​Nadya Okamoto'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?

Growing up, my mother always told me “Art is freedom. Freedom is art.” She had always wanted to be a poet, but her family was staunchly opposed. And so, as she raised us, she made sure my sisters and I understood the power and importance of artistic expression -- weekends we’d choose to the Met over the playground. My father was an artist and throughout my early childhood he was working to get his Master of Fine Arts.

The creative force of my two parents was crucial to my artistic development. I began dancing when I was two, and did pre-professional ballet all throughout my high school years. And I wasn’t the only one of my siblings to feel the influence of our parents. My two younger sisters are both award-winning artists in activism-focused graphic design for groups like Black Lives Matter as well as fashion design.

I was driven to discover more about artists I felt a personal connection to: my favorite artist is Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who is known for challenging the Chinese government and for advocating for expanded human rights and greater democracy.

Art has always been a significant part of my and my family’s life -- it’s deeply important to me to ensure every person in Cambridge has the same kind of access to the arts I’ve been able to have.

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?

I would absolutely prioritize funding for the Cambridge arts and creative community and support a dedicated funding stream for stable funds to the creative community. To me, one of the most important steps in this process includes more direct communication with artists in Cambridge. I believe that having more forums to hear from the community is crucial to understanding how to best invest in Cambridge’s artistic community. The city needs to acknowledge that when our creative community benefits, the whole city feels the social and economic gains.

​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?

I believe that art is one of the most powerful tools of social change we have in our arsenal. The way art can depict the beauty that is diversity is absolutely beautiful. I would support more public art installations -- places where the Cambridge creative community can come together and make art that reflects the city’s rich makeup. I also believe that working to create school arts programs focused on making art that celebrates the unique identities of each and every Cambridge resident is a way that the creative community can support the strength of diversity in Cambridge. Additionally, I would fully support the expansion of community-wide arts events focused on discussion of art that is focused on the celebration of identity.

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?

The value of public art is not something that should be limited to public development projects. I absolutely support the expansion of the public art program to require a percent for arts on private development projects. As someone who is active in the performing arts, I understand how important inclusion of all kinds of artistic expression is to celebrate all the creative community has to offer. Therefore, I fully support expanding funding for both visual and performing 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?

I fully support the City Councils decision to increase the amount of affordable housing from 11.5 percent to 20 percent; however, I believe even more action needs to be taken in order to secure affordable housing for the citizens in Cambridge. One solution is to increase university housing for students in Cambridge. Currently about 30 percent of the undergraduate and graduate population live in non-university-affiliated housing. These students further the competition for affordably priced housing, and they tend to take best price unit in Cambridge. I plan to create a task force that draws representatives from the universities in Cambridge, the City Council, and the Community Development Department in order to find the most agreeable solution for everyone. The implementation of these ideas will help to create more affordable housing and studio space for artists giving them incentive to stay in Cambridge.

​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?

I believe that opportunity to express oneself through art should be afforded to all people, and that everyone should be given the chance to display their art and expression of self. Cultivating a culture of appreciation and interaction with the arts is important to me because the arts played a significant role in my childhood. As a member of the City Council I would push for the adoption of public art master plan which would incorporate public art into the planning and creation of public space. I also want to establish programs that have seen great success in other cities. More specifically, I would follow the lead of Seattle who has established two programs, the Neighborhood and Community Arts (NCA) and a small award initiative (smART ventures), that promote community based art through financial assistance. The NCA offers support and guidance to neighborhood groups that want to put on events to promote art and cultural participation. The smART ventures provide small, one time financial assistance to artists that wish to make their art for public enjoyment. These two programs would dramatically increase community groups and artists access to public spaces, and would allow them to interact with the public.

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?

It’s particularly important to me that all kids get the same exposure to art that I had while growing up. Art helps student of all ages express issues they may not know how to verbalize, and by promoting their creativity we can raise their self esteem. Art education is often overlooked in schools and is overlooked because it is considered of little importance. I disagree, art is special in that allows people who are of completely to connect at deep level that would otherwise be unachievable. The arts can’t be learned through random exposure and should be studied like any other course. I would push for the creation of more art classes and programs in schools as well as push for schools to hire more art teachers for these classes. In addition to in school investments, I would also expand the grant program that already exists in Cambridge so that youth art organizations have the resources to serve every child that has an interest in art.

​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?

Supporting the arts is in the best interests of not only the community of Cambridge, but the large corporate offices and educational institutions that call Cambridge. Multiple studies have shown that communities that embrace art and creative expression have stronger economies. Art can create jobs, attract tourists, and contribute a significant amount of money to the economy. As a member of the city council I would go to the many large companies who have offices here and ask them to contribute to the city’s grant program or even create their own grant. As a Harvard student I already have a connection to the educational institutions here in Cambridge. I would push the educational institutions to offer more platforms and financial support to students who wish to express themselves.

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.

I’m very attached to Graffiti Alley in Central Square. My sister has always been interested in art, more specifically she was interested in graffiti. Together my sister and I found a place where she could legally spray paint, and we would go to Graffiti Alley as often as we could. Going to this place cultivated my love of street art, and, due to the activist nature of a lot of the art, it also inspired my passion for activism. Another place I feel very connected to is the dance center at Harvard. All throughout high school I did ballet which allowed me to express myself. Dance has offered me an escape from reality during difficult times in my life, and is a way that I relieve stress. Art played a significant role in my childhood and if elected to the city council I will protect and expand Cambridge’s support for public art.

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