Boston, Cambridge and Somerville Launch Regional Effort to Protect and Plan for Arts Spaces

2/1/202314 months ago

Boston, Cambridge and Somerville Launch Regional Effort to Protect and Plan for Arts Spaces

'Making Space for Art' is supported by $140,000 Grant from MAPC

The cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville are joining together with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to better protect existing arts and cultural spaces and to identify opportunities and partnerships that lead to the creation of new ones.

Music venues, artists’ studios, rehearsal halls and other creative workspaces across the region have been closing at concerning rates due to rising rental and real estate prices — losses that only worsened amidst the health and financial problems of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have been working to better help artists and organizations stay in their existing venues or find new, affordable ones.

“In the past, cultural planning collaboration between the three cities has centered around specific events — often an urgent displacement — rather than being focused on shared priorities. Our office looks to come out of this project with a shared strategy to protect cultural space across the region,” said Melissa Meyer, director of cultural planning for the City of Boston.

The three cities’ joint effort, conducted in partnership with MAPC, will survey and interview artists, operators of arts spaces, and audiences to identify their most pressing needs and challenges.

“Delicate ecosystems of informal partnerships rely on things going well. To get ahead of crises in space availability for the arts, it’s critical to first understand the ecosystem if we are going to have any ability to provide a positive impact. Importantly, our work together with MAPC supports a regional approach to both understanding and impact,” said Jason Weeks, executive director of Cambridge Arts.

Information from this outreach will guide the cities as they aim to strengthen regional planning procedures and better coordinate government policies to nurture cultural infrastructure.

This project builds on city policies that require new developments to include cultural space, like what Somerville Arts and Creative Enterprises set aside, and Somerville’s 2022 Art Space Risk Assessment, which analyzed how development pressure is squeezing arts organizations across that city and made recommendations for how to protect art spaces and support the creative economy.

“We would love to strengthen the relationships we have with private developers,” said Gregory Jenkins, executive director of the Somerville Arts Council. “This project will give us the information we need to be able to identify the type of space — whether it’s production, rehearsal, or some other type of venue — that we actually need, and to have informed conversations with developers about paths forward.”

The three-city project aims to equip government planners and arts advocates with information that will help them enact policies to increase access to existing cultural infrastructure, reduce barriers to creating new arts spaces, and help make access to arts spaces more equitable. Organizers hope that these policies will be models that can be adopted across the Commonwealth.

“While each city has worked on supporting cultural infrastructure independently, greater consistency across municipalities is needed to support the region’s arts and culture sector,” said Annis Sengupta, director of arts and culture at MAPC, the regional planning agency serving the 101 cities and towns around Greater Boston.

“At present, cultural space tracking, including existing assets, closures, and new initiatives, is not done regionally. Without this regional lens and cross-municipal data, policymakers are unable to address net loss of space across the three cities or identify discipline and practice-specific gaps in available and accessible space.”

Funding for this project, Making Space for Art: Securing Cultural Infrastructure in Boston, Cambridge & Somerville is supported by a $140,000 Technical Assistance Grant from MAPC, made possible by the Barr Foundation and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ District Local Technical Assistance. Following planning meetings in fall 2022, the three municipalities plan to launch engagement efforts in early 2023 to better understand the challenges and roadblocks faced by cultural space stakeholders across the region. Project deliverables, including a digital planning platform prototype and a package of policy recommendations, are expected by late 2023.