Artists are performing in neighborhoods across Boston, and the only thing missing is you.
Summer is here, and arts and creativity are in full swing in Boston. Through the New England Foundation for the Arts’ (NEFA) Creative City grant program, artists are enlivening our neighborhoods with projects designed to engage audiences in new places and in new, creative ways.
Earlier this month, I attended the Cultural Plenzano Bombazo Project featuring musician Jorge Arce and Raiz de Plena. The group presented traditional Puerto Rican music and dancing at Mozart Park in Jamaica Plain. This was my first visit to Mozart Park, a small area flanked by two busy streets, but I felt right at home upon entering. Half an hour before the performance was scheduled to begin, a lively crowd had already gathered. Some people had claimed seats in the stage area, but most lingered in the park’s green spaces, talking to friends or watching with curiosity as another Creative City artist, Cedric Douglas, assembled a pop-up art wall.
Young children and families with strollers moved through the park while teenagers played pick-up basketball on the court. Arce and his fellow performers had set up a “backstage area,” but there was no sense of exclusivity or separation from the crowds. Several people came up to chat with the musicians before the show; musicians hailed friends from across the park; dancers in flowing skirts stretched and warmed up in the grass; an immediately popular someone arrived to delivered free J.P. Licks ice cream to all comers. There was a warm, inviting sense of camaraderie—watching the artists blend so naturally into the crowd felt like a show unto itself.
The official show started with a (drum) bang as the nearly 15 musicians and dancers boogied into the park. After a rousing entrance song, Mr. Arce introduced his impressive line-up of musicians—which included the audience. “This isn’t a true bombazo if you don’t all do it,” he encouraged. A few audience members eagerly leapt up to dance in the square, and soon a large portion of the audience was moving along to the beats and dancing with abandon.
This sense of community and the distinctive cultures of Boston neighborhoods is the driving force behind Creative City, which NEFA launched in 2015 with funding from Barr. Its simple goal is to support individual artists to enliven neighborhoods and engage communities Tweet This —through creative work that requires audience participation and is realized in public spaces.
Creative City grants are open to individuals, artists’ collectives, and multiple artists working in collaboration who live within the Greater Boston area and whose work is “site-specific” to—i.e., it is tailor-made to be created and experienced in—Boston. Work of all disciplines, aesthetics, and cultures is encouraged, and the hope is to spark the creativity of audiences to add to the final product, which—as my evening in Mozart Park demonstrated—can range from a tangible object like Mr. Douglas’s art wall to simply a shared experience of community abandon, like dancing with a group of strangers to the groove of the plena y bombazo.