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The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, and several community partners are using ArtPlace funds to catalyze a ‘cultural economy’ with art installations, outdoor markets, local business activities and ‘random acts of culture’ in and around the historic Strand Theatre and Upham’s Corner transit stop. Using this Dorchester neighborhood as a pilot, the Foundation will complement city-led planning efforts and ensure the area expresses the cultural identity of its residents.

ArtPlace met with F. Javier Torres and discussed the issues that arise when working toward the livability, diversity, and economic development goals inherent in placemaking.

ARTPLACE: Is there a new challenge that engaging in creative placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you?  Are there new skills required?

TORRES: With a revitalized rail station, ethnic diversity, a growing arts scene and one of city’s cultural gems in the Strand Theatre, Upham’s Corner is a perfect setting to engage local residents, artists, businesses and community organizations in the design and creation of a cultural brand that highlights the vibrancy of the neighborhood. The Foundation is working on building two-way accountability and trust among our community-based, nonprofit, and government partners. We forged these alliances because we are aware that we are not the single ‘expert’ in creative placemaking. Our project draws its strength from the varying experiences, opinions and ideas of our partners ‘on the ground.’ In order to effectively marshal their knowledge and skills, we had to adapt our normative practices. This type of true cross-sector collaboration is unique for us as a foundation, but we are extraordinarily encouraged by the willingness of partners to work with us to create a vision for Upham’s Corner that is representative of the people, businesses and artists that reside there.

ARTPLACE: Have your community-based partners related any challenges specific to their work on this project?

TORRES: Upham’s Corner Main Street, or UCMS, is a business district planning agency that works to build a vibrant commercial district in the neighborhood. One of their main challenges has been to expand their definition of art to make it more accessible and supportive of local businesses. Their push to connect the arts with neighborhood revitalization rises from a strategic focus on the Strand Theatre and its potential to drive pedestrian foot traffic for local businesses and recruit complementary commercial activity. UCMS cultivates an arts and culture brand in Upham’s Corner through arts-related events and business promotions. ArtPlace support has allowed the Boston Foundation to connect them with an exciting new group of placemakers and local artists who have redefined UCMS’ notion of ‘art.’

According to Executive Director Max McCarthy, UCMS no longer identifies art solely through the traditional prism of performance or visual art. New ideas for public art interventions like temporary art installations and pop-up galleries are challenging UCMS to think deeper about how to make these forms of art engaging to the small business community. This has been an enriching experience for us and for them.

 

 

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