Did you know that JP Porchfest drew over 10,000 attendees to Jamaica Plain this year? JP Porchfest is held on porches throughout JP and builds community through music and other art forms. Today, we are chatting with Mindy Fried and Marie Ghitman, the producers of JP Porchfest, about helping other neighborhoods start their Porchfests, how JP Porchfest has tripled in size, and their mission around diversity.

K: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

MG: I was born in Brooklyn, New York. I lived there for four months and then my family moved to Paris, France because my dad was in the army there. Now, I live in Jamaica Plain. I have been here for most of the last 30 years.

MF: I’m from Buffalo, New York and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. I’ve lived in Boston since 1980 and most of that time has been in JP.

K: How was Porchfest started?

MG: The original Porchfest was in Ithaca, New York in 2007 so we don’t take credit for the original idea. It now happens in about 50 towns and cities throughout the country including Somerville. That is where we heard about it and thought it would be a great fit for JP but with a different kind of focus. JP Porchfest started out based on the original model but we’ve also created our own model. We have also fostered others who have come to us for help with starting their own Porchfest. 

MF: San Francisco was the first to come to us and then Maplewood New Jersey, Arlington, Plum Island, Fitchburg, Quincy, and a few others. We have a guide that we made that helps people figure out the ABCs of a Porchfest. We offer a little coaching and support. There are probably about 50 Porchfests throughout the country and we love them all. They are all great celebrations of community.

JP Porchfest is a little different in that we have a mission around diversity. We have explicitly decided that we want to use this opportunity to build community across the divides of race, class, culture, and immigrant status. We really feel that there is a way to do that –  in an operational, ground level way, which is labor intensive, but it is so worth it. What happens then is that we are able to work with community groups like JPNDC, the Main Streets, Franklin Park Coalition, Hyde Square Task Force, and all these different groups. We work with them throughout the year and they become invested in being a part of the event.

K: What is the process for choosing the porches and bands?

MG: We have a way of matching porches that is pretty exciting! The main way that we are different, and it’s because we have this mission, is that other Porchfests have a sign up system where bands sign themselves up with their porch. You have to either have a porch yourself or know someone in the neighborhood and, usually, you have to be from that neighborhood. We ask people to donate their porches for the day and then we have performers sign up and they can be from anywhere. They don’t have to have a porch of be from JP. We introduce the performers to the porches before the event. We do all the mixing and matching and it’s really fun.

“Never to Late to Be a Poet” poetry group on spoken word porch

MF: Think of JP Porchfest as this large, moving behemoth object with a lot of smaller little groupings where people get connected. People get connected among the porch hosts and the performers. People get connected in the little clusters of the different porches that are together. We really are connecting people at the smaller levels and getting them invested in this being their festival and it really is their festival.

K: What have you learned after four years of Porchfest?

MF: We have learned that there is a formula that works but there is still a lot of work to do. We have also learned that it takes an incredible amount of work. This year we got a Live Arts Boston Grant from the Boston Foundation which allowed us to hire a couple of people. It took the edge off, a little bit. Before the grant, it was just us and volunteers. It is a huge labor of love.

When we first started, our mission was about making people connect on this one day. As we have moved on, we have realized it’s equally important for people to sustain those connections in some way. I’m a sociologist and I presented our Porchfest film to a panel of experts, including race scholars and ethnographers. We got to talk about what was strong and where the weaknesses were for JP Porchfest. What I took away from that was that we were doing a lot to make things happen on one day but didn’t know what was happening afterwards with those people who loved being together on that day. Were they still connected to each other? We have really thought about how to sustain that. We’ve started having programming throughout the year and we have maintained connections to the groups that we work with. We’re building on that. It’s really fun and it makes it more meaningful.

MG: It’s a lot of hours of work. We’ve always had a great web person and we’ve always had a volunteer coordinator. Those positions have been in place since the first year. We can’t help ourselves from coming up with new ideas, doing new things, and growing it every year. That’s what keeps it exciting for us, and it’s always more work.

K: How has Porchfest grown since year one?

MF: The first year we had 65 bands on 35 porches.

MG: It has more than tripled in size. A big change is that we added lots of other art forms, a decision that was driven by our diversity mission – in order to attract performance and audiences of various talents and backgrounds it made sense to include more art forms. It was just music the first year. Now we have dance, theater, spoken word, storytelling, circus arts, and comedy.

Circus arts at JP Porchfest

MF: We love music. There is a universal power that music has in pulling people together, but with something like spoken word, we have people who are expressing from their heart these explicit messages and stories. This year we had the new circus school that is coming to JP and they were amazing. Having something as joyful, delightful, and kid-focused as circus arts is important.

This year we decided to add the Resource Mobilization Fair because we are trying to be more explicit with our political messaging. The political landscape has changed so we felt as though we needed to create more space for activists to talk about the important things they are working on. The amazing thing was that ten or so groups that we invited responded almost immediately saying yes, and then other groups approached us and asked to be a part of it.

K: Are there other community activities that either of you are a part of?

MF: We are now a 501c3 charitable organization called Hoopla Productions which we started last April. We have done a number of smaller events. We did something similar to Porchfest at the Lawn on D two years in a row. We have also produced a major event in Dorchester called “Light Up the Line” which was a celebration of the transit equity victory on the Fairmount Indigo line – which resulted in the MBTA commuter line adding stops on a number of low-income communities and communities of color along the way.

MG: Initially, the new “Indigo Line” didn’t stop in Dorchester and Hyde Park so we were celebrating that change.

MF: The Boston Foundation wanted to have a celebration of this victory but it was also their 100th anniversary. We organized this awesome event where we had musicians on the commuter line. We had Larry Watson and a group of gospel singers perform. When they came off the train, they continued to perform and they paraded to a vacant lot that we had transformed into a festival space with music, spoken word, The Up Truck, and circus artists. We have lots of other really cool ideas but we need funding!

MG: In terms of community involvement, among other things I play music with the JP Honk Band and a few other bands. I helped start the Figment art festival on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. It’s a really fun interactive art festival that’s two days long.

K: What’s your favorite thing about living in Jamaica Plain?

MG: I feel like I live in a small town because I know all of my neighbors even though I haven’t lived on this street for long. I could knock on their doors for anything. I can walk or ride my bike to everything I need and yet I live in a big vibrant city. It really feels like small town living but with the benefits of living in a city like the arts, diversity, and culture.