Follow-up to my piece on art in Boston, with lots of pictures

Benjamin Reynolds contact juggling at Figment 2013.

First off, thank you to everyone who read, shared, and commented on my post earlier today! I am so grateful for the creative communities I have here in, as Jojo calls it, “Bostosomedfordville,” and I’m glad that my piece resonated with many of my fellow Bostonians.

Second, throughout this post I’ll be using a few pictures that I dug up while working on the original post, but didn’t have enough space to use. Enjoy!

Morris dancers at NEFFA 2009.

This morning, I tweeted the link to my post to Sarah Kendzior, and she responded, “Thanks! I’m not sure we disagree that much. Boston has great things to offer, I only wish daily life were more affordable.”

I appreciate that she clarified her position, and I think we do agree more than we disagree when it comes to art, money, and cities. I still wish her original essay hadn’t made such sweeping generalizations, but I’m glad it started so many conversations and inspired me to write about why I love my Boston so damn much.

Sometimes I get sick of living here–not because of anything wrong with the area itself, but because I have cravings for adventure and new places to explore, and Boston can get pretty small after a few years. So it was great to have a reminder of all the things I love about living here: how amazingly creative my friends and communities are,  how there’s always something unusual and fun (and often geeky) going on, what a wonderful big little city this is. Or is it a little big city?

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Is creativity dead in Boston? Not the one I know.

bridge covered in rainbow slinkies

An installation by artist Lisa Greenfield during the Fort Point Open Studios, 2009

Social critic Sarah Kendzior’s latest piece, Expensive cities are killing creativity, didn’t sit right with me. Normally, I find myself all but jumping up and down in agreement with her work–but this time, I found much of her analysis jarringly at odds with my own experience.

Kendzior describes expensive coastal cities like New York and San Francisco as “gated citadels,” playgrounds for the rich, places where corporate pressure and the high cost of living reward conformity and stifle creativity. (Although she doesn’t mention Boston specifically, she does include it in a follow-up tweet.)

But my Boston doesn’t feel corporatized, sanitized, like a gated citadel. My Boston isn’t a place where creativity is undervalued, or valued only when it enriches wealthy children. My Boston certainly isn’t a place where “you live when you are born having arrived.”

My Boston is vibrant and creative as hell. Especially here in Somerville, where I’ve lived for five and a half years–and which has the second-highest concentration of artists in the country.

First off, I can’t talk about creativity in Boston without mentioning the folk dancing and music scene, which has been the base of my social circle for as long as I’ve lived here. There’s an incredible number of regular social dance events, culminating in the yearly NEFFA festival, a veritable folkie paradise of singing, jamming, dancing, and outdoor cuddle piles. We have gender-free contras, guerilla contras, a dance and music camp in nearby Plymouth, lots of overlap with the swing and blues dancing scene, great concerts at Club Passim and other venues–and most importantly, a strong sense of community. Individual people may come and go, but the community stays–and I doubt it’s going away anytime soon.

Outdoor contra dance in Copley Square, 2007.

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The post-employment economy and its discontents

First, a blog note: My Friday Links post will probably be late this week (again). It’s been an exhausting week, and I have a busy weekend planned–so I’ll get to it as soon as I can, but I’m not sure when that will be.

With that out of the way, here are some reflections I’ve been having on the issues I started exploring in my post about millenials and the terrible economy we’ve inherited: one that I’ve best heard described by writer Sarah Kendzior as a post-employment economy.

On a message board discussing both my post and the millenial-bashing one to which I was responding, I read a comment (which unfortunately I can no longer find)  that said, basically, money doesn’t buy happiness–that it’s possible to be happy and have a good life without making much money.

On one hand, there’s a lot of truth to that. On the other hand, in our society, money can buy a lot of things it shouldn’t.

Like the ability to follow a career path that interests you.

To a certain extent, money has always been able to purchase opportunity; but as Alexandra Kimball discovered, it’s a lot more extreme now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Entire professions are closed off to all but the wealthy, as she experienced firsthand: after years of trying to start a career in journalism, she was able to break into the field only after receiving a surprise inheritance.

Or, say, compassion.

Take this incident that Adam Weistein relates in his response to the original piece.

Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?

Or kindness. As Molly Crabapple points out in her brilliant, beautifully written, must-read piece about the relationship between art and money:

So much of the difference between the experiences of rich and poor comes down to kindness. Kindness is scarce. Kindness must be bought.

If you have money, you can pay to live in a bubble of politesse. Excellent wine choice, sir. Here’s your gift bag, madam. Often, you don’t have to pay for it. The mere promise that you might will keep you sipping prosecco and deserving of servile attentions. Soon, you think this treatment is earned.

Meanwhile, we treat the poor with casual cruelty. Single moms on welfare have their homes searched by police to make sure they’re not hiding a man in the closet. But it’s too much to ask bankers to justify the bonuses they sucked off the public teat. The poor get stop-and-frisk, drug tests, and constant distrust.

In our current system, money doesn’t just buy things. It buys the right to be treated like a human being.

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