“Big news from Jamaica Plain Porchfest,” read the headline of the email that arrived at the end of 2020.
“Mindy Fried and Marie Ghitman, co-founders of Jamaica Plain Porchfest, are thrilled to announce that this much-treasured event is being handed over—with love and gratitude—to the amazing artists and art-managers from Dunamis, a Boston-based nonprofit organization,” the announcement read.
The 2021 JP Porchfest, which arrives under this new leadership this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 21 and 22, is a free community music festival that presents performances on porches and other outdoor sites across the Boston neighborhood. Its mission is “to use the arts to bridge divides of race and class and culture and immigration status,” Ghitman told me in January. “Pushing people to check out other kinds of music, other parts of the neighborhood, and build community through that.”
“It’s also time to not be running this as two white women. It should be run by people of color,” Fried said. “As white allies, I think it’s incumbent on us to step aside, not take up space, make sure people have a voice. The arts are an area where that can happen in a very powerful way.”
Dunamis was founded in 2017 to nurture artists and arts-managers of color. “It’s an important opportunity for Dunamis, as an organization that supports the BIPOC community led by BIPOC people,” said Neo Gcabo, Dunamis’s Director of Marketing and Community Development, who is serving as lead producer for the 2021 JP Porchfest. She grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, and came to Boston to study singing at Berklee College of Music. She’s previously performed at JP Porchfest and helped program a porch. “We want to support BIPOC communities. We want to find ways to compensate artists.”
This weekend’s JP Porchfest, with its increased “spotlight and center BIPOC artists and creatives,” offers both virtual and in-person options on both days. (Rain dates: Aug. 28 and 29.)
The virtual option is one of the ways organizers are trying to keep performers and audiences safe during resurgent covid. “The festival will occur over two days to keep live audience numbers manageable We have capped the number of porches to a maximum of 18 per day An abundance of sanitizing stations will be available throughout the neighborhood,” the website says.
‘JP Is Just Ripe For This’
Marie Ghitman and Mindy Fried live “three doors down from each other” and had babies in the same year, 1991. They created a child care co-operative with four families. “They grew up together,” Ghitman said.
Ghitman and Fried regularly attended Somerville’s annual PorchFest, which began in 2011, inspired by an event in Ithaca, New York. The Somerville version has since inspired Porchfests in Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Hull, Melrose, Milton, Plum Island, Quincy, Reading, Roslindale, Wellfleet, Winchester … and Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
“JP is just ripe for this and it can be different from what Somerville is doing,” Ghitman remembered thinking.
Somerville’s PorchFest is organized by the city’s Arts Council and allows any musician to sign up to perform.
“We knew there was a lot of talent in the neighborhood,” Ghitman said. “There was a lot of concern about community building. And we knew there was a lot of segregation in the neighborhood.”
Ghitman and Fried planned something more curated for Jamaica Plain to try to address these things. For the first Jamaica Plain Porchfest in 2014, they recruited 10 bands to play on three porches. They recall their Facebook page was “flooded with interest,” especially from white male musicians. “We can’t just let it follow the path of least resistance,” Ghitman thought.
“We were trying to build community across the divides of race and class and culture,” Fried said. “Then we added immigrants as things got worse.”
In the event’s second year, Ghitman said, “We recruited porches and then we opened it up to anyone from anywhere”—not just those based in JP. Connecting artists with porches at which they could perform was also a way to open it up to artists “who didn’t have a venue,” Fried said.
“The act of opening up private space, your stoop or your porch, and letting strangers come in is a powerful thing,” Fried said. They aimed to bridge the divides between white JP and the Latin Quarter around Hyde Square and Jackson Square, as well as between poor and wealthy. “Often people from these areas don’t traverse the neighborhood to experience different parts.”
They sought out artists, activists, community groups, emerging artists, amateurs, professionals, musicians who played a variety of music—gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, jazz, country, folk, classical. In the second year, they added youth performances, spoken word, dance, comedy, and politicians. They worked with the Boston Housing Authority to offer Porchfest performances at the city’s Mildred Hailey Apartments (formerly Bromley-Heath). “We wanted to break down the fears people had of going in that area,” Fried said.
By 2019, around 800 artists were performing at JP Porchfest, Fried and Ghitman said. “We can’t pay everybody, so it really becomes a labor of love. People wanted to do it because of the spirit of it … the sense of belonging in the neighborhood wherever you go,” Fried said.
“When Trump came in we felt that we needed to be more direct,” Fried said. They offered a “resources and mobilization area” at First Baptist Jamaica Plain, “one more step into being more explicitly political.” JP Porchfest presented testimonies on homelessness and housing struggles. Bikes Not Bombs led a bike tour of the neighborhood. Fried and Ghitman recruited others to curate porches. The dance collective MetaMovements coordinated a dance porch. Dunamis programmed music near the Jackson Square MBTA station.
“People started getting it as an opportunity for them,” Fried said, “a platform to share their creative selves.”
‘Pass It On’
“A couple years ago we started feeling: We grew this thing and it’s great and it’s probably time to pass it on while it’s good,” Fried said. “Often the problem is founders can’t let go when they should. I feel like the timing for us is really right.”
Ghitman and Fried began developing the transition in 2018 and 2019—looking to turn leadership of the festival over to people of color. (The 2020 festival was cancelled due to covid.) Leadership was transferred to Dunamis at the end of 2020. “They share our mission and they have a lot of experience and they have their own mission of creating leadership opportunities for young people of color,” Fried said.
“I have always been struck by Mindy and Marie’s intentionality towards celebrating the rich and diverse JP and artistic communities via a refreshingly genuine and authentic servant leadership model,” Dunamis Executive Director J.Cottle said in the late December announcement. He had been a volunteer coordinator for JP Porchfest for two years and curated a Dunamis porch for two years. “Part of our work at Dunamis is to transform Boston to fully recognize its potential as an arts-hub and this is work that JP Porchfest has been doing to much success with equity at its core.”
“In this time of uncertainty, the arts have been forced to pivot as we navigate the challenges of covid,” Neo Gcabo said in the announcement. “At Dunamis, our focus is to steer the work of Porchfest to highlight BIPOC-run organizations and communities, elevate the collaboration of community partners, and create long-lasting relationships between artists and community members through a robust, safe and engaging festival. With the fundamental work Marie and Mindy have done, we are excited to launch a reimagined Porchfest to the world.”
“JP is a community filled with multiple communities,” Gcabo told me in January. “If there’s one community that supports its people, it’s JP. … JP is one of the most heartwarming communities that I’ve been through. … I feel like I can life safely in this community and be a person.”
“You get to walk around your neighborhood and feel a sense of community,” Cottle said of the festival. “We don’t want to lose the heart of Porchfest, which is very much participatory, you walk around and there’s a level of intimacy.”
“BIPOC communities that have previously been marginalized and seen as marginalized have the ability to stand up and do the work,” Gcabo said. “…No longer are we going to stand for being a marginalized community. We can take the reins on our own creativity.”
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