Maryann Heuston's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

Your Personal Connection
Somerville is fortunate to have a rich cultural community. Please tell us about two instances in which you have had personally significant experiences with the arts and/or culture in Somerville.

My 2 examples date back to when the Somerville Arts Council was a fledgling group and there was a growing arts community and identity developing in Somerville. The connection between what was happening in the Arts community and the importance of connecting with the community hit home to me in my role as the Administrator of the Harvard Vanguard Medical office in Davis Square. A series of photos taken by local artists of Somerville gardens was put on display in the walls of the clinic.  This touched me on many levels- art in the workplace adds so much- but the fact that these were local artists celebrating Somerville gardens added the connection of art to the local community in a local business. Our patients made the connection as well. Whenever we can affirm ourselves as a community through art in a public place is always a win.

The power of artists’ work goes beyond mere display and that was really exemplified when I worked with a Ward 2 group of neighbors this year to paint a mural on city streets as part of a Neighborways project to calm traffic. We commissioned a local artist for the design and then took up our paint brushes and completed a piece of art that is both beautiful and functional. Here again is the connection between community and art and an important initiative for the community. 

City Investment in the Arts
How would you ensure government continues to support the creative community? As an elected official how would you ensure the Somerville cultural community receives the funding it needs to be a driving force in the city and region? At what financial level should the city invest in the creative sector? Do you support incremental increases, and if so, at what percent? How might this relate to the Arts Council and staffing? Do you believe that investment in infrastructure for the arts in Somerville will prove valuable in sustaining and growing our creative ecosystem and cultural economy?

The arts and creative community is tied intricately to our community identity, has been for many years, and continues to define us and attract many to our City. The creative community is a precious commodity which we must support in many ways. I absolutely support Art Farm and the City’s investment in that site. I also support increased funding for the Arts Council through the City budget.

The Council generates a lot of grant funded support but I worry that grant support is not always consistent and cannot always be relied upon. If we are really serious about our support that needs to come in various ways, but most significantly through our budgetary process. No one can deny that the Arts Council is responsible for turning the City image around in a very significant way. We invest short money for such a significant contribution. We have to provide a more solid foundation for these efforts.

Cultural Infrastructure and ArtFarm
Three years ago, Somerville started the planning process to redevelop the former waste transfer site into a site that would support the physical infrastructure needs of both the arts and urban agricultural community. Do you, as a candidate, support this effort? At this site? And if so, what can you do to ensure it becomes a reality? Considering that the City views itself innovative, which aspects of ArtFarm do you find innovative in a way that would reinforce the culturally progressive nature of our changing City? ArtFarm has received 1.4 million in outside investment — do you support further City investment to make Artfarm a permanent cultural resource for Somerville? In addition to ArtFarm, what are other strategies and means can you imagine that would further develop and support the cultural infrastructure of the City?

One of the accomplishments I am proudest of as the Ward 2 Alderman were my efforts to have the Waste Transfer Station removed. It was not just a matter of knocking the building down, but also involved a renegotiation of our trash contract and lobbying for approval on the BOA. I did this not only because the station was a blight on our city and a burden on the residents of Brickbottom, but also because I recognized the value and potential of creating a significant space which would allow for creative uses and serve as a visible reminder of the City’s commitment to the arts culture. I was happy to take on that fight and see that building come down. I continue to support that concept through ArtFarm and I am not in support of locating Police and Fire at that location and will fight that. I believe there was a vision and a dedicated group that worked on the plans for Art Farm and the City must continue to support that vision. Funds were secured through Grants and CPA funds to make this happen, the CPA funds are off the table for technical reasons, but I am pushing for the City to make up for that loss through other City resources and I think I have a commitment from the Administration to do that.

But this is just one site- we must weave cultural place making throughout the City especially in areas where development will take place and require a partnership with the arts community for space, design and presence. That will need to be built into zoning, agreements, permitting conditions. As was done with the Transfer Station, the City must also step up its efforts to identify city owned spaces to dedicate to arts uses and functions and incorporate that into assets we acquire or that we do not intend to sell, putting aside space in public buildings to allow for arts and cultural uses.

Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive City
Somerville is a diverse and thriving community. How would you support creative community to build connections that maintain and support the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity that makes this City thrive? How would you ensure that immigrants play pivotal roles in shaping our cultural infrastructure? Do you see immigrants getting priced out of Somerville as a problem — and what are your ideas to retain our immigrant communities, and thus sustain our diverse culture?

Somerville will only remain a diverse community if we stay focused on affordability and cultural connections to our immigrant communities. I have supported ordinances and zoning which calls for increased affordable housing, jobs linkage and inclusionary housing linkage fees, jobs training and future efforts to increase linkage fees and add other elements such as a transfer tax, all to strengthen affordability for residents and mitigate displacement. I also believe we need to require developers to create benefits to local businesses, many of which provide cultural diversity through their food and goods. Those businesses will need relief in terms of leases and help with relocation that keeps them in the area of their current location.

