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.
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.
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.
MF: I moved to Boston in 1980 as my “adult” place to live. It was a big deal because I didn’t know people here and I immediately felt like this was a place where I belonged. There is such diversity of perspective. JP is a place where my values and progressive politics are honored and shared with a lot of people. I don’t feel like an oddball. I feel like I really belong here. As we get older, I think a lot about the meaning of community. I’m in my late 60s and I think about what it means to age in place and what kind of supports there are in this community. I feel like JP is a place where I can grow old. It’s also a place where I can be youthful and old because there are so many vibrant and exciting things going. As a writer, it’s been really fun to feel like my writing has been acknowledged by my community. It’s nice to have that. This is my home so that is a lovely thing.
K: Do you have a favorite memory of Jamaica Plain?
MG: My kids grew up on a very small one way street near Stony Brook and there were 33 kids on the street. It was a short block. They were all ages and backgrounds. When they were really little we would always be outside supervising them. They would just hang out. They were allowed to play hide and seek in their tiny circle and as they got older the circle got bigger and bigger. There were always adults around if they needed them but they always had a lot of independence. They’re all grown up now and they all have amazing fond memories of growing up on that little street.
MF: I have a couple that come to mind but since we are talking about children I am thinking about how Marie and I know each other. We know each other originally because we had a childcare cooperative. We took care of each other’s kids for the first few years of their lives. We also hired somebody who was very involved. There were four families and each day the kids would go to a different house. There were so many things that came out of that. The kids had an instant extended family. As parents, we weren’t isolated. I always tell Marie that she was my mommy guru. That was the building of a social network that continued. My work partner in my consulting group is one of the other moms from that cooperative. That togetherness and connectedness of that childcare co-op to broaden to both the stuff that Marie and I do with Porchfest but also with my work world is really powerful.
I also wanted to say that living in a small environment which is so green is just incredible. Living five minutes from the Arboretum and Jamaica Pond is incredible. We have all the benefits of country living but we are in the city. A specific memory I have was spending a huge chunk of time while I was in labor in the Arboretum. Every time my partner and I passed a certain place we would stop and rest a while. We started chatting with these people and I had to tell them to hold on a minute because I was having a contraction. They were like ‘what?!’ I told them not to worry, that I was in labor. That is such a strong memory.
K: What would you like to see happen in JP in the future?
MF: I have to say, for me, one of the scariest things is the impact of gentrification. I’ve lived here over 30 years and when I first moved here we still had the scrappy old T that was falling apart. Some aspects of fixing this place up have been positive and have positively impacted everybody but so many people are now cost-out of living here. A guy across the street from me has lived here for something like 50 years and he bought his house for $40,000. He could sell his place and get a lot more than he paid for it but that’s not what we want to happen to our neighborhood. It’s a huge concern. It’s great that JPNDC and other organizations are fighting really hard to make sure that there is a certain percentage of affordable housing in new developments.
MG: For the most part the only people who can afford to live here now are people who bought at the right time and are lucky enough to own a place. Those who couldn’t afford to buy earlier certainly can’t now, and rents have gone up so much that many people who grew up here can no longer afford it. I am hoping that all of the players in the gentrification/anti-displacement struggle can find a way to come together and come up with solutions that make it so that no one who lives here now has to leave.
MF: We really do hope that through the work that we are doing and the work that other people and groups are doing that the community comes together as a whole. Even though we are diverse, even though this is a neighborhood that is considered tolerant, accepting and protective of people who are marginalized it is still partially segregated by class, race, and culture. It’s not unique to this city. It’s reflective of this entire country. We are just hoping that we can play some small part in trying to overcome some of those divides.