JP Porchfest celebrates fifth-year anniversary

June 22, 2018
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The JP Porchfest will kick-off for the fifth year in a row on July 7 from noon to 6 p.m. The Gazette recently interviewed Marie Ghitman and Mindy Fried, co-founders of the JP Porchfest, about this year’s festival and the five-year milestone.

Asked why they began the JP festival, Ghitman and Fried said in an email they were inspired by the many porchfests around the country, especially the one in Somerville.

“At the time, Somerville was the only porchfest in this area, but now there are around 10 others, many of which we have advised. We call them our “porchfest babies”, and they include Quincy, Fitchburg, Brookline, and most recently, Fenway, which just had its first porchfest! We have also advised groups as far away as Plum Island, Maplewood, New Jersey and San Francisco,” they said.

Fried and Ghitman said they started the festival to “to build community, using the arts as a vehicle to bridge the divides of race, class, culture and immigrant status.” They said that is what drives them and that they work closely with volunteers, porch hosts and community partners to achieve those goals.

Reflecting on the five-year anniversary, Fried and Ghitman said, “If you asked us in year one whether we would still be organizing JP Porchfest in 5 years, we probably would have said something like, ‘let’s see if we make it through year one!’ It’s an enormous amount of work, and it’s taken us a while for us to create systems. To be honest, we were a little surprised by how quickly it grew. In Year One, we had 65 bands on 35 porches. This year, we will have 169 artists/groups performing on 90 porches – and we’ve expanded beyond music, to include theatre, spoken word, storytelling, dance, and circus arts. Clearly, JP was ripe for this kind of event!”

They said that it takes about 800 people to make the festival happen with about 10,000 people attending the event. They said it’s this engagement that helps motivate them to produce the porchfest.

“At this point, we’re not interested in making the festival bigger; rather, we’re focused on making the event increasingly more reflective of our community in terms of race, class, culture, age and gender. We’re thrilled that so many performers and porch hosts want to be part of JP Porchfest – and especially excited that the diversity of the event continues to increase,” said Fried and Ghitman.

Asked about the challenges of putting on the festival, they responded, “The two of us have done the bulk of the organizing work each year, and that is a big challenge on top of our ‘day jobs’. This year, we have had great help from our amazing Associate Producer, Eli Pabon! But the job is too big for even three people. Most other porchfests have artists sign up to perform on their own porches (or a friend’s porch). Our model is different.

“In addition to inviting performers to sign up, we ask people to volunteer their porches, so no one is excluded simply because they don’t have access to a porch. We also welcome people from anywhere (e.g., other neighborhoods of Boston, and as far afield as NYC). Once artists and porch hosts have signed up, we match them up and introduce them, and assign them a performance time – based on what they’ve asked for. And then they can finalize some of the logistics. This porchfest model is very labor-intensive, but doing it this way is central to our diversity mission. Imagine doing this for all of the nearly 100 performance venues, and you’ll get a sense of the job! But it’s SO worth it!”

Fried and Ghitman said they plan to revisit how they do things after this year and create a bigger team next year that will allow them to share some responsibilities to others.

They said they have many poignant memories over the porchfest years, including “what happens every year at the Nate Smith House, which is an affordable apartment complex for seniors, managed by JPNDC which is one of our treasured partners. Every year, a steel pan band from Trinidad-Tobago – called the Tempo International Rhythm Section – plays there. And the most eclectic crowd of people of all ages, races and cultures come together to dance and feast on empanadas and other treats provided by the residents. To us, this is porchfest at its best!

“Another powerful memory is of youth and elder poets performing together on the porch of Betsaida Gutierrez. The youth were from Hyde Square Task Force and the elders were from Sandee Storey’s “Never Too Late to be a Poet” group. People may know Betsaida, a longtime housing activist who, as it turns out, is also a poet! She had come to us the first year, offering her porch as a way to ease some racial tensions in her new neighborhood, and now, a few years later, her porch is a poetry porch. This year, Betsaida is organizing a group of artists to read ‘Puerto Rican Obituary’, a poem by Pedro Pietri, which captures Puerto Rican pride, particularly in light of the terrible impact of Hurricane Maria. We love the continuity of engagement from dedicated folks who seize the opportunity for self-expression and more generally, to share their talents, which includes voicing concerns about contemporary issues.”

Fried and Ghitman said they have 169 bands, musicians and other performers signed up for the festival. They said they are happy with the increased number of performers, especially their diversity.

“We are moved by the generosity of artists who perform for free, the porch hosts who offer their porches to artists they’ve never met, and the volunteers who are essential to making the operations run smoothly on the day of the event,” they said. “We’re also very happy about all the businesses in Hyde Square’s Latin Quarter who joined in this year! Over the years, we have worked closely with the Mildred Hailey Tenant Organization. And this year we’re especially excited to be hosting an open mic/talent showcase that we hope will engage residents, as well as performances by Dencity youth, led by the organization’s dynamic leader, Michelle La Poetica.”

Fried and Ghitman said they are still looking for more volunteers for the festival. For more information, or to volunteer, visit jpporchfest.org.

[This article has been updated.]

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