In times past, symphony orchestras, especially those as great as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, could sit back and let the world come to them.
Or they might head into a nearby neighborhood, perform a program, and get back on the bus without forming any real connection to the attendees.
Today, orchestras feel a stronger need than ever not just to provide events to surrounding communities but to listen actively to the cultural needs of those communities and make joint decisions about programming.
The BSO has just launched a new type of community engagement and outreach, “BSO In Residence,” in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood that represents the future of the City of Boston.
“Jamaica Plain is one third African American, one third white, and one third Hispanic,” says Mark Volpe, the BSO’s Managing Director.
“It’s also got a sizable LGBT community and a well-recognized arts community as well. This is the perfect place to start not just performing but listening.”
Kim Notelmy, the BSO’s Chief Operating and Communications Officer, took time to explain to HuffPost what makes the BSO In Residence initiative unique.
Michael: What is the nature of the relationship between the BSO and Jamaica Plain?
Kim: The BSO will work with various arts groups, festival planners, community leaders, venues and schools in Jamaica Plain to create a series of activities that are meaningful to residents and help build connections with orchestral music and the musicians of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops.
The activities are co-designed, and therefore, are a unique collaboration between the community and the BSO, customized to the needs and interests of people who live in Jamaica Plain. BSO In Residence in Jamaica Plain begins this month and will run for three years.
Michael: What kind of initiatives will it contain?
Kim: A wide range, including pop-up concerts in parks and train stations. We’ll have school events with musician and conductor visits to numerous schools for Q&A, demonstrations, side-by-sides, coaching, and performances. We’re having BSO and Boston Pops musicians play at Jamaica Plain festivals including Lantern Festival, “Wake Up the Earth Festival,” Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum, and Porchfest.
We’ll be doing Community Chamber Concerts, a concert for Very Young People, targeting pre-school kids, and holiday events including caroling, holiday stroll, and potentially a tree-lighting ceremony. This is only the beginning!
Michael: What makes this partnership different from other BSO community-based initiatives? And what makes it different from what other orchestras are doing?
Kim: The fact that we are co-designing the program is what makes it unique. We are completely customizing the initiatives to address the interests and needs of the community. In the past, we have done great performances, workshops, classes etc. in various communities, but they were what we thought would be interesting and meaningful without seeking outside input.
The other differentiation is the fact that we are devoting our resources to a community for three years so we can build connections and relationships that are long lasting.
Michael: What’s the goal — what does success look like for the BSO and what does success look like for Jamaica Plain?
Kim: Success means that we have reached many new citizens and given them a chance to get to know our music and musicians. Through personal connections and ongoing exposure, they can make a choice if they are interested in orchestral music and if they want to get more involved with other BSO activities.
An ongoing relationship with schools and the families of the children is important to the future of the arts. Finally, we want people in our city to feel that we contribute positively to the community, both inside Symphony Hall and out.