Recently, we sat down with Jenn Bliss, the coordinator for the cultural block party aspect of a larger scale project titled This Is East. The project is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and is a community placemaking project that aims to both celebrate the cultural assets of East Somerville and increase the vibrancy of our public spaces through public events, workshops and public art projects that capture the stories of East Somerville residents. We asked Jenn a few questions to get some more specific information about how This Is East will be truly beneficial to the community.
Jenn Bliss working for ESMS
East Somerville Main Streets (ESMS): So Jenn, in your words, what exactly is This Is East?
Jenn Bliss (JB): [This Is East is] a series of block parties every third Thursday of the month beginning in April going through October. The mission is to bring neighbors together and share different cultural perspectives in a warm and inviting environment. Through the block parties we hope to unearth the voices that make up the fabric of East Somerville, and also have a blast while doing it! The block parties will incorporate local cultural traditions through music, dance, food, art and personal stories.
ESMS: Why are you excited to be working on this project and why should other people be excited?
JB: Because I’ve been working in East Somerville for five years now as a cultural events coordinator. […] And while [the neighborhood] is rapidly changing, it’s at the dawn of a new era. With the physical landscape changing as we speak, and so many other changes going on underneath the surface. But I’m excited because this is an opportunity to create a new feeling of community while preserving the vibrancy that is East Somerville.
ESMS: I know you work with East Somerville Main Streets each year to help organize ‘Carnaval’, how do you think This Is East builds off the success of that event?
JB: Truth be told I think nobody expected Carnaval in East Somerville to succeed. Through constant perseverance a skeleton crew of about five very dedicated people and a community that was willing to take a chance on a brand new experience, we have proven to Somerville that East is where it’s at. That being said, Canraval is just one day a year for four hours. The time is very limited and condensed, with the block parties we can highlight certain aspects of the Carnaval and give them more space and room to play! We hope to have performances and/or workshops by several of the participants (i.e. Prospect Hill Academy Step Team, Marcus Santos Afro-Brazil, El Sistema Somerville, On Stage Dance…..the list goes on and on)
ESMS: What impact do you think this will have on the neighborhood?
An image from our Carnaval festival