|Dear Max (MacCarthy, Executive Director)|
Hi Max. How are you doing? I want to wish you the best in
finding the right person for the Cultural Events and Communications
Manager (CECM) position. Many shoes this individual will have to fill
including getting along with you! (hah, hah)
I'm sure with the position being funded by ArtPlace that the
expectations of the job are more than simply "putting on shows" or
"writing grants" for more money. Everyone from the Mayor on down
is already thinking that Uphams Corner "is a Destination for the
Arts." And recently, the events at the Strand have attracted many
people and received high praise.
Getting the Community Involved
If the arts are essential for quality of life, if they tie into
people's emotions and sense of history and joy, then public art can
help the people who live here connect with their community. Art
in the public arena is essential for improving the general prosperity
of the community, true? You've got to believe that, at least in
your capacity of interfacing with the ArtPlace
One thing for certain, a sense of community is completely missing from
this place. Nobody in Uphams Corner goes to public meetings and only a
few to public events. Hispanic, Spanish-only speaking people,
congregate in the businesses that speak their language. True even more
for those who speak Cape Verdean Creole.
Why do you think this is true? What creates the barrier for more
fluid interaction? Is it a language problem? Is it because their social
orientation is more towards family and church? Is it because community
events have nothing to offer the non-English speaking cultures?
The challenge (for you) remains: How can an arts person engage a
sufficient number of people from the community to participate in public
arts events? Or do we (you) even care? How are you planning
to measure your success?
Engaging the Local Artists
Reaching out at the grassroots level is important to engaging the
community successfully. Last summer, walking down Sumner Street, I
passed a three-decker where two gentlemen were coming out the front
door, one strumming a guitar. Clearly from the Cape Verdean community,
he was on his way, he said, to a gig.
Just last week, passing by Las Amerikas barbershop, I didn't see the
usual people seated along the wall having their hair cut. But in
the waiting area were a half dozen men listening to two others playing
guitar. After work entertainment, you could call it.
In my broken Spanish, I asked them if they wanted to be included in the
street festival being planned for Uphams Corner in August. The smiles
on their faces, the excitement and jubilation, their immediate
willingness to generate "musica" for dancing were so obvious.
These people are not big names being brought into the Strand to attract
wealthy, upper class arts patrons from the suburbs. These are ordinary
people from the Cape Verdean community who participate in the arts
every single day of their lives.
Max, how important is it to you and the Main Street board members and
the ArtPlace grant makers to work with the artists who already live in
the community that no one knows anything about? How important is
it for all members of the community to come to know the many cultures
and artistic forms of expression that already exist here?
We, as leaders of the community, can use a top-down hierarchical
methodology to give the impression that the arts are active in Uphams
Corner. That will all be a matter of pretense unless we tap into
the artists who live here.
Last winter we were supposed to hold a community holiday party (Dec 8)
at the Strand that was to include a fashion show put on by the Bird
Street youth. Didn't happen. But the Strand Open House
before the Boston Ballet event on Feb 15 included three Uphams Corner
organizations that focus on fashion: two businesses and the Bird Street
youth. Each had a table set up to demonstrate their work (one business
didn't show). That's nice but it doesn't begin to compare with a
fashion show. (Dumbing down)
One of the most important functions of an arts coordinator is to sit
with all the people, all the stakeholders, all the organizations in the
community to find out who they are artistically. If you ask them, they
may tell you nothing because they are not even aware of how integral
the arts are to their daily lives.
What is it that wakes us up in the morning and gives us incredible
energy to make it through the day, a creative thought or process or
interaction with another human being? How can we tap into that energy
and bring it to a community or public setting, generating a powerful gathering
of people alive with the electricity of life?
The Mayor Prepping the Strand
Max, as you know, the Public Works Improvement Program under current
design covers the one block section from the Strand Theatre to the
parking lot behind CVS. It's clear the project is NOT being done for the
residents of Uphams Corner but rather for the Mayor's agenda.
According to Zach Wassmouth,
Principal Engineer for the project, when asked the genesis of the project, he said: "The mayor approved the plan." But
who did the Mayor ask first? It wasn't the residents of Uphams
Corner. "Why was Columbia Road selected for upgrade," they asked "when Dudley Street has more businesses and the
sidewalks there are much more dangerous?"
Obviously, the Mayor is catering to his image of what visitors to the
Strand need for them to want to return to Uphams Corner (the Strand).
The $3 million project for Columbia Road is to help the visitors
(residents don't have any problems) find their trip to
and from the parking lots user-friendly, safe and in some ways,
memorable. Focusing on how to make the
Strand more viable is a great idea. Constructing a posh roadway
visitors, (maybe ) will eliminate one more excuse for their not
a theater in the inner city.
