FAIRMONT_JAN

The Boston Foundation believes that culture is integral to the educational, economic and social fabric of the lives of those living in Greater Boston and Massachusetts. Vibrant cultural scenes vitalize communities and enhance the lives of those inhabiting them while attracting new residents, visitors, restaurants and other businesses.

F. Javier Torres, Senior Program Officer, manages the Foundation’s arts and culture investments and heads the cross-sectoral group of nonprofit organizations and government agencies that drive the work of the Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood of Boston. He spoke with ArtPlace about some of the biggest risks he’s seen so far in undertaking this innovative project.

ARTPLACE: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your efforts? How did you get burned, or how did you prevail?

TORRES: The biggest risk has been our gradual approach to fostering a “cultural economy” in Upham’s Corner. The Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot in Upham’s Corner builds upon Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s $6.2 million capital investment to revitalize the Strand Theatre, and the City’s Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative, led by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to develop a lasting strategy for business growth, employment opportunities, housing development, and corridor branding along the 9-mile Fairmount/Indigo commuter rail line. The Fairmount Cultural Corridor Pilot touches the work of nonprofits, government agencies, businesses, artists, and the lives of residents. This is a large, diverse group of stakeholders, each with a unique background, set of experiences, opinions, and ideas.

When we dedicated ourselves to a resident-led process, we realized it would bring challenges and surface competing interests – going deep within the community means sacrificing a quick win or product for the sake of developing powerful ties and trust that lead to enduring impact.

There is a strong inclination to rush through the initial planning, to hasten the decision-making process and push programming through in order to show a high level of activity at the onset. However, our goal is to respect everyone’s voice so that the work we do has real value in the community and is sustainable beyond the initial grant period. Relationship building among partners is vital to the initiative’s endurance. It might be seen as a risk not to offer a litany of public art installations, open studio tours, performances, and markets within the first few months of ArtPlace funding, but we believe our deliberate and intentional efforts in Upham’s Corner have paid off with cultural activities that showcase the assets of this community. We have prevailed, and will continue to do so, with a shared, dynamic vision of success.

ARTPLACE: What other risks did your partners in the Fairmount Cultural Corridor experience?

TORRES: Our nonprofit partners are all located in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood, but even so there is a sense that each has their own “turf.” Part of this work is bringing these historically independent organizations together to shape a cohesive community action plan. A few nonprofits considered these partnerships risky because they were putting their reputation – even their autonomy – on the line. Success is at least partially dependent on another organization holding up its end of the bargain. However, we’re finding that these capacity and leadership challenges are opening up new pathways for collaboration in the future and, in turn, strengthening the Fairmount Cultural Corridor work in the long-term.

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