Disclosure: I regularly work with the Somerville Arts Council to present festivals in the city.
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After years of uncertainty for Somerville’s ArtFarm, the proposal for a community facility combining art and agriculture near Union Square seems poised to move forward.

“The long-term home of the ArtFarm will be the former waste transfer site and … the only other structure that will share the more than 2-acre site will be the pump station, which will occupy one corner,” Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone affirmed in a letter presented at a community meeting about the project at the Brickbottom Artists building in Somerville last night.

“We have a home for ArtFarm and we have it in writing,” announced Peter Marquez, a longtime Brickbottom person and long involved in the community ArtFarm planning team.

ArtFarm greenhouse, July 20, 2017. (Greg Cook)
ArtFarm greenhouse, July 20, 2017. (Greg Cook)

Plans for the “creative commons” on the site of the former waste transfer station on Poplar Street at Linwood Street, near Union Square, have been under community discussion for as many as four years, but stalled as it grew unclear how much Curtatone still supported the project.

Curtatone’s announcement yesterday was generally received as good news among the more than 40 people in attendance. This was a notable change from the anger and dismay expressed at community meetings with Curtatone in recent months at which the mayor offered proposals to perhaps replace the ArtFarm plans with construction of a sewer pumping station, fire station and/or police station on the site. At a July forum with the mayor, one woman said the changing proposals felt like “a bait and switch.”

Curtatone had been scheduled to attend yesterday’s forum, but canceled at the last minute, writing that he wasn’t up to attending because he was “recovering from emergency arm surgery due to an injury.” Instead, Marquez read Curtatone’s two-page letter to the audience.

“To start the ArtFarm development, approximately one acre of the 2-acre site will be made available for ArtFarm in the near future,” Curtatone wrote. “Contractors currently on this portion will vacate the site at the end of this construction season (this winter), cleanup has already begun, and site and sidewalk improvements including fencing will follow in phases.”

Curtatone wrote that work on ArtFarm can move ahead without being tied to pump station construction. The city will find a different location for a new police station, he wrote.

“We see opportunities to have the pump station funding serve double-duty to help support ArtFarm development,” Curtatone wrote.

Curtatone stated that management of ArtFarm design going forward will switch from the Somerville Arts Council to park planners in the city’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development “with continued input and programmatic guidance from the Arts Council.” More meetings for community input are expected.

Curtatone assured that during pump station construction “no debris and no construction vehicles will encroach on the ArtFarm’s initial site,” that the two projects will have separate entrances and be fenced off from each other. He plans to submit a funding request for the pump station to the city’s Board of Aldermen on Nov. 9.

“My administration,” Curtatone wrote, “is committed to making ArtFarm a reality.”

Political leaders attending last night’s meeting expressed support for ArtFarm.

“Who we are as a community—the artists, the creative community—is what really defines it right now,” Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston told the crowd. “Where are these kinds of spaces in the rest of the city? … How can we replicate that vision in other places across the city?”

At-large Alderman Mary Jo Rossetti and state Rep. Mike Connolly suggested they would support funding for the project going forward.

Audience members asked about the status of funding for ArtFarm (more than $1 million raised so far, plus likely another $600,000 or so from community preservation funds, Marquez said); which part of the parcel would be the ArtFarm part; if the architecture of the planned pumping station could be an asset to ArtFarm. Answers would have to wait at least until Curtatone could reschedule his appearance.

Marquez noted that Curtatone’s note specified no timeline or financial commitment. He also called for more clearly spelling out the Arts Council’s role going forward. “We need to digest this and think about how we organize and reconnect with the process,” Marquez said.

Then Marquez praised Somerville Arts Council Director Greg Jenkins for his efforts to keep the project moving forward. “Next time you see Greg pat him on the back and let him know it’s worth it. He has the toughest job in the city,” he said. “Let him know he’s appreciated.”

Categories: Art News