Weekly Community Potluck Dinner Brings Residents Even Closer

By Kailey Duran

The space was filled with the aroma of aging wood. On any given day, there is something here for everyone — training for puppies, drumming for toddlers, food for the soul.

Welcome to Spontaneous Celebrations, an oatmeal-colored cookie-cutter house that serves both as a community center and an oasis in Jamaica Plain.

People celebrated Spontaneous Celebrations’ 32nd anniversary
recently during the weekly potluck hosted by Spontaneous Celebrations

As patrons feasted on chicken curry, pepperoni pizza and vegetable soup recently, the main attraction for the night was a craft center. The evening’s creative specialty: fish carved out of manila folders.

“It’s not just making this fish, it’s about being in a community of other people,” said Edward Pazzanese, a community organizer in Jamaica Plain.

“It makes the connection between the visual arts and telling our stories,” said Pazzanese, while rummaging through two extra-large aluminum pans with sheets of gold foil, floral cardstock and vermillion paper rolls one recent evening.

This is evident on the aging tables that held up the art supplies — the once white surface now replaced with green smudges and blue and purple paint splotches, representing the people that once occupied the space.

Femke Rosenbaum founded Spontaneous Celebrations’ current home in the 1990s. But her involvement started over a decade earlier when she began planning a series of festivals at her Jamaica Plain kitchen table.

“My house wasn’t big enough,” said Rosenbaum.

She moved her activities to the basement of an old fire house and then, eventually, onto Danforth Street.

The Wake up the Earth festival, which became the hallmark of Spontaneous Celebrations, began in 1979 to honor people and land that were saved by stopping the development of the Southwest Expressway. This highway was meant to connect Interstate 95 with Route 128, but it would have displaced hundreds of families in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury and the South End.

The festival is memorialized on the center’s walls with the painting of an I-95 sign next to the campaign slogan: “People Before Highways.” There are banners decorated with butterflies and an official picture book that documents everything that happened in the first festival.

“We just need places like this to exist,” said Bonnie Rovics, a doula and educator who has been frequenting the space since the mid-90s.

She was brought in by the potlucks that occurred then two to three times a week. Alongside her activist friends, she used the second floor of the building to put on theatrical plays about prison reform.

In what she describes as a commitment to the space, Rovics feeds the legacy of Spontaneous Celebrations by helping cook meals for the weekly potluck.

As soon as kids began filling the room, Rovics’ stories were drowned out by the tapping of footsteps, echoing of piano keys and the ripping of tape.

As first-timers at the potluck, Asher and Holden Robinson — 12-year-old twins who recently moved to Jamaica Plain — said they hoped to meet other children.

Asher’s fish, named Jeremy, was colored with the graphite of his No. 2 pencil. Holden’s fish, named Bob, was marked by its large eyes.

What crafts might next week hold?

“A car could work,” proposed Asher.

This story was published as part of a collaboration with Boston University’s School of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

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