Sean Tierney'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 in Cambridge, the arts were brought into our lives through the school curriculum and the public commitment to art festivals, public art, and exposure to live music, and interesting street performers.

 As a young person, I gravitated towards hip-hop and its culture. There is something about its sense of community, diversity, and openness. I was involved in rhyming, a little break dancing, and maybe even a little graffiti. When I look back on it, maybe it got us into a little bit of trouble, but for the most part we were creative, and using our time productively and in an interesting way. We incorporated live music, discussed different artists, and approaches to hip-hop. 

 I wasn’t as talented as my friends. Many went on to Berklee College of Music, and are today still involved in music. But my connection to them throughout my life brought me to the arts, and a supporter of them. Some of my friends who were part of that crew but didn’t get involved in rhyming, went on to produce great works of art in their own right, from tattoos to canvass paintings. 

I am lucky to have had a personal connection to the arts and benefited greatly from the hip hop scene of the 2000s.

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 funds for the creative community? At what financial level should the city invest in the Cambridge arts and creative sector?

Yes. I do not know a specific level that it should be funded. But we must incorporate the arts into our public spaces. If you look back at the buildings of the “New Deal Era,” government prioritized craftsmanship and art into our public buildings: the marble work, the paintings, and the sculptures. We have a tradition of creating public spaces that are impressive and interesting. We should value art for what it is, but we should also value art for what it means for our community, even when we do not notice it and it is incorporated into the public landscape. 

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?

It starts in our schools. As we think about how to take advantage of the Kendall Sq. economy and get our children into science, tech, engineering, we also have to prioritize the arts. Not all paths for children will lead to a liberal arts or science focus. Some students would benefit from greater emphasis and cultivation of their interest in the arts. We should invest in strong out-of-school time (afterschool) programing for children and parents who want to it. As with science and tech, sometimes all a child needs is to be exposed to the arts and they can set their sights on a passion for their life. 

I also have an idea that I would like to work on that would bring high school students together with older residents and produce creative storytelling podcasts where students would interview long-time residents to tell an oral history of Cambridge. This could be a unique way to bring civic and cross-cultural engagement, teach skills to our students, and create a living history of our city. 

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. Relates to my answer above. Public art has a history in our placemaking and we should recommit ourselves to it. With governments relying more on the private market to develop and build, we should incorporate out public art and creative place making into the design process for private projects. This is a great idea. 

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? 

As you know there has been a lot of talk about using the foundry space for, among other things, performing arts. In addition, as we continue to create more housing, and get our 20% inclusionary rate to work, we should also think about how we can support artists. For instance, my friend is a painter and lives in Somerville in subsidized housing. He is a landscaper by day and paints at night. He has inexpensive rent, and the housing is built in such a way that promotes creativity. In the kitchen/living area there are two sinks, one for dishes, and one for paint supplies. 

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.  This sounds like a great opportunity for inter community engagement, which we desperately need. Everyone in this city talks about the desire for more cross-cultural engagement. The arts can, and should, have a  significant role in creating these opportunities for connection. 

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?

Answered above.

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?

An enormous responsibility, particularly since many of the non-profit institutions (including Harvard and MIT) do not pay property taxes. 

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.

Music is where I get my art fix. Last month I went to a hip-hop show at one of our staples, The Middle East.  I’ve been to Sinclair numerous times, and have been impressed by the live music at Beat. 

I also was recently introduced to the StorySLAMS of NPR’s “The Moth” storytelling at Oberon.  Can’t wait to go back. 


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