September 15, 2023
The Center for Arts at the Armory (CAA) held an important hybrid in-person and virtual community meeting attended by approximately 100 people on August 15, 2023. Please see below for a Zoom recording of the meeting, including a presentation made by CAA Co-Directors Stephanie Scherpf and Jess White, a Q&A session with the community, and comments made by community members attending the meeting.
At the meeting, CAA presented our case for a petition to the City of Somerville related to the Armory Master Plan and future proceedings related to the Armory building. CAA circulated the petition for 30 days and obtained 1,130 signatures in support of the petition. The petition is now closed. The petition was available in Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. Journalist Ryan Dilello wrote this article for the Somerville Wire following the August 15th meeting.
Over a month has passed, and CAA leadership has not received any communication from City of Somerville administration on the matter. Two orders and one resolution related to the Armory building and the Armory Master Plan were placed by Ward 5 City Councilor Bea Gomez-Mouakad at the August 24, 2023 City Council meeting. These orders will be discussed at the September 20, 2023 Housing and Community Development Committee Meeting.
As promised, CAA is presenting this packet of information to the Mayor, Somerville City Council , Somerville Arts Council and the Armory Master Plan consultant, Create Today and the Somerville Armory Master Plan Advisory Committee.
The petition created by Arts at the Armory urges the City of Somerville to do the following:
- abandon the proposed model 1 for the Armory building (City as owner and operator model)
- adopt a 3rd party operator model
- issue RFPs for a 3rd party operator and for prospective Armory arts/culture tenants
- create an Armory governance model
IN THE NEWS
City Council addresses community issues and provides updates on city matters – Somerville Times, August 30, 2023
Armory master plan is back to the drawing board, revisiting operational proposals it had discarded – Somerville Wire, August 20, 2023
City plan could shuffle Armory tenants – Somerville Wire, August 3, 2023
Armory anchor tenant sidelined in Armory master plan – Somerville Wire, July 28, 2023
WHAT OUR COMMUNITY MEMBERS ARE SAYING
My my first date with my wife was here at a concert. I met her because she had a radio show at the media center in Union Square, and I got a crush on her over her radio show, and then our first date was here. So thank you. And I also just want to say I was on the Council when the Council voted to take this by eminent domain. Never in a million years did any of us think that that would lead to displacing Arts at the Armory. The idea was folks like you were under threat, and the city was seeking to protect you all to keep this… I’m I’m not able to speak on behalf of the Council, but I do want to say I very strongly believe that that was the intent of all of us. here was a question asked for. You know, who in the city is making decisions? I do want to be really clear that the City Council has had no formal role, thus far going forward, the formal role of the City Council, that I’m aware of is, if there were any new leases the City Council would have to approve those. So that is a really important point of leverage that I want to make sure the community and you all are aware of, and you know, just speaking as one counselor, I want to do everything that we possibly can to support you all and keep you here in Somerville for as long as humanly possible. So I I’m really sorry that it has gotten to this point. Ii think that all of us are. But I am very thankful that you guys did start the more public facing part of this because I think it’s very clarifying for the City. It may be an unpopular thing to say, I actually feel very optimistic that the City is ultimately going to do the right thing here, and and I know that all of us will be doing everything we can to help.” Ben Ewen-Campen, Somerville City Councilor Ward 3
“Whatever needs to happen so the community can all understand how important this place is, how big this place is. We’ve gone through maintaining and holding on to stages from very small stages to clubs, being shut down every single month after the pandemic, and we need to save this stage right now. And we need to maintain the relationships with all the great partners and all the people that rent here and yes, expand it to different business models. But I can tell you that my my vote of confidence in the organization in this place is very, very, very high, and to how someone else is going to take over booking the room, programming the room and making sure there’s a farmer’s market here on Saturdays …It’s gonna go to somebody else blows my mind. I can’t even picture it, so we need to save this stage.” Clay Fernald, BB Presents
“I think they’re listening, and they want to reconsider. I want to tell you, the 5 options, so if everybody’s like, where did these options come from? That was the first time I saw a model and they were shown. Nobody in the committee voted for option one versus two. That was a decision. In full transparency I’m not sure where it came from. I think it was a mistake. I want to say something very important. I sat in many, many planning meetings, and I’ve learned more today about what happened with this building in 2 hours. …I don’t design an operating room without the person who cleans it, the nurse, the person, the electrician, all of those folks. So I think it’s very important.” Beatriz Gomez-Mouakad, Somerville City Councilor, Ward 5
This is the soul of our City here. This is the soul, and of course the Media Center, too. You’re the bookends of culture in this City.” Denise Provost, Former MA State Representative
“Full transparency would be ideal. I would like to know who is making the final decision as to the final choice of whatever model is being adopted. This meeting held by the CAA tonight demonstrated a lot of community support for their stewardship, so I hope all city entities involved in the Master Plan Process will consider that in choosing a model for adoption. It seems the CAA has done good things to establish and maintain a variety of art and cultural offerings at the Armory, and that they would be willing to put forth an RFP should a 3rd party model be adopted. Their meeting was concise, forthright, professional, and incredibly helpful. The City would do well to truly listen to the voices of the community like so many of those who spoke tonight, and in a spirit of collaboration unite with all parties involved – tenants, community, and municipality. The arts are already in so delicate and tenuous a position, only aggravated by the Pandemic. Disrupting the balance of what has already been achieved here might be a great and regrettable folly.” –Petition respondent
“The Center for Arts at the Armory is a gem of the community. CAA’s talented staff provide a diverse array of arts programming that is unmatched in its accessibility, affordability, and inclusivity. It is part of what makes Somerville a great place to live. Model 1 would send a message that the city doesn’t recognize or value great arts programming, and would be a huge shame and loss for the community. Please do the right thing.” –Petition respondent
“I attended the Aug. 15 community meeting at the Armory to learn more about what is happening with the Armory. I have come to understand that the process the City started to determine the future of the facility was well intentioned but very poorly executed. I think the City did the right thing to take the Armory by eminent domain, but seems to be biting off more than it can chew in actually trying to operate it. I think it’s pretty clear that the City doesn’t have the bandwidth to manage this entity and should let another party do it.” –Petition respondent
“I am also concerned about the lack of clarity and commitment from the City to the current Center for the Arts at the Armory and other arts tenants. It is so cognitively dissonant on so many levels, that it does boggle the mind that the City could even contemplate any other scenario than to continue to promote and enhance what CAA is already doing so exceptionally well.” –August 15th Community Meeting Participant
A year into its ownership of the Armory building, the City instituted an Armory Master Planning Process and hired a consultant team, Create Today, based out of New York, to guide this process. With the Master Planning Process now underway for over a year, the City and Create Today presented for consideration two models for the future of the Armory building. Model 1 proposes “the City as owner and operator” of the Armory building, giving the City full control of the building and its programming. In this model, the Center for Arts at the Armory would be dissolved, and other current Armory tenants would also need to vacate. Model 2 is dubbed “Multiple Tenants,” which proposes the City as the building manager that rents spaces to chosen artists or arts organizations/business, and is similar to how the Armory has existed for nearly 20 years, with the exception that the City would remain as building manager and choose who can occupy the building to fill their chosen arts mandate. While we do not support either model proposed to go forward in the Armory Master Plan Process, the second model at least does not make us obsolete, but still leaves our future in question. During Armory Master Plan community meetings held by the City of Somerville in July/August, City officials had taken the 3rd Party Operator model off the table. CAA and others are now urging City officials to reconsider the omission of the 3rd Party Operator model, and to involve current arts tenants, including CAA, in future plans related to the Armory building.