Ben Ewen-Campen'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 mother, Phyllis Ewen, is an artist with a studio at Brickbottom, and my wife, Alex Feinstein, is a painter at the Washington Street Art Studio (and I’m a photographer myself!), so I have a deep and lifelong personal connection to the local art culture. I’ve recently been particularly inspired by the work of an artist collective called “New American Public Art” at Artisans’ Asylum, who create mind-bogglingly impressive interactive art pieces that completely transform public spaces in creative and welcoming ways.  

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?

I will be a strong supporter of funding for the arts, during budgeting and through payments from developers, and will work closely with advocates from the art community to come up with specific funding proposals. One idea I am particularly interested in a percent-for-art ordinance, like the one in Cambridge, to promote public art alongside new developments. The idea with a percent-for-art program is to ensure that a percentage of construction costs for large new developments are used to build onsite public art, to improve our public spaces. I believe these programs would not only benefit the local arts community, but Somerville as a whole. I am strongly committed to ensuring funding for a strong local arts community.

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?

I absolutely support the creation of ArtFarm on the proposed site, as originally promise by the Mayor. I will strongly advocate, alongside the ArtFarm community, for the Mayor to follow through on his commitment to making ArtFarm a reality – I fully appreciate how frustrating this process has been.

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?

I see housing affordability as the biggest challenge facing Somerville – this is the issue that inspired me to run for Ward 3 Alderman. And one of the prime reasons why this issue is so important is that it specifically threatens our diversity and our creative community. As I’ve heard many times from my friends and neighbors, “What’s the point of being a Sanctuary City if no immigrants can afford to live here?” One other policy I’ll mention that differentiates me from my opponent in this race: I believe that Somerville should grant non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections – this is the simplest way to ensure that their concerns are heard at City Hall.

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?

As I mentioned above, I am in favor of looking at a percent-for-art ordinance in Somerville. I believe the city should of course continue to directly invest in public art, art education, and the Art Council, but given the enormous amount of development ongoing in Somerville, this is a very promising way to ensure new sources of funding for permanent public art.

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?

I believe that the citywide zoning overhaul will be a major opportunity to advocate for live-work spaces for artists, and I absolutely plan to do so. Many of the current prohibitions on modifying outbuildings for artistic space are outdated or ridiculous, and I plan to take a serious look at this during zoning. I am also very interested to work with artist groups to figure out new way to leverage development money to fund affordable studio space.

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?

I am committed to working with the arts community to advocate for strong financial support for arts education. As someone who benefitted greatly from a strong and vibrant arts education in public schools and afterschool programs, I pledge to do everything in my power to support arts education, as I know well how important and transformative this can be for everyone in our community.


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