Letters to the Editor: Strand Theatre is well-positioned for next mayor to build on momentum

To The Editor:

I applaud the Dorchester Reporter’s recent article on the Strand Theatre. Indeed, thanks to strong leadership from Mayor Menino, the theatre has ridden a wave of momentum that could be capitalized upon by an incoming mayor who recognizes the theatre as both a cultural asset as well as an important economic development engine for Upham’s Corner.

The theatre sits as a centerpiece of community-based arts and cultural programming, and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, several institutions and local organizations have recently engaged community with new programs at the Strand. Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, Berklee College of Music, and UMass Boston’s Trotter Institute have all brought well-attended and affordably priced performances to the theatre, including a free Berklee Caribbean Jazz Festival, staged play readings sponsored by UMass Boston’s Trotter Institute, and Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker, which enlisted local youth as performers and partnered with local organizations to bring out 450 local families to their shows last winter.

The community also partnered with Boston Ballet in February to help drive local attendance and showcase local businesses for their free Strand performance while also engaging attendees on their preferences for future cultural programming in the neighborhood. The theatre’s full slate will continue this October with 20+ performances of Romeo and Juliet from Actor Shakespeare Project, resident company Fiddlehead Theatre’s upcoming winter programs of The Little Princess and an April 2014 showcase of Aida as well as Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre continuing their tradition of The Nutracker this December.

A busy schedule at the Strand Theatre has been supported by creative placemaking efforts and cultural events in public spaces throughout the neighborhood as well. This summer, the DSNI Multicultural Festival and the Upham’s Corner Street Fair brought together hundreds of residents, merchants, and cultural entrepreneurs around afternoons of local music, food, and family activities. These efforts support a local creative economy and partner with Strand Theatre producers Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre and Berklee College of Music to bring their talents out into the streets. These outdoor events will continue with two pilot open air markets happening on September 14th and October 19th to test the sustainability of a regular market in Upham’s Corner.

September 14th will also mark the beginning of Design Studio For Social Intervention’s third pop-up art exhibit in Upham’s Corner – Street Lab: Uphams – that will engage local artists, builders, and artisans around developing their ideas for temporary and permanent solutions for issues in Upham’s Corner. Work will also begin this month on the restoration of the Negro League baseball mural at the corner of Columbia Road and Stoughton Street.

Much of the work outlined above was developed through Upham’s Corner ArtPlace, an initiative to spur cultural economic development in Upham’s Corner. In partnership with the City of Boston, the intiative is funded by ArtPlace America, the Kresge Foundation, and leadership support from The Boston Foundation and community partners listed below:

• Upham’s Corner Main Street
• Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
• Design Studio For Social Intervention
• Dorchester Bay EDC
• Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre
• Berklee College of Music
• UMass Boston’s Trotter Institute

Thanks to our long standing community partnerships and grassroots organizing we can ensure the next mayoral administration has the guidance and local leadership necessary to demonstrate the richness and vibrancy of Upham’s Corner.

Beyond a busy slate of programs, the Strand Theatre also has a clear economic impact and should be part of any community development strategy in Upham’s Corner for the next mayor. We have learned that well-attended Strand Theatre events can double evening sales for nearby Upham’s Corner restaurants. Successful business recruitment efforts has also led to a new restaurant slated to open directly next to the theatre in a long-vacant retail space. Scheduled to open this winter, the restaurant will combine with the $3 million Department of Public Works-funded Columbia Road renovations to enhance the Strand Theatre experience for producers and patrons alike. The impact of the Strand Theatre on the local business district is clear.

None of this work and momentum could have happened without the strong leadership of Mayor Menino. We will need our next mayor to continue his commitment to the Strand Theatre and help Upham’s Corner continue to flourish.

– Max MacCarthy
Executive Director – Uphams Corner Main Street
Partner – Upham’s Corner ArtPlace Initiative