Politics has seeped into an annual Jamaica Plains art festival where musicians use neighborhood porches as their stage. As live music reverberated throughout Jamaica Plain during the fourth annual JP Porchfest on July 8, community activists were given a platform to talk about issues ranging from affordable housing, climate change and immigration rights.
The Resource Mobilization Fair was given space at the center of the neighborhood. JP Porchfest co-founders Marie Ghitman and Mindy Fried believe the policies of President Trump’s administration are dividing the country and wanted the festival to amplify the messages of nonprofit organizations fighting for social justice issues locally. A dozen organizations were given table space on the First Baptist Church lawn to share information and engage with attendees. This was the first Resource Mobilization Fair in JP Porchfest’s four years.
“When we began, we intentionally decided not to have any political piece to the event. But then as things have changed in the world and this event has grown, and we’ve seen the potential of it, we really see how it can be a platform for activist work,” Ghitman said.
JP Porchfest featured nearly 100 porches, which served as stages for over 200 bands of diverse styles. Performances also included theatre, dance, spoken word, comedy and circus arts. Residents, businesses and community centers volunteered porches, yards and driveways as “venues.” Ghitman estimates that around 10,000 people saw at least one performance.
“Porches have always been a place where people—before everyone was looking at their cell phones all day—would sit around on and someone would play some music and people would sing together and hang out and spend time together with their neighbors,” Ghitman said.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh also briefly stopped by. “It’s great for the spirit of a neighborhood and the character of a neighborhood to do this. Neighbors get out and meet each other,” he said as he shook hands with attendees.
One of the organizations at the fair was the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, which promotes affordable housing and economic development for low-income, elderly and disabled populations.
“Art is a universal way to express oneself and connect to community. It comes naturally,” said Samantha Montano, a Corporation community organizer. The Corporation also sponsored performances at four of their buildings.
Local businesses were enthused about the event. Managers of stores and restaurants noted an uptick in sales and attributed this to more people walking around the neighborhood.
Chris Burgan manages the toy store Boing!, though he claimed not to see additional business during JP Porchfest. Even so, the store is one of the 13 local businesses sponsoring the event, which Burgan views as necessary marketing. As for the fair being the central political highlight of the event, Burgan doubted it would impact business.
“It’s JP. I kind of expect it. If people don’t get into the activism, they can just see the music,” he said.
Tito Jackson, District 7 city councilor and Walsh’s challenger in the upcoming mayoral election, also attended. Along with city councilors Matt O’Malley and Annissa Essaibi George, and State Rep. Liz Malia, Jackson performed on Politician Performance Porch, which was also on the First Baptist Church lawn. Jackson led a line dance for about 30 people. The politicians were explicitly asked not to give speeches.
“Art and culture is community, and the great part about Porchfest is it serves as the ligaments, the connective tissue, that the city of Boston needs,” Jackson said.
He also approved of the inclusion of a social justice outlet at the event. “I think that art should be, and actually has always been used, as an engagement tool, a protest tool and a tool to pass on knowledge. And we need artists, and in the world that we live in today, we need the voices, the vision and the input of artists more than ever before,” he said.
Even with its prominent location and plenty of buzz on the JP Porchfest website, the Resource Mobilization Fair seemed to go unnoticed by many. The size and decentralized nature of JP Porchfest allowed attendees to find their own niches. Lane Newman came to enjoy live music, unaware of the activist element. When he learned about it, he was supportive. “We live in a global community, and we have to learn to coexist,” he said.
And perhaps an arts festival is the best place to foster coexistence. As Fried notes, it brings people together, even if it doesn’t immediately mobilize political action.
“So we thought, this is a way, not that we’re going to fix all the problems, but this is a way to begin to bring people together by using the arts,” Fried said.