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Video: Somerville Art Space Risk Assessment

Artists and arts organizations across Greater Boston are facing rising costs for studio and performance space, driven by development pressure. But this same development could be leveraged to produce space reserved for arts uses.  

In partnership with MAPC, Somerville is taking steps to do just that. The Somerville Art Space Risk Assessment analyzes and maps the impact of development on arts organizations across the city, and makes recommendations for policies and municipal actions that could protect and create art spaces across the city. 

MAPC and the Somerville Arts Council hosted a public forum on the draft Somerville Art Space Risk Assessment on January 19, 2022. Attendees learned about the findings of the assessment and heard about policy recommendations to support Somerville's art spaces, arts organizations, and artists. 

Watch the video and download the materials below.

Somerville has one of the highest concentrations of artists per capita of any city in the country. SomerVision 2040, the city's master plan, sets a goal to “foster a creative economy, and promote and attract innovative businesses to Somerville, including companies focused on design, music, film, or multi-media” and “encourage developers to build non-profit performance/exhibit spaces into their projects." 

The City of Somerville has taken steps toward these goals by reforming its zoning code to encourage the preservation and development of spaces for artists to live, work, and present their projects. Starting with the creation of the Union Square Arts Overlay District in 2009, Somerville established definitions of artist spaces, streamlined requirements for developing arts-related uses, and mandated that future commercial development set aside five percent or more of gross square footage to arts uses.  

However, Somerville continues to grapple with concerns about the loss of existing spaces for creative workers despite these efforts. The city’s proximity to Boston and Cambridge and the construction of the Green Line extension have increased development pressure in the city. According to the Union Square Neighborhood Plan, the next 20-30 years are likely to bring 6.875 million square feet of new development. 

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures required to manage its impacts are raising a new series of challenges and opportunities for the long-term viability of creative work and presentation spaces. 

The draft risk assessment sets a framework to help the City identify at-risk spaces and opportunities to  incentivize the preservation and development of arts spaces. Guided by the Cultural Spaces Task Force, interviews with key stakeholders, an analysis of existing data, and the collection of new data through surveys of artists and organizations occupying these spaces, the assessment establishes a baseline risk assessment for Somerville that informs recommendations for policies and programs to mitigate the further loss of these spaces. 

While these recommendations were written specifically for Somerville, many of the policies, programs, and suggestions could be adapted to other communities. Read the draft risk assessment today for inspiration on preserving or creating arts spaces in your municipality! Questions? Reach out to Annis Sengupta at asengupta@mapc.org