Fairmount Indigo Line Cultural CorridorBoston, MA
ArtPlace spoke with F. Javier Torres, Senior Program Officer at the Boston Foundation, to discuss progress on the Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot, a cross-sector partnership of city, philanthropic, community-based and arts organizations that are focusing on the Upham’s Corner section of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.
Upham’s Corner Main Streets (UCMS), Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI), and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) are the Boston Foundation’s primary nonprofit community collaborators. These organizations recently wrapped up a series of place-based events called Public Kitchen, where Upham’s Corner was transformed into a hub for food, ideas and action. Launched by DS4SI, Public Kitchen is an intervention aimed at social and food justice. During a week of fresh food, cooking classes and competitions, food-inspired art, a night market, and much more, Public Kitchen became an experiment in how more vibrant public infrastructures can improve the community’s quality of life.
ARTPLACE: Have you gained any political traction with your efforts? If so, with whom and how did you do it?
TORRES: Across the board, the Boston Foundation (TBF) and our nonprofit partners have gained traction in the political sphere. TBF has worked with the City of Boston on many projects over the years, and the Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot has allowed us to engage more deeply in a specific neighborhood and to think logistically and creatively as a team.
We must remember that political campaigns begin through local engagement and organizing among residents and businesses of a neighborhood, and Public Kitchen’s activities and interventions have done the foundational work of engaging stakeholders and building excitement in Upham’s Corner – particularly among those who normally aren’t at the proverbial table, like youth and merchants. Our nonprofit partners organized a strong outreach effort to engage the community around food issues. One of our state representatives attended a Public Kitchen event where he learned about food policy with residents and chefs. Educating our elected officials about food policy, access to healthy foods, and urban agriculture will lead to more effective advocacy around these issues in our communities.
ARTPLACE: What assumptions have you made during this process?
TORRES: At TBF, we assume that our neighborhood-based nonprofit partners are able to hit the ground running in terms of building momentum for the Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot Their relationships within the Upham’s Corner area are invaluable. Our theory is that if we engage the community in an accessible way through these community interventions, they will ultimately provide ownership in the short-term and long-term direction of these activities.
ARTPLACE: Are these assumptions holding true?
TORRES: Thankfully, yes! At the Public Kitchen hub in the UCMS office, local stakeholders contributed drawings of what an actual public kitchen would look like, drew on a map about where they get food or the location of their favorite Upham’s Corner restaurant, and have even started discussing ways to have Public Kitchen become a regular entity in the neighborhood. At DS4SI, they learned that Public Kitchen, as a short-term pop-up food and community center, could have stayed open an entire month given all the interest from residents and businesses. We are finding that local creativity can reveal itself when you engage folks in the right way, and we feel our on-the-ground nonprofits are doing just that.
ARTPLACE: What examples would you site as “short term” wins?
TORRES: Beyond Public Kitchen, the Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot has coordinated some amazing annual events that used to be presented in silos. These events included the DSNI Multicultural Festival, Dorchester Open Studios, Honk Fest!, and Upham’s Corner Street Fair. These activities have succeeded in building excitement and engaging the community around the possibilities of creative placemaking in Upham’s Corner.
Also, we have been able to introduce and connect residents to one another, encouraging them to build robust permanent networks through DSNI’s great organizing model. Folks that were unaware or didn’t know much about some of our local nonprofits were educated about the opportunities available in their own neighborhood, and became more informed about local resources. This has been a great auxiliary benefit to our work.
ARTPLACE: What do you think your greatest challenge continues to be?
TORRES: Sustaining and broadening local buy-in is our greatest challenge. This is essential to having long-term impact in Upham’s Corner. We need to continually work on bringing in residents and businesses who normally do not get involved in the neighborhood.
DSNI told us that some of the topics and events seemed foreign or sounded strange to several residents at first. However, Public Kitchen showed us that once people get into the conversation, they realize that “this stuff” is applicable to their lives and incredibly important to the health and well-being of the community. It is up to our team to engage and bring these folks to the table. One way this was done was having Public Kitchen outdoors while people were entering the Stand Theatre for a performance. As people walked toward the Strand, the smells of food and our vocal and enthusiastic nonprofit partner staff brought them into the Kitchen for a unique experience. That is why we continue to strengthen and grow our regular slate of arts and culture-based activities in Upham’s Corner. These are all worthwhile opportunities to engage people typically left out of the creative process.