Vatsady Sivongxay'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?

The arts and creative expression have provided me a window into past and current human experiences. In our Lao refugee immigrant community, the Lao dances, cultural music and textiles allowed us to preserve our culture, history, and, at the same time, provided stability as we learned how to navigate through the American system together. As a young child, my dad taught me how to draw objects and nature. Through these practices, he taught me the importance of creative thinking and being a keen observer of the world. In those shared moments, he taught me that the arts and creative thinking allows us to see what is in front us and embrace diversity of ideas and communities. I’m thankful for these moments that I shared with the Lao community and my father. These experiences compel me to ensure that all people have access to the arts and creative expression and that our city continues to invest in the arts and creative communities.

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?

Investment in the arts is an investment in our local economy and a strong commitment to closing the opportunity gap. I’m encouraged to see the data that confirms that arts are a significant business generator in Massachusetts and that arts and cultural organizations in Massachusetts generate $2.5 billion in economic activity annually. As a City Councilor in Cambridge, I would strongly advocate for a dedicated funding stream to strengthen our creative community. I’m in support of the Percent-for-Art City Ordinance, continued partnerships among the City, state agencies such as the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and local profit and nonprofit organizations. I would continue to support the 2018 budget allocation to add a Community Arts Administrator and look at additional ways to further invest in the Creative Marketplace efforts and our creative community.

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?

Cambridge’s diversity is one of our strengths. I’m committed to ensuring that our diverse community has equitable opportunity to engage in and contribute to the arts and creative community by:

1. advocating for a diverse representation on our boards and taskforces;
2. supporting and investing in public and private initiatives that reach out to residents to better understand our ethnic and culturally diverse populations, create a community visioning process and better invest City funds into projects and programming that will embrace and celebrate our diversity; and
3. providing safe public spaces for cultural celebration and expression.

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?

Public art is an important part of maintaining and building culture in a community and preserving and sharing cultural history while also promoting interest in and appreciation for the arts. I believe that the City of Cambridge has a strong public art program that should be continued and expanded particularly to more fully engage and serve diverse communities. As a City Councilor, I will look at all projects and programs with an equity lens and I strongly believe that all development must be done through an equitable community-driven planning process so that everyone has greater opportunity to participate in and benefit from decisions that shape their neighborhoods. With this foundation in mind, I would want to explore the potential for requiring a percentage on arts for private development projects and expanding the use of arts funding to
performing arts in addition to visual 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

The lack of affordable studio space, housing, and funding are reasons that artists of all backgrounds are struggling to remain active and part of our community. We need a more robust civic engagement and community planning and accountability process to ensure that all have equitable access to housing and studio space along with arts funding and opportunities. I support:

1. dedicating a portion of public buildings for local artists to create and display their work;
2. subsidizing space for artists in private buildings;
3. turning vacant retail into temporary pop-up art spaces;
4. providing grants to individual artists living in Cambridge; and
5. encouraging developers to allocate work and presentation space into development

These initiatives will keep local artists of all backgrounds in Cambridge and provide the support for them to thrive.

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, I would encourage equitable access to use of community spaces for residents, community institutions and artist groups. This will allow more activity in the public spaces and give residents and visitors access to diverse cultures, history of our community and shared experiences.

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?

Youth development as a whole child and youth engagement are key to building stronger, safer and healthier communities, and the arts are important tools to make this happen. I would support current initiatives to obtain grants and other types of funding; public and private partnerships to increase investment in current and new programming and staff; and an increase
in funding allocation to arts education to ensure that our growing student population receives quality arts education.

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?

I believe that corporations and institutions in Cambridge can be part of the host community by working with the City to establish collaborative funding mechanisms and projects to meet the needs of the arts and culture sector. This collaborative work is important given that every dollar spent by an arts and cultural organization generates $2.30 in sales for nearby businesses.

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

I always look forward to celebrating, discovering and supporting our local artists and their creative expression during the Annual Cambridge Arts Open Studios. Every year I learn something new about our neighbors by visiting the many pop-up studios across our city. I love seeing the many murals throughout Cambridge. They are reminders of our diversity, history,
personal interpretations, and shared human experiences.

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