Somerville Art Space
Risk Assessment Study
MAPC is working with the City of Somerville to develop an arts space assessment strategy that explores how municipal policies affect the sustainable operations of spaces where artists produce and disseminate their work.
The final report will contain an analysis of existing policies and programs and will recommend actions that the City and partners can take to strengthen and grow facilities for production and dissemination of arts and culture in Somerville, leading to a thriving arts and cultural life for all.
Somerville has one of the highest concentrations of artists per capita of any city in the country, and it continues to serve as a regional center for jobs in the arts and culture sector.
This sector can continue to be an important asset driving economic and civic vitality, but only if policies are put in place so that the spaces where people produce and disseminate their work are able to proliferate.
A major goal of SomerVision 2040 is to increase the ratio of jobs to workers from 1:2 to 1:1. The arts and culture sector can help grow these jobs by taking actions to “foster a creative economy, and promote and attract innovative businesses to Somerville, including companies focused on design, music, film, or multi-media (Goal 1: Policy A. Action 3).” And “Encourage developers to build non-profit performance/exhibit spaces into their projects (Goal 2: Policy B. Action 3).”
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 has established definitions of artist spaces, streamlined requirements for developing arts-related uses, and mandated that future commercial development (especially in Transit Oriented Districts) set aside 5% or more of gross square footage to arts uses. These changes were further refined in the new, citywide form-based zoning ordinance enacted in December 2019.
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.
MAPC is developing a risk assessment framework to help the City identify at-risk spaces, measure the likely impact of existing zoning on preservation of these spaces, and identify opportunities to better align policies and programs to incentivize the preservation and development of arts production and dissemination spaces. Through interviews with key stakeholders, an analysis of existing data, and the collection of new data through surveys of artists and organizations occupying these spaces, MAPC will establish a baseline risk assessment for Somerville that will inform recommendations for policies and programs to mitigate the further loss of these spaces.
- The Somerville Arts Council
- Somerville Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD)
- SomerStat, the Mayor's Office of Innovation and Analytics