Public Art and Creative Placemaking
Somerville does a wonderful job of supporting art and artists in public spaces through it’s many festivals and civic events; how will you ensure this continues and reflects the diverse community? How would you expand upon the “temporary” events and create more permanent works embedded in the Somerville landscape? Would this look like a traditional percent-for-permanent-art program, tied to development, similar to Cambridge? How could you leverage the expansive private development occurring in the City to invest in sustaining arts and culture?

I recently travelled to Wisconsin for training at a company named EPIC. While not as large as Google or Amazon, this company is clearly a major economic engine for Madison Wisconsin and had a sprawling campus with over 20 significant buildings, yet it did not look institutional but was interesting and fascinating. I asked how a software company came to be so visually and culturally interesting, house so much art and looked so creative and I was told that they have a commitment and connection to the local arts community and every time they plan a new building they partner with that community and actually are required to incorporate art from local artists in their building décor and designs. They also purchase from local artists and tie employee recognition to a gift purchased from local artists. We have an opportunity to do that in Somerville before we are left with nameless, faceless, buildings that do not celebrate or announce our creative community. I strongly supported the Union Square Zoning which added arts and creative enterprises to the use table and required that 69,000 sq. feet of development be for artist and creative economy uses. Looking forward to the city-wide overlay zoning, we will need to make sure that artist and creative economy uses are replicated and required throughout the City.  But, I will also be lobbying for the addition of a requirement that developer contributions include a requirement to incorporate the work of local artists and goods and services form the arts community into their buildings. This was done with the conversion of the Millbrook Cold Storage building which not only includes live work space for artists but is a virtual art gallery with significant pieces from local artists displayed throughout the building.

Space to Rehearse, Create and Live
The lack of affordable studio space and housing makes it hard for artists—not to mention working class families and immigrants— to stay in Somerville. How would you keep artists of all backgrounds in the city and provide the infrastructure necessary for them to thrive? What specifically can the City accomplish and how can it leverage private development to provide more live and work spaces for artists? Do you support current initiatives including work/live housing for artists and fabrication zoning to retain creative spaces?

We can talk all we want about supporting the creative community in Somerville but if there is no affordability in living spaces and work spaces that community cannot be sustained. That is why I insisted that our inclusionary housing ordinance have a tier for working class and families so that they are not shut out of the process for accessing affordable units. That is why I supported development projects which incorporated artists live/work space and look forward to the city-wide overlay zoning to strengthen that concept and I support affordable spaces for artists.

And fabrication districts are the key to insuring proper spaces for the arts.

A great recent example of that is in the expansion of Greentown abs into the old MAACO building on Somerville Ave. I supported maintaining that building for innovative businesses and Greentown labs is incorporating a great community/performance space within that building, not only saving it for expansion of their businesses but incorporating a use that will pull in creative uses as well for performances and other activities. The same is true for the plans for the Post Office in Union Square where a basement space will be used as a performance area. Preserving old commercial buildings as fabrication districts will only enhance and strengthen our commitment to the local arts community as we develop and grow.  This is something I have already demonstrated a firm commitment to.

And, we also have to pay attention to the changing landscape and its impact on the arts community.

When I was alerted to the fact that Mass DOT was changing the specs for sound barrier walls between the new GLX tracks and Brickbottom I worked with residents to reverse Mass DOT’s decision and make sure that the Plexiglas portions of the wall was retained to allow all- important light to continue to shine through artist’s spaces at the Condominium.  I see that as part of my job as well and will continue to make sure that change only enhances the work of local artists and does not inhibit it.

Youth Engagement
Engaging students with the arts in school and out of school is essential to educating the whole child. While the Somerville school curricula provides access to many, we need more participation in arts education. Somerville’s out of school youth arts organizations continue to service thousands of kids, yet struggle to raise the resources needed to meet student demand. How would you invest in arts education for students of all ages, both inside and outside of school to ensure all youth in Somerville have a connection to the arts?

Funding mentoring opportunities with the arts community is one of the best ways to support youth engagement and provide exposure to new creative ideas. It is a concept I have been thinking about for a while.  We have invested more in the schools in terms of their music programs and working through groups like Teen Empowerment and other Youth groups can provide volunteer opportunities. However, I truly feel that funding a mentoring program in the performing arts, creative arts, etc. to supplement what is offered in our schools present s unique opportunity whereby the city can support local artists and provide something outside of the school structure as well.

Do you like this page?

Community Impact

The Drama Studio is one of a handful of youth theatres in the United States that offers quality, range, and depth in its acting training programs. For Springfield-area youth, the Studio's conservatory program offers an unusual opportunity for training that prepares its graduates (all of whom are college bound) to...