Will Mbah'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.

As an immigrant from Cameroon, my story is all about celebrating the art and culture that is Somerville. Our diversity and cultural richness makes this the best city to live in! Our artists are the backbones of our social and cultural fabric. When I first moved to Somerville and America, one of the things that made me fall in love with the community here in Somerville was all of the rich cultural festivals- from Porchfest to Honk to Open Studios! Since then, despite skyrocketing rents, I have fought hard to stay in Somerville and raise my family here.

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 strongly support funding the arts here in Somerville. As an alderman, one of my main roles will be to control the budgeting process, and I will fight for proper funding for a continued expansion of public art projects. I think that means taking a look at zoning and development here too. We need to use some of our money from a Community Benefits Agreement with developers in Somerville to commit to the use in public art and support of artist spaces. These projects are crucial to keep Somerville thriving and vibrant culturally.

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?

Yes- I support ArtFarm- I think it is a great idea! We need to ensure that is gets properly funded so it doesn’t lose its outside investment grant money. Again, I think this comes back to a more thoughtful approach to development- that is why we need Community-Led-Development. It seems to me that the city was careless in how it thought about the needs of huge development and didn’t fully think through the possibilities in advance. That is why it is so crucial to speak to the community FIRST and have them drive the process of development for ALL- especially our artists and our workers. Projects like ArtFarm make Somerville, Somerville!

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 think that my lived experiences sets me apart from the other candidates running for at-large. I lived the working class experience here in Somerville; I lived the immigrant experience here in Somerville; I have faced the forces of displacement and battled to stay. I think these life experiences will allow me to bring the people’s perspective to the table in city government. In addition, I would be the only at-large renter on the Board of Alderman, another important constituency that needs a voice in city government. Finally, I think we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that I am seeking to become the only person of color on the Board of Alderman. Our diversity is a our strength here in Somerville, and I think it is important for residents of color to see themselves represented in city government.

We need to make changes to bring about affordability, community-led development and economic fairness. We need to end the forces of displacement that are destroying our communities. Forcing out our local businesses. Our artists. Our Workers. Our neighbors. Our diversity. We need fair deals with developers that protect workers and residents. My goal is to help build a city where ALL residents are values and have access to quality jobs and housing, and can meaningfully shape the development plan for their city.

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 like the idea that Cambridge has a percent of development go to art development. I think it is a good model to look into in Somerville. If development is not bringing us what we want to see reflected in our city, then we need ask if it is the right kind of development with the right kind of developer.

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?

Yes, we need to look into this with zoning. If there are zoning provisions that get in the way of this common sense support of the arts and artist spaces, then we need to re-write the zoning to serve our local artist community and encourage its growth.

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?

We need more investment in the arts in education period! As a father to a 1 year old son who I intend to send to Somerville schools, this is a really important issues to me. I want to make sure he has the opportunity to experience the arts here at a young age- to encourage that creativity, critical thinking and life-long appreciation of the arts that he deserves (as do all Somerville children). Again, this is about priorities at budget time and something I will hold as a value of mine.

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