Denise Provost Response

Your Personal Connection

We've all had defining moments in our lives. What personal experience with arts, culture, or creativity has had an impact on your life and your view of the community?

From my earliest years, music, drawing, painting, reading and writing have been among my chief pleasures, and transformed my young life.  As I grew older, film and theater, and art museums became part of that wealth, and something I still try to make time for. I write and publish poetry and book reviews; occasionally l find a little time to sketch, and regularly purchase original art work, principally at Somerville Open Studios. The growth of the arts community in Somerville has strengthened it, and improved civic life immeasurably. I am concerned about the potential displacement of artists – among others – by increasing gentrification. I’ve also found that our arts programs are a particular strength of the Somerville Schools, which is partly why I strongly oppose Ballot Question 2, which, by raising the charter school cap, would further drain away resources from the public schools attended by the vast majority of young people.

Arts & Culture in Your District

Art and culture plays a role in the Commonwealth from Boston and the Gateway Cities and our rural and suburban towns. Please provide us with a story of the impact a local arts or cultural institution brings to your district.

As I’ve already alluded, the growth of the arts community in Somerville has been an enormous positive force for the community, shaping not just a positive image, but a positive self-image. One example: as recently as the 1980s, it was impossible to buy so much as a postcard with any image of Somerville on it. There were vintage postcards on eBay, but nothing contemporary. In the 1990s, Somerville artists began to proceed postcards with Somerville images – some tongue-in-cheek, but all homages to the Somerville’s physical environment and culture. It is not a coincidence that the city’s profile has risen, and that it has become a “cool” destination and place to live.

Addressing District-wide Issues

Just as any other part of the state, we face many economic and social issues here in the district. Can you provide examples on how you would integrate the arts, culture, and creative community in solving social problems? How would you use our community to drive economic development in the district?

The Somerville arts community itself already does a tremendous amount of work towards this end. Whether it’s the Books of Hope program, or the Mystic River murals project engaging youth in public housing; Mudflat Studio teaching young people clay crafting skills which make public spaces more beautiful and non-standardized, or the Powderhouse Studio innovators rethinking schools to be more hands-on, and to integrate the arts more fully, I often need do no more than play a supporting role. To be fair, the city government has increasingly recognized and encouraged the emergence of the arts community, and through the Arts Council has helped incorporate it into civic life, and even to amend city zoning to include “maker spaces,” and some live/work districts. I’d like to see an even bolder approach, and have advocated for the creation of one or more Arts Districts in Somerville, more robust zoning accommodations, and other steps to preserve and stabilize creative resources which are making our city hum – culturally and economically.

Arts Education and Programs for our Youth

Art instruction increases achievement across all academic disciples and develops the whole child. While many communities have access to quality arts education, many youth are still being left out of the creative community. Changes in federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers Massachusetts an opportunity to include arts education in the restructuring of the Commonwealth’s accountability and assistance systems for schools and districts. Do you support including assessments based on student access, participation, and proficiency in arts learning and creative learning experiences in these new accountability frameworks?

I am and have been a strong advocate of assessments which evaluate the whole child, including arts learning and creativity. Don’t get me started on standardized tests…

The Commonwealth’s Support and Role in the Creative Community

This year, the Massachusetts Legislature invested $14 million in organizational support through the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) for the creative community, ranking it ninth in the country. This provided level support for the creative community and overturned a 55% cut in funding by Governor Baker. In 1988, the MCC gave out more than $27 million in grants, nearly twice what we do now. At what level would you fund the MCC?

While I’m not in a position to place a dollar figure on a level of support, I would like to see much more of our economic development investment go to arts and culture – which has an enormous, and local, multiplier effect – than into tax credits and other handouts to business which would come to, or stay in, Massachusetts anyway, and which have little measurable impact on workers in the creative economy, and the communities they are part of.

Percent for Public Art

Public art helps build vibrant and connected neighborhoods and the arts community plays a vital role in the development of cities and towns. The other 5 New England states and an additional 22 have a Percent for Art Program, which establishes that design and public art will be an integral piece of all new state construction. Last November, Gov. Baker vetoed the Percent for Art Program after it garnered support from the Legislature in two separate votes last session, once in the state budget, and then in an amended version. Will you support the Percent for Art Program next session?

You bet I will.


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