Jan Devereux's Response to the Arts & Culture Questionnaire

Your​ ​Personal​ ​Connection
We’ve all had defining moments in our lives. What personal connections with the arts
and creative expression have had an impact on your life and views of the community?

I could cite specific performances as having significantly enriched my quarter decade experience of living in Cambridge, but I’d like to mention something a bit more personal that has genuinely shaped my life.

My husband (Peter C. Johnson) is a retired singer-songwriter through whom I have formed personal connections with many members of the local music community. Peter performed during the heyday of Cambridge’s music scene (in the late ‘60s and ‘70s) in many clubs and bars that no longer exist. Peter made a comeback in the late ‘90s and early 2000s to produce three more albums but has since retired and is employed as a substance abuse counselor at a nonprofit clinic (Right Turn Inc) focused on treating people in the arts.

I would also like to mention that I am the author of a children’s novel entitled “Poe the Crow,” whose theme centers on a mother’s efforts to raise money to restore the music program at her daughter’s school while her artist-husband overcomes a creative block with the serendipitous help of an orphaned crow the family adopted as a pet. The book is written to appeal to young elementary age readers, which was the age the youngest of my three children was when I wrote it in 2004. This child grew up to major in art history and creative writing and is now working in independent film production. My husband and I both identify as creative people who are currently channeling our capacity for empathy and communication into our respective work.

City​ ​Investment​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Arts
As a City Councilor, how would you ensure Cambridge arts and creative community receives the funding it needs to fully realize its potential as a driving force in the community? While city investment in the Cambridge Arts Council has increased over past few years, direct support to the arts and cultural community does not meet the demand. Would you support a dedicated funding stream to provide stable funds for the creative community? At what financial level should the city invest in the Cambridge arts and creative sector?

Yes, Cambridge has the financial resources to dedicate stable funding for the arts and creative community and we could and should do more to help artists and arts organizations afford to live, work, operate and perform in Cambridge. The City is making a significant capital investment ($25M) to renovate the Foundry building, which will include a black box theater and flexible, below market spaces for performing and visual arts. The original plan for the Foundry did not include such a substantial investment and it increased after pressure from members of the Neighborhood and Long term Planning Public Arts and Celebrations Committee of which I a member. I don’t know the appropriate level of ongoing investment. The recent Community Needs Assessment identified housing, hunger and mental health as first-tier needs for community benefits funds and unfortunately the arts compete with affordable housing and transportation for mitigation funds from major development projects. So we will have to look for other ways to generate revenue for the arts including drawing from the City’s annual budget, which topped $600M in FY18. We also need to look at the School Budget to see where funding and time for the arts can be increased and restored. Supporting​ ​a​ ​Diverse​ ​and​ ​Inclusive​ ​City Cambridge is a diverse and thriving community. How would you use the creative community to build connections that maintain and support the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity that makes this city thrive?

Art of all kinds has the unique ability to transcend the barriers that divide us. It can also be a medium for understanding the varied experiences of different communities and individuals. Truly progressive cities embrace, foster, and prioritize this kind of creativity and due to rising land values and rents Cambridge is at risk of losing its standing as a city known for its vibrant arts scene. This starts by recognizing the creative community and the immense value (both social and economic) they bring to the table. We must bring creative voices into the discussion while we shape the future of our city. In addition to my own commitment to creating space for active community engagement, this is why I have been a vocal advocate for my friend Olivia D’Ambrosio’s candidacy for City Council. Too often the arts get left out of our policy discussions about how to address the housing crisis, traffic, and climate change, so that’s why I’ve supported Olivia’s campaign to become our “arts councillor.” 

Public​ ​Art​ ​and​ ​Creative​ ​Placemaking
Cambridge’s public art program is the oldest in the country. The city has a long history of supporting public art, yet caps and limits on funding have hampered artists’ abilities to fully engage and serve the communities. Would you consider expanding the program to require a percent for arts on private development projects, as well as public ones? Would you support expanding the use of % for arts funds beyond visual arts to performing arts?

Yes, in principle, I would support broadening the % for arts program to the performing arts but I believe that is a state program that is outside Cambridge’s direct control. As I said above community benefits funds from private developments typically are directed toward affordable housing and transportation, which have been identified as development impacts needing mitigation. We need to make a better case for why new development is also directly impacting the ability of artists and arts organizations to remain in the city. We talk about “displacement” a lot but have not done a good job of
connecting that to the arts.

Space​ ​to​ ​Rehearse,​ ​Create​ ​and​ ​Live
The lack of affordable studio space and housing makes it hard for artists to stay in
Cambridge. How would you keep artists of all backgrounds in the city and provide the
support necessary to thrive?

