanisms. He informed the group that the CAC is a public nonprofit corporation to work with the City and can serve as a fiscal agent by raising money for individuals and other arts organizations. He stated that the CAC goes into the community to raise money for events, people, and organizations. He stated that the City has an ordinance that supports public art, and as a result we now have 300 public art works and thousands of people in the City have directly participated in this.

Mr. Weeks stated that a mission of the CAC is to serve as a connector to the State and other entities around the Commonwealth, to lead by example, and connect individuals who may not be as tapped in to the arts community as others. He stated that they are an "idea factory" with resources for support, partnership, and networks for artists.

Mr. Weeks also spoke about the roles of public schools and universities. He stated the importance of being deliberate about this connection, and the fact that access should not be dependent on where you live or where you go to school. He stated the struggle is for access and partners but bringing people to the table and building relationships is helpful and we should be focused on these efforts. Mr. Weeks spoke about the process of CAC taking on Open Studios and democratizing the process. He stated it was important to ask how we reach out to people of all levels, disciplines, and neighborhoods to build partnerships with local artists. He stated that innovation doesn't stop with science and technology and that arts are a valuable and integral part of this. The CAC wants to supply people with resources such as their creative marketplace program which is the newest in the past four years. He stated developers and businesses have a place in the conversation, but artists also need places and voices, to be out in the community building partnerships.

Mr. Weeks emphasized that the CAC is a "connector, presenter, and funder." He talked about the opportunity to remain visionary in Cambridge, but we need to have sustainable and bigger sources of funding. He talked about what the Boston deliverables were, such as the equivalent of a CAC, a public art program, and neighborhood anchors, and that Cambridge bas already reached those benchmarks. He stated that the City was the first to put money into its local cultural council, which sends a message that artists are valuable.

Mr. Mogassabi brought up the Envision Cambridge process, and asked what guidelines within the Envision process can be highlighted in the master plan as related to the arts. He asked if there was a place for the arts in the community well-being recommendations and pointed out the 30 statements the draft recommendations made about the arts. He asked if they will lead us in a good direction for the arts because it would be nice to have an arts and culture element of Envision. He brought up the Central Square overlay and using those types of guidelines as a starting point.

Councillor Mallon thanked Mr. Mogassabi for bringing up the Envision recommendations, adding that some of the draft recommendations do address arts and culture and we will be seeing them unfold.

Mr. Laikos talked about two different models: one is a cultural plan specifically for the arts, and the other is integrating arts and culture into every aspect of policy making and city planning.

Mr. DeCelis spoke about "stewardship", education, and outreach regarding our art conservation program. He asked about what the CAC does with this program and whether Mr. Weeks could elaborate on how the CAC administers this program.

Mr. Weeks stated that the CAC has an art conservation program and that Cambridge has been a leader in this, thinking about how we take care of some of our artworks which are quite old. He stated the CAC has information sharing initiatives with schools and the visual arts communities. He stated that a public art collection like Cambridge's is a cultural resource and gave examples of public art pieces around the City.

Mr. Pradhan stated the importance of integrating arts and culture into everything, that cultural economic development strengthens organizations. She stated the need for creating economic opportunities for organizations, being deliberate about using the arts to promote economic development and growth. She stated that good things are already happening, but we are here to talk about what's not happening, what is not accessible, and that we need to approach this in a more critical way.

'Folakemi stated that we should have goals about creating opportunities for an arts workforce development, what can come out of design in communities, creating products that can be used. She stated some developers are willing to listen and cooperate with the artists and we need to capitalize on this, but that with others we need to insist rather than suggest, and we need to vote for people who support artist communities.

Councillor Mallon began concluding the meeting by saying she wanted to use this first meeling to orient everyone on both statewide policies and what we're doing here in Cambridge. She stated that during her pre-phone calls with members, one thing that everyone brought up was the importance of equity, inclusion, and access. She announced that the second meeting would involve Malia Lazu as a facilitator on race and equity, and that Malia deeply understands the issues of arts and equity. Councillor Mallon outlined the next meetings and what will be the subjects of each. She announced that we will try to have action-oriented policy items coming out of each meeting to grab the low hanging fruit before implementing long term solutions as the result of a report.

Mr. Weeks announced that Arts Matters Day is on October 26th.

Ms. Peterson expressed an interest in a mission statement from the committee.

Councillor Mallon announced that the next meeting of the Arts Task Force is at Spaceus in Harvard Square on November 8th.

Councillor Mallon adjourned the meeting at 7:33pm.