Somerville, MA

Contact Name
Stephen Houdlette
Project Dates
10/1/2013 - present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Policy, Workforce Development, Real Estate, Research
In the context of the City of Somerville experiencing a once-in-multiple-generations cycle of public and private investment, the question of 'how to maintain the success of creative work in the City' is highly pertinent.

There are a wide range of approaches to this topic, but our study focuses on three areas: (1) placing the role of creative activity within Somerville's larger economy (2) detailing the relationship between creative economy and the spatial characteristics of the City and (3) analyzing independent creative workers and their contributions to the larger cluster.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Catalog Somerville’ CE – Creating a comprehensive list of creative entities is more difficult than it is with other industries. The sectors in the Creative Economy suffer from under-counting due to the large number of informal (yet commercial) organizations and the large number of independent artists. Our methodology starts with traditional sources for businesses and employment and uses a range of other resources to arrive at a more full picture of the breadth of creative actors in Somerville. Most importantly, a survey was developed to address both creative actors that are ‘off the grid’ and economic metrics that are difficult to obtain from such as financial assets, equipment costs, etc.

Benchmark Somerville’s CE - This study builds on existing work both here in Somerville and at the regional and national level.* CEPA has previously cataloged and analyzed impacts on creative activity in Somerville. This work will be backwards compatible with those studies* so that general trends on the health of Somerville’s creative economy can be tracked and the overall development of the cluster can be analyzed going forward. In addition to consistent metrics across previous studies in Somerville, this work will use a definition of the CE consistent with other studies done at the regional level.

Measure Impacts of Somerville’s CE – Basic metrics for employment, wages and taxes are used to drive a more complex analysis of the CE’s role in the local economy. Using a structural economic model, IMPLAN, CEPA can show how direct impacts from creative activity have larger downstream impacts. More

Inform Policy for Somerville’s CE - Beyond just reporting data and impacts, this study seeks to address urgent issues of policy pertaining to cultural development, real estate and space development, zoning and urban planning and economic vitality and sustainability. The study was designed to analyze phenomena directly related to ongoing planning initiatives and to be cohesive with the City’s recently adopted comprehensive plan: Somervision.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
As we collected more data two things became clear: (1) the organizational infrastructure to support creative activity is not especially suited to solve issues of space and (2) this required that the policy objective be more explicit and far reaching in its prescriptions towards this end.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The working partners for this project are: Somerville Arts Council, UMass-CEPA and Somerville's Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. The stakeholders include all of the components of the creative economy (independent artists, creative businesses, creative workers), City residents and real estate proponents.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Somerville Arts Council has been implementing a cultural economic development strategy for over two decades. However, it relies on the established networks of artists, cultural organizations and creative businesses located in Somerville. This project provides key information to advocate for these stakeholders while also providing direct policy recommendations to preserve and grow this network.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The scope was developed by the three partners with a combination of previous experience with impact studies, best practices by other creative economy researches and input from key stakeholders.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The project involved significant research, survey, data analysis and report production.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Each step has had evolutionary refinements to make each part more robust and to have the objectives tie more seemlessly to the report.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Data for creative independents is known to be difficult to collect. The survey and outreach involved a lot of careful planning and collaboration from partners.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Support from collaborators and the reputation of the Arts Council were crucial.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
(1) Make sure you have the expertise on hand to execute. (2) Keep all of stakeholders involved and up to date. (3) Frame reports both before and after release so that they are tied to actionable follow up. No one wants a paper weight.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
It is too soon to know the answer to this. Past reports have helped frame the argument for increased support for creative activities funded by the City.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
How did you measure this success or progress?
It met its internal objectives and created actionable steps to support creative activity while making the dialogue around the place for arts in Somerville more informed.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Not applicable at this point.
CCX Workshop Handout