But let's look at the real purpose of the Strand. Is it
venue? Or is it serving the people? Just who are the
beneficiaries? A picture perfect one block section of Columbia Rd
does not an Uphams Corner make. The point is that we must
remember the people who live here - supporting
the local cultural
needs, tying efforts to the business district and creating a strong
sense of community, pride and an energy that is magnetism to folks
Who are you going to Hire?
Which brings us to the real topic: Who are you going to hire?
Under the City of Boston's management, the stated mission of the
Strand, at least on paper, has
been to serve the neighborhoods of Dorchester,
Roxbury and Mattapan. Under ArtPlace the priority of serving the local
community (it seems to me) is even higher. So I want to ask you a
Are you thinking of hiring someone who's always been here, who knows
our neighborhoods well, who is a proven asset and who knows what the
arts scene has required in the past? Doesn't that sound like a great
strategy? I'm going to suggest a different approach - that you
get a little edgier, maybe move further outside the usual "art box" of
The almost 90% POC (people of color) and not POW (people of white) who
live here - how important are they to you? How about taking
and hiring a person of color from Mattapan or from Roxbury or maybe
from the Cape Verdean / Hispanic or Haitian communities - somebody with
a fresh view. Or maybe you go way beyond Dorchester's parochial
borders and hire someone who doesn't know Dorchester - maybe someone
Somerville arts scene - new blood, new ideas.
Job Description Requirements
Your stated job requirements include "experience or interest in
community development; preferably in the grassroots setting." I like
"Interest or experience in connecting arts/culture with local economic
development" - That's essential for creating not just an arts destination but
an arts community. Step 1: Create arts events that are
more than just the Strand Theatre. If events are only at the Strand, except for a very few local
restaurants, any relationship that businesses will have to an arts
scene will be nonexistent.
But that could change if we create events that are just outside the doors of the businesses. If
arts events are frequent enough and include the entire business
district, if we find a way to bring people to Uphams Corner who don't
live here AND if we get people out of their homes who already live
here, well, . . . I can assure you our local businesses will generate their own
ideas on how to get involved.
"Ability to work with diverse groups of people" - but it must be
in a meaningful way, not just setting up meetings and getting
contributions, not just tapping into the usual stakeholders
who are ever present to determine the future of Uphams Corner. Diverse
groups of people (not just white), across a wide spectrum who live
behind the closed doors in Uphams Corner, that's what we need to make
this effort authentic. The
question is: How do we get those doors to open?
What do you or the new Cultural
Events Manager (CECM) have to offer people to get them to say yes? We
obviously don't know the answer. If we did, the events already
taking place in Uphams Corner would be better attended.
Youth are Principle to the Success of an Arts Movement
Geri Guardino was responsible for the Strand
(McCormack Center for the Arts), she managed an incredibly popular and
effective teen program. People now in their late 20's
and 30's continue to rave about it and how much the arts
programming did for their lives.
Some of the best attended events at the Strand today continue to involve our
youth - Boston Ballet - youth from the Tobin School, Boston
Children's Chorus, Jane Money's many groups at Pope John Paul II Academy.
And let's not forget the BIrd Street youth either.
Performers on stage are nothing if an audience is not there to clap -
whoop - holler and make the performers feel like a million.
Family and friends will come out, fill the seats and make everyone feel good.
Declaring it So: Uphams Corner IS a Destination for the Arts
Let's not be in the process of "becoming" a destination for the
arts. Becoming, trying, wanting, maybe - these are all mindsets
that don't quite think it can be done.
Rather, Uphams Corner must stake a claim: "We are Uphams Corner - Destination for the Arts" with signs and
stories and interviews, with street dances and face painting and LOTS of
youth and intergenerational participation, openly, "in your
Who are you? What are you doing? "I'm an artist. I am creating."
Ask merchants to display signs in EVERY window showing UC pride:
Get youth actively involved. Do you know that City School,
Dorchester Bay, DSNI and Bird Street all have youth activities centered
on "social justice"? (Of course, you do.) That's ok, but the
focus is in the wrong direction. They are looking at what
society is NOT doing right.
- The Arts Rock in Uphams Corner
- I'm a Fan of the Strand
- I sell Art Supplies
- I Love Uphams Corner
Ask our youth to look forward into the future, to help
create an Uphams Corner that is doing it right. Involved from the beginning, they will create a vibrant Uphams Corner of
If the buzz generated
around Uphams is loud enough, the world will begin to think of our community as
a true destination for the arts - not just a shadow of a thought, not
painting in the making, but a sperm and egg united in the regeneration
So, Max, I wish you the best (Pres!). You have a tough road ahead
of you but an exciting one as well.
|Posted: February 23, 2013
Nancy J Conrad
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