A weekly spotlight on Jamaica Plain non-profit organizations.
Spontaneous Celebrations has organized the hugely popular Wake Up the Earth Festival each May for the past 31 years. The president of the board, Khari Farrell, and seasonal celebration coordinator, Mark Pelletier, are among the administrative leaders of the group. Spontaneous Celebrations serves more than 10,000 people annually through cultural programming, classes, and events. Farrell and Pelletier each took time to share their perspectives on the grassroots organization.
Jamaica Plain Patch: When and how did you get started?
Kahri Farrell: The Wake Up the Earth Festival began in 1979 to celebrate the official end of a successful protest against the proposed I-95 extension through many neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain. In the 1960s houses had been torn down, businesses razed, and the community was to be divided by a barrier in the form of a highway. Many felt that JP had its heart torn out, and there were protests from Roslindale to Cambridge. The end result of the protest was that highway funds were used to create a beautiful space, the Southwest Corridor Park, that camouflages essential public transportation. Spontaneous Celebrations was formed by one core group that led the protests, and continues to celebrate the victory with the festival on an annual basis.
Mark Pelletier: The group acquired nonprofit status in 1991, but has been coordinating the festival and other cultural events through the years.
Patch: What is your mission statement?
Khari: Spontaneous Celebrations:
- Creates and sustains a community cultural life that unites and empowers people for positive change through the arts
- Produces seasonal celebrations in JP and Roxbury
- Maintain our headquarters as a community cultural center for all
Patch: What inspired the name of your organization?
Mark: That's a good question. I believe the name came from the idea of spontaneity – we provide the space and the environment for the community to express themselves through art installation, performance, costume, music, whatever... but wanted to retain the spontaneous nature, and come together to celebrate our strengths and diversity.
Patch: Why is Jamaica Plain a good home for your nonprofit?
Mark: JP is special because it's a community with conscience. The Wake Up the Earth Festival just wouldn't be the same anywhere else. The proximity of two neighborhoods of diversity, Roxbury and JP, bringing everyone together – you just couldn't recreate that elsewhere.
Khari: There has always been an enthusiastic response to the festivals, but people need to know that that's not all of the organization. We empower the local community through public art and social justice based youth programming, teaching youth to advocate their own needs through legislators... we are responding to the needs of Jamaica Plain.
Patch: What's the single best thing your group has done for Jamaica Plain?
Khari: The Wake Up the Earth Festival is the outward manifestation of Spontaneous Celebrations, but the inward manifestation are the classes and cultural programming. There is no one best thing the organization has done, but it has created a space for dialogue: an arts, cultural center, and a "safe place" for everyone. Everyone is welcome here.
Patch: What are the different programs/ festivals/ events that your organization is involved with?
Mark: Besides Wake Up the Earth, there are three other seasonal celebrations. There's First Night, on New Year's Eve, and the Tropical Fiesta, held indoors during the winter. Coming up at the end of October, there's the Lantern Parade, which becomes a living piece of public art as the crowd of almost 4,000 circles Jamaica Pond with lanterns in the darkness.
Khari: Regarding programming, there's Beantown Society, which was originally an after-school program, and has evolved into an issues-based, leadership group run by students, for students. There's also the intersection of a youth talent show with the Wake Up the Earth Festival – the three top performers from the show are featured during the festival. There are also many dance and music classes held here – independently or affiliated with the center.
Mark: I also work with the Curley Project, an arts program and stilts-instruction hybrid that aims to give middle school students exposure to arts and culture they aren't getting from school. We focus on conflict resolution and nonviolence, giving youth a safe place from sexism, racism, classism.
Patch: What volunteer opportunities exist at your organization?
Khari: We rely on volunteers to help run our center. We're always looking for committed individuals to volunteer with fundraising, facilities, programming. Right now we need help with administration as we restructure. We are re-defining our organization by focusing on what works for a grassroots hybrid of arts and culture with a social justice emphasis. What sort of organization will that be? What will that look like in the future? By creating more of a focus, we will provide an attractive transition to take us to that next stage in the organization.