Politicians Discuss JP Arts and Culture at State of our Neighborhood

Jamaica Plain is home to many destination arts and culture events that draw participants and attendees from all over Greater Boston, including the JP Music Festival and JP Open Studios in the fall, the Wake Up the Earth Festival in the spring, and JP Porchfest in the summer.

Yet the city and state could be doing more to support artists in pursuing their crafts and sharing their work with the public, in Jamaica Plain and across the city, according to the panel of politicians at the sixth annual State of our Neighborhood (SOON) community gathering, held Thursday, April 7, at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School on Bolster Street.

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State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson, District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley and State Rep. Liz Malia answer questions at the Jamaica Plain State of our Neighborhood 2016. Photo: Richard Heath.

City licensing and permitting processes, which can be difficult to interpret and follow, can constrain local artists, as well as the businesses looking to collaborate with them, said District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley. A more user-friendly experience is needed, with more forms made available online and better customer service offered to those needing assistance untangling civic red tape, he said.

District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson echoed that “concierge service” for artists could unlock further opportunities to showcase arts across Boston. While musicians can be seen performing downtown, he would like to see more public music in the city’s outer-lying neighborhoods. He would also like the city to grant more block party permits. “We sometimes make it really difficult to have fun in Boston,” he said.

Additionally, Jackson would like to see more support for affordable artist housing, where individuals could maintain studios and therefore live and work in the same space.

Vanessa Snow, manager of organizing and policy initiatives at the Hyde Square Task Force in JP, introduced a performance by the youth theater group ¡Acción! Community Theater, in which local teens acted out a short play in which one teen is embarrassed to attend a sleepover at a friend’s home in worn-out, too-small-for-her pajamas (as it turns out, all of the girls wore similarly too-small PJs).

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Members of the Hyde Square Task Force’s youth theater group ¡Acción! Community Theater take a bow following their performance at the Jamaica Plain State of our Neighborhood 2016 community gathering. Photo: Richard Heath.

The task force has been very active in Jamaica Plain arts and culture initiatives. In preparation for the arts-and-culture portion of SOON, the group held a meeting attended by more than 50 people. Task force youth have also worked with O’Malley to support the designation of the stretch of Centre Street between Jackson and Hyde squares as Boston’s Latin Quarter. A Boston City Council committee held its first hearing on the proposal Monday, April 4.

Other from-the-ground-up artistic endeavors are afoot in Jamaica Plain. O’Malley asked audience members whether they had seen “The Pineapple Diaries,” a web series filmed entirely in Jamaica Plain. The new CityPOP space also just opened in Egleston Square, giving local artists a place to work and experiment.

The city should continue to urge large Boston nonprofits that do not pay property taxes to contribute to city arts programs in other ways, such as by actively engaging school children in dance, O’Malley added.

The panelists were asked whether they would support boosting the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) budget to $17 million for fiscal 2017, from Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed $14.16 million budget.

“Yes” was the immediate, emphatic response from State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, whose district includes Jamaica Plain.

State Rep. Liz Malia, whose district also includes Jamaica Plain, said that arts do often get “short shrift” in budgets, and acknowledged that she is not sure how effective she could be in this instance, but committed to “making as strong an argument as [she] can on behalf of the MCC.”

Jackson added, to applause, that funding Boston Public School art programs would advance arts for 57,000 young people in the city.

Panelists were also asked whether they would support refiling for approval of a “percent for public art,” program, a tool used by nearly two dozen other states to fund the creation and installation of public art. Baker vetoed the measure last year. Sanchez said the previous filing may have been too big and too vague, but that he and Malia would continue to support the measure.

Art, Malia said, “is a necessity.”

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A sign supporting local art at Jamaica Plain State of our Neighborhood 2016. Photo: Richard Heath.