October 3, 2011: ShiftBoston! Interviews Executive Director Kelly Brilliant

By Elizabeth Tereshko, Editor, ShiftBoston!

ShiftBoston: Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘Opening Our Doors’ event? What is happening and who are the key players involved?

Kelly Brilliant: I had the germ of the idea for Opening Our Doors when I took the position of Executive Director of the Fenway Alliance 11 years’ ago.  I thought that we had such great cultural and artistic resources within the 21 member institutions of the Fenway Alliance (including the MFA, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston Conservatory, NEC, Berklee College of Music, BSO, Northeastern, etc.) that it was just natural to offer a free day of culture to the community.   I thought it was important that it be free to allow those who might not ordinarily participate due to costs concerns.

I remember what a positive impact it had in our community when Malcolm Rogers, Director of the MFA, opened up the Huntington Avenue entrance of the Museum about 11 year’s ago-basically  the Museum’s  front door–which had been shuttered for a number of years, prior.  I wanted to build on that spirit, and also build on a day that the Museum of Fine Arts had traditionally been open for free to the public–Monday, Columbus Day.  “Opening Our Doors” seemed like a fitting name for our event.   I crossed my fingers that the other the institutional members would get behind the idea.   And they did in a quantity and quality of artistic offerings that I couldn’t have ever imagined.

The first year, I think about 8 or so institutions participated and every year since it has grown.    The amazing thing to me is the quality of performances and exhibitions in music, theatre and visual arts–all offered free to the public.  I’m proud to say, “This is NOT a little neighborhood arts festival.”  The Fenway happens to be a neighborhood that has a tremendous array of nationally and internationally regarded cultural and academic institutions.  They all bring their “A-Game” to Opening Our Doors–part of it is their sense of civic engagement, and part of it they simply wouldn’t know how to do anything less.

The aspect I am the most gratified by is that Opening Our Doors has grown from primarily an institutional event to a true partnership with local youth, community, and environmental organizations, and many of Boston’s major cultural and academic institutions.  We now partner with about 20 local nonprofits and community organizations, in addition to our institutional members:  Diablo Glass Studios, Sidewalk Sam, Boston Children’s Chorus, Fenway Studios, Kite Education, Sociedad Latina, and Marshall’s Fenway Farm Stand are just some of the partners who help us plan and present the Day.

Opening Our Doors has also changed from being primarily a day to hear great musical performances and see great art to a day in which participants also make their own art, and dance and sing along with the performers.  It’s become much more experiential.

The participating institutions and organizations donate so much time, talent and space.  I’d also like to point out that our corporate partners help us fund the day –this year we have our largest corporate participation ever–with 25 corporations contributing–fairly remarkable in the midst of a recession.  I consider these companies true civic heroes of the Day and the Arts in general (you can find them all on our web site www.fenwayculture.org) and their logos on on all of our branding materials for the Day.  We also have in kind contributions from the City of Boston and the MBTA.   Our formal Fenway Alliance cultural and academic members contribute well over $100,000 dollars in in kind donations of space, time, artists, programming, staff, maintenance, security, planning,. etc.

This year we have over 60 cultural activities in over 12 locations–it really does have something for everyone–children, teens and adults.   I think a lot of “empty nesters” attend the event.  We also have many tourists and international visitors who now make it a regular part of their travel plans. Our largest group is probably families with children, looking to answer that eternal question: What should we do with the kids? I would say Opening Our Doors is one of the most fun and most inspiring events for children–a great way to expose children in a fun way to high quality cultural experiences.  And certainly at “free” the price is right. 🙂

It’s an exciting year as we are celebrating our 10th Birthday!  We will have a children’s parade led by the music of the Hot Tamales–a live brass band–around the Reflecting Pool of the Christian Science Plaza where we host the Kick-Off on Monday, Oct 10 at 10 AM.  Kick-Ass Cupcakes is donating a beautiful cupcake cake so that everyone attending the Kick-Off can help us celebrate.  Boston Children’s Chorus will begin the Day, and Berklee guys Eytan Nicholson (writer) and Vincent Sneed (performer) will be on hand for a rendition of their famous “So Good–the Boston Song” to get us all in the spirit.  Oh, and we’ll have lots of food trucks so people can grab a quick, delicious lunch on the run, so they don’t have to miss anything.

SB: Is there an existing community/cultural interest organization that has served as a model or inspiration for the Fenway Alliance?

KB: I mentioned the MFA’s symbolic and very real gesture of opening its front doors to the community, as well as hosting several free days throughout the year.  First Night with all of its terrific cultural offerings–and its mix of indoor and outdoor activities–served and still serves as an inspiration.    The City of Boston Office of Arts, Culture, and Tourism does a wonderful two-day festival in September–Arts Boston–for the past several years. Harvard University has a really good one that takes place all over Harvard Square.  This year, MIT had a fun and impressive sesquicentennial celebration that impressed me.  Berklee of course has the Beantown Jazz Festival.  I’m always looking for inspiration, and ideas I can use to make Opening Our Doors better each year.  I work with a great staff member, Assistant Director Rich Frost who has a background in performance production, and trust me, that makes it a whole lot easier for me and my team to organize.

SB: What is your overall goal for the Alliance? What do you plan to do in the next 2 years? 

KB: We have just started a five- year (which we expect will sustain over a decade) Fenway Cultural District initiative partially in response to the recent Massachusetts Cultural Council’s statewide Cultural District initiative.  The Boston City Council is holding a public “Cultural District Resolution Signing” meeting for this that is open to the public on Monday, November 14 at 10 AM hosted by MassArt in their Bakalar and Paine Galleriest–all are welcome to attend.  It is the beginning of a broad ranging initiative that will hopefully bring more recognition to this area of Boston as a treasure trove of culture.  We intend to create better branding, a more cohesive identity, and pragmatically some decent–and beautiful–signage (finally!) to the area—the Fenway–in keeping with the amazing cultural, academic, sports, and environmental treasures we have here.   We have a committee of 60 nonprofit and corporate partners involved in this effort.  We hope to produce more evening street programming, public art, urban planning, design ideas, large-scale design competitions and installations in partnership with you–Shiftboston!.  It’s very exciting as we are just at the beginning, and I’m not sure what the whole shape of it will be yet, and that’s a really fun place for me.