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The 5th annual Jamaica Plain Porchfest celebrated music with a mission

The local festival hinges on social justice operation

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
The 5th annual Jamaica Plain Porchfest celebrated music with a mission
Porchfest performers in Hyde Square. The annual musical extravaganza involves dozens of venues and musical acts. Photo: Celina Colby

Last weekend, JP Porchfest celebrated its fifth year of bringing music to the streets of Jamaica Plain. Eighty-six artists entertained crowds with music and spoken word over the six-hour event.

Porchfest performers in Hyde Square. The annual musical extravaganza involves dozens of venues and musical acts. Photo: Celina Colby

Porchfest performers in Hyde Square. The annual musical extravaganza involves dozens of venues and musical acts. Photo: Celina Colby

Many other Porchfests around the country aim just to celebrate local music, but JP’s festival hinges on a social justice operation. “Unlike most Porchfests we have the mission to pull people together across class, income and racial divides,” says co-founder Mindy Fried. “JP has a reputation as a place that’s very diverse, but in reality it’s often segregated.”

Fried says making the festival truly equitable has been a process. Initially they focused on bringing in a range of performers, but as the years went on they brought affordable housing porches on board to host music and began to attract a more diverse audience.

Musician J. Cottle began collaborating with Porchfest as a volunteer, but this year he contributed as a performer. Cottle’s organization, Dunamis, works to educate artists in business to supplement their musical skills. “We always say there are people to teach them to sing and dance, but who teaches them to negotiate contracts?” says Cottle.

Dunamis’s set at Porchfest served the dual purpose of entertainment and education. Cottle gave his performers a contract in advance of the performance that contained a clause stating that any problems with the show would leave them completely liable for all expenses. Finding the clause was a lesson in reading contracts thoroughly and requesting fair terms. The performance also allowed Cottle’s musicians to get feedback from viewers and other artists in a more casual setting.

Now that Porchfest is an annual event, it’s become a community effort. Fried says she and her co-founder, Marie Ghitman, have been able to delegate a lot of work to neighbors eager to participate. JP Centre and South Main Streets took over the responsibility of organizing and running a free trolley that circled Jamaica Plain, along Centre Street and South Main up to Egleston Square and back. Spoken word poets performed for all six hours on the trolley.

In a neighborhood where diversity can be more of a marketing tool than a reality, JP Porchfest brings a uniquely equitable art experience to the scene. And that equity isn’t just in giving artists a platform to perform, it’s in giving artists and viewers of color a space to breathe and be.

“I feel good that my band, which happens to be mostly people of color, can perform freely in a way that feels natural to us,” says Cottle. “Being a part of that inclusion is really empowering.”

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