Affordability is the #1 issue facing Cambridge today. I’ve fought to increase the amount of affordable housing options in my first term as councillor and intend to continue doing so if re-elected. Cambridge’s socioeconomic and ethnic diversity is one of the top reasons people choose to live here. We absolutely must do more to maintain that diversity and to ensure that current residents, including artists, are not displaced. But housing is not the only priority. Rising rents and land values are also displacing local small businesses, including artists and creative spaces. I’ve been a vocal advocate for supporting local retail and small storefronts that can be rented at below-market rates. We give an FAR (density) bonus to developers to create “innovation” spaces and that could be expanded to create new arts spaces as well.

Public​ ​Events
Some community institutions and artist groups have problems gaining access to public spaces in which they can gather, perform, create, and connect with the public. Would you encourage ways to allow more activity in community spaces?

Yes. In addition to encouraging more activity in existing community spaces, I believe Cambridge needs more community space in all neighborhoods. Central Square is our “Cultural District” but all neighborhoods benefit from the presence of arts organizations. We need more places where residents can come together to meet and exchange ideas, including creative endeavors. The entire Alewife area is being redeveloped and so far no public civic spaces have been planned; this is very shortsighted. I suggested that any new public open space created through the Inman Square redesign process should include outdoor performance space for the significant foot traffic in this area. I’ve also proposed that the city explore creating a Cambridge History Museum in Harvard Square. This museum could include gallery space for contemporary art exhibits by local artists and potentially host performances, as well as presenting the rich history of our city. I would also like to see the Harvard Square Kiosk plaza redesigned to include a more welcoming area for buskers and street performers.

Youth​ ​Engagement
Engaging students with the arts in school and out of school is essential to educating the whole child. While the CPS arts education curricula provides access to many, we need more participation in arts education. Cambridge’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 Cambridge have a connection to the arts?

The School Committee oversees the School Budget and the best way to ensure universal arts education is through in-school programs. There, the challenge is not funding but making enough time in the schedule, and without a longer school day I don’t know how to increase the amount of time for the arts without cutting time from other curriculum. This is a problem all school districts face, but Cambridge is fortunate to have the resources to invest in out of school programs for our youth. After the school day ends, the arts again compete for time and attention, notably with youth sports programs and with more traditional academic enrichment programs (eg tutoring and college prep). I know this from my experience as the mother of 3 now-grown children who had hectic after-school schedules that included soccer, tennis, piano, guitar, art and theater. It is expensive and time consuming for families to provide this type of enrichment, and we need more city-run and publicly subsidized nonprofit programs. The Community Arts Center does a fabulous job but we need one like them in every neighborhood.

Corporate​ ​and​ ​Institutional​ ​Support​ ​for​ ​Arts​ ​and​ ​Creativity
Cambridge is home to many large corporate offices and world renowned educational institutions, whose workers and students enjoy Cambridge’s cultural assets. What responsibility should these institutions have in supporting arts and creative expression in Cambridge?

As chair of the Economic Development & University Relations committee, I have learned the extent to which the large corporations and educational institutions could be doing more to partner with the Cambridge community. Often it’s a matter of better communicating to our residents the extent of programs and events at Harvard, MIT and Lesley that are open to the public. Our business associations could also help better connect residents with corporate arts opportunities. The Cambridge Community Foundation can be another connector and funder. Cambridge residents give generously to Boston arts organizations, and I would like to help create a stronger culture of giving to our hometown arts groups through a “Give Local First” campaign in partnership with the non-profit community. I will be attending this year’s Spirit awards at the Maud Morgan Arts Center, and event I have attended the past few years. The honoree is Jason Weeks of the Cambridge Arts Council.

Your​ ​“Go​ ​to”​ ​Places
Cambridge is blessed with a rich mix of arts and cultural organizations. Please tell us
about two places where you have had personally significant connections to the arts
and/or cultural experiences.

For a white woman raised in a predominantly white suburb in Florida, living and working in a city as diverse as Cambridge is a cultural experience in and of itself. (Prior to moving to Cambridge I studied, lived and worked in New York City and Paris, so part of what drew me to settle and raise my children in Cambridge was its multicultural diversity.) However, as I mentioned in my first answer, my husband Peter is a retired singer/songwriter, so many of my favorite places in Cambridge no longer exist, including The Idler, The Inman Square Men’s Club, Jonathan Swift’s, Jack’s, and of course the Casablanca. The Harvard Square Theater and Cambridge Common both were music venues in that era.

Some of the places I frequent now include the Central Square Theater, the Multicultural Arts Center, and the American Repertory Theater. I also enjoy visits to exhibits at the Maud Morgan Arts Center, the Harvard Museums, and Lesley’s Lunder Center for the Arts and encounters with street performers in Harvard Square.

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...