Create the Vote Somerville Questionnaire 2017

Create the Vote Somerville 2017 Election Questionnaire

 

RESPONSES FROM MARK NIEDERGANG, Ward 5 Alderman

 

Your Personal Connection

Somerville is fortunate to have a rich cultural community. Please tell us about two instances in which you have had personally significant experiences with the arts and/or culture in Somerville.

 

The Center for Arts at the Armory is in my ward, Ward 5.  In the four years that I have been the Ward 5 Alderman, I have worked closely with Leah Ruscio, the superb Executive Director there, to help in a wide range in ways.  I am in frequent contact with Leah and see it as a priority for me to nurture and support the development of and flourishing of the Armory as one of the most important locations for arts and culture in Somerville.

 

I am also working closely with and supporting Deborah Hier, who lives on Hudson Street in Ward 5, and is one of the leaders of SAY! Somerville Arts for Youth, which has been doing performing arts and drama programs in the Kennedy School and at Somerville High School.  The performances that this new organization has sponsored have been breathtaking and high quality, and the youth performers are encouraged to bring their real-life concerns and political issues into the drama.  It has been exciting to watch this new initiative develop.

 

Also, my wife is an artist and was a working artist and art teacher at a community college in Portland Oregon for 20 years before she moved to Somerville, so the arts are close to my heart and very present in our home.

 

 

City Investment in the Arts

How would you ensure government continues to support the creative community? As an elected official how would you ensure the Somerville cultural community receives the funding it needs to be a driving force in the city and region? At what financial level should the city invest in the creative sector? Do you support incremental increases, and if so, at what percent? How might this relate to the Arts Council and staffing? Do you believe that investment in infrastructure for the arts in Somerville will prove valuable in sustaining and growing our creative ecosystem and cultural economy?

 

I believe that the arts and culture are a critical part of Somerville’s emergence in the past couple of decades as a highly desirable place to live, and I believe the City should invest more in the arts.  While I support City government funding for the arts and want it to grow, these are detailed questions which I do not have the knowledge or resources to provide answers to.  I have always supported the Arts Council budget and said often in public that they do amazing things with the limited funding they receive.  Somerville has a strong Mayor form of government; Aldermen are only legally permitted to cut the City budget, we cannot actually add something.  So budget development is in the hands of the Administration; we Aldermen do not have the staff or the legal power to do this.  If I received a specific request for support for the arts, I would most likely be willing to support it.

 

Cultural Infrastructure and ArtFarm

Three years ago, Somerville started the planning process to redevelop the former waste transfer site into a site that would support the physical infrastructure needs of both the arts and urban agricultural community. Do you, as a candidate, support this effort? At this site? And if so, what can you do to ensure it becomes a reality?  Considering that the City views itself innovative, which aspects of ArtFarm do you find innovative in a way that would reinforce the culturally progressive nature of our changing City? ArtFarm has received 1.4 million in outside investment — do you support further City investment to make Artfarm a permanent cultural resource for Somerville? In addition to ArtFarm, what are other strategies and means can you imagine that

would further develop and support the cultural infrastructure of the City?

 

I support the ArtFarm development and have attended several public meetings about it.  I love the combination of urban agriculture and the arts, and the use of this site as mostly open space.  I do support further City investment in ArtFarm.  I am an urban gardener, member of the Somerville Garden Club, and my daughter works for Groundwork Somerville.   I am also aware that the Administration is looking at that location as the possible location for Police Headquarters, which needs to be moved from Union Square.  I am concerned about this, and do not want to lose the ArtFarm; it should be relocated to as good or a better site if that site is needed for the Police Dept. headquarters.

 

 

Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive City

Somerville is a diverse and thriving community. How would you support creative community to build connections that maintain and support the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity that makes this City thrive? How would you ensure that immigrants play pivotal roles in shaping our cultural infrastructure? Do you see immigrants getting priced out of Somerville as a problem — and what are your ideas to retain our immigrant communities, and thus sustain our diverse culture?

 

The key element in all this is affordable housing.  The City needs to dramatically increase the development of affordable housing, or there will be much less socio-economic diversity and many fewer artists in the City in the coming years.  Without dramatic and bold action, in 10-20 years Somerville will be primarily a community of wealthy people, with 10% low income living in the affordable housing we have and a smattering of lucky folks who bought their houses before the turn of the century.  And not many artists, who can hardly afford rising rents even now.  I have been a supporter of immigrants’ rights for decades.  I supported the Sanctuary City status when that was first proposed 25 years ago and I supported the Count on Me campaign to combat racism and violence against immigrants in Somerville in the 1990s and was an organizer and initiator of the Somerville Conversations that promoted tolerance and diversity.  Affordable housing has been my #1 issue on the Board of Aldermen; it should be the #1 priority for the City.

 

 

Public Art and Creative Placemaking

Somerville does a wonderful job of supporting art and artists in public spaces through its many festivals and civic events; how will you ensure this continues and reflects the diverse community? How would you expand upon the “temporary” events and create more permanent works embedded in the Somerville landscape? Would this look like a traditional percent-for-permanent-art program, tied to development, similar to Cambridge? How could you leverage the expansive private development occurring in the City to invest in sustaining arts and culture?

 

These all seem like good ideas.  As an Alderman without any staff, I do not have the resources or time to take initiative in these areas, nor do I have the expertise.  I look to artist organizations and the Administration to provide leadership in these areas, and I will continue to support and support funding for (we Aldermen do vote the budget) worthwhile initiatives in these areas.

 

 

Space to Rehearse, Create and Live

The lack of affordable studio space and housing makes it hard for artists—not to mention working class families and immigrants— to stay in Somerville. How would you keep artists of all backgrounds in the city and provide the infrastructure necessary for them to thrive? What specifically can the City accomplish and how can it leverage private development to provide more live and work spaces for artists? Do you support current initiatives including work/live housing for artists and fabrication zoning to retain creative spaces?

 

Many artists have told me that the lack of affordable workspace is as serious, or more serious a problem for them as affordable housing.  I support the new zoning initiatives that require a percentage of new development to be reserved for artist and maker and fabricator workspace.  We need to make sure that buildings that can be used for commercial tenants and artists do not become luxury condos for wealthy people. 

 

 

Youth Engagement

Engaging students with the arts in school and out of school is essential to educating the whole child. While the Somerville school curricula provides access to many, we need more participation in arts education. Somerville’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 Somerville have a connection to the arts?

I agree completely; see what I wrote about SAY: Somerville Arts for Youth, above.  I am extremely proud that during my eight years on the School Committee, we increased the funding for the arts, and especially music, and those programs are now much stronger than they were 12 years ago before I joined the School Committee. We need to do more however.  There need to be better performing arts and dance programs in our schools.  There also needs to be much more funding for after school programs for families that can’t afford to pay, and those programs should include the arts and music.

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