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Allston DIY Fest 2013 / by Liz Pelly

For better or for worse, feelings of tradition and sustainability are rarities in Allston, MA. That’s not to say there’s no sense of community in our neighborhood, because there is, but it’s transient, and it’s rarely on public display the way it is at Allston DIY Fest every summer in Ringer Park.

Now in its fourth year, the one-day event is an exceptional public glimpse of the potential that the DIY arts community in Allston holds: bands play between the trees, artists and activists spread out blankets across the grass. The fringe communities usually found in the basements and makeshift living-room show spaces get to interact in a more accessible way for the day. I feel like every year at Allston DIY Fest, people are surprised and amazed. I usually overhear at least one person saying, “Every Saturday of the summer should be like this.”

But Allston DIY Fest almost didn’t happen this year: in June, the city’s Parks and Recreation department denied Allston DIY Fest the necessary permit, and instead tried to convince organizers to re-locate the fest to a different part of town.

One of this year’s Allston DIY Fest coordinators is Kelly Baker, a 25-year-old Lower Allston resident who has spent years living at collective houses and throwing DIY shows. She also is a life-long resident of the Allston-Brighton area. “I went to Jackson Mann Elementary School,” Baker wrote in an op-ed for “The Media in issue 6. “Every recess of my childhood was spent in Ringer Park. I practiced Spice Girls dance moves on the bleachers. I performed science experiments in the same location where amplified music is performed during DIYfest. For me, this park has always been the site of joy and exploration. That’s why I help organize this event--it’s about sharing art and music and activism with my neighbors. It’s about welcoming everyone to join the vibrant arts community in Allston.”

Since June, Baker and her fellow Allston DIY Fest organizers have met with various city officials, vouching for the value of community arts events organized on a grassroots level. They were successful: the festival did ultimately get the permits, and the fourth installment of the event will happen this Saturday in Ringer. This year's fest features music by Saralee, Dream Warrior, Ovlov, Sneeze, Karl of Kal Marks, and several more local artists, plus workshops on feminism and veganism, street harasment, bike repair, and the intersectionality of gender & race in the local DIY music scene.

In advance of the festival, we caught up with Baker about what has happened since she penned her op-ed for us in June, what she learned through working with city officials, her thoughts on trying to sustain an annual fest like this in a hyper-transient community, and more.

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You wrote an op-ed for us in June, explaining how the city had denied Allston DIY Fest its permit, and instead tried to place the festival in another park in a different neighborhood. Can you give me a run down of what’s happened since then? I know you’ve met with various officials about the fest.

Since the piece was written, I’ve met with two officials from the Parks and Recs Department. I met with the head of the department, Antonio Pollack, and I met with Jon Bailey, the special events coordinator. I brought Adric, who is part of the organizing committee for Allston DIY Fest with me, and also Dan Shea who runs the Boston Hassle. He also had issues with his permitting in Ringer Park, so he came to be a different voice speaking to be what we perceived as a concerted effort to shut down community-based events in Ringer Park.

We talked beforehand and decided that we would try to have a game plan and strategy going in. We wanted to express strongly that we weren't going to back down. I got the feeling in the weeks leading up to the meeting that they were surprised we asked for a meeting; that since we're volunteers, they thought we might just going to go away and not feel empowered to do anything about it.

When we did sit down with them, we were able to come to an understanding. Commissioner Pollack tried to offer us a different space at a different park. My fellow organizers and I had talked beforehand, and we determined that wouldn't stay true to our missions as Allston DIY Fest. The whole point is to be a neighborhood celebration. It just wasn't going to be accessible for people in Allston, and it sort of felt like they were pushing us off to a different community where there might be other people with different complaints.

Once we challenged them on that point early on, we finally got have a conversation with Commissioner Pollack and Jon Bailey about the specific issues with the event. We met them point for point. I ended the meeting myself, I said “thank you so much for meeting with us, we look forward to hearing from you,” and shook their hands. We kind of put the ball in their court and didn't expect much to come from it, but hoped by showing our strong support for the event that something would happen

I got a phone call about two weeks later from John Bailey saying he'd like to do a walkthrough in Ringer Park. I took that as a really good sign, but when I met with him, I was expecting to still have to convince him on the event. But instead, when he got out of his car, he said he totally supported the event. He said, unfortunately it got caught in the crossfire of different neighborhood groups having different petty politics issues with each other. The parks department sort of saw our event as an opportunity to address those concerns neighbors had about events in Ringer Park. He said he talked with the police department D14 and they had no complaints about us and they also support our event.

I heard from him a very different story than what had been coming out in the Boston Globe, and the PR from the Parks and Rec Dept. Some press has come out since we got the permit, and it's made it look like the Parks and Rec Department were the strong players in this, and that they demanded things. What's interesting to me is that we kind of told them, were not compromising, we want the park, and we want music, and they accepted it. They've come out with this narrative that we've changed how much music we're having, which is not actually true. If you look at our past years, we're having music as the same time.

I feel like the values of the local DIY community have to do with resisting authority, and doing exactly what you want, rather than meeting with officials. What has been the biggest learning experience of working with the city officials?

It was really not something I was expecting to ever have to do. I had all of these other instincts at first, to think of ways we could protest and find an alternate venue. But as a life long resident of the Allston-Brighton community, i have a vested interest in reaching out to different members of the community, whether they be city officials or not.

I felt like this was a really unique opportunity where my voice and my fellow organizers voices were actually being put out in the mainstream media without us doing anything - the Boston Globe had an editorial without even talking to us. They went on our website and got a few lines, and then called the Parks and Rec Department and got their PR person to talk about it. When that happened I realized we actually had a momentum we needed to leverage, to use this momentum to advocate for ourselves and make this event happen. In moments like this, it seems like you're just a few people -- there's three of us who have been dedicated to this.

Despite having a whole separate ethos for how we would really like to do things, we do need a permit to use the park, so advocating for ourselves in a more official capacity was really helpful.

As a lifelong resident of this neighborhood, what have you seen Ringer Park used for over the years?

I had recess in Ringer Park. We would have school-wide events. There was a summer camp for kids that would happen. It was just a place where you'd go after school and hang out with your friends.

Growing up, there was a bad connotation associated with Ringer Park. And I think it still exists now, but it was far worse when I was a child. I didn't understand fully but I perceived that it was dangerous in the park later at night or when other people weren't there. It led to this weird feeling when you were there, even when you were surrounding by teachers. I've seen that change over the years. Now as a young adult, it's been 15-20 years since I was hanging out there as a kid, and I see more use of the park, and development in the park. There's a playground in the overhang. There's grass in the baseball field. It looks prettier. People are getting more use out of it. Things like Allston DIY fest are picking up again.

Do you find this a hard event to maintain because of the transience of young people in Boston?

It's been hard - even though I've been part of it for a few years, being in this role as sort of the head organizer and realizing there's no document that had past information. This year we had a very robust Google drive with very specific documents detailing everyone we reached out to, what they said, their contact information. We upload all of the meeting notes there so there's some living document and resource for whoever comes next in keeping with the nonhierarchical anyone-can-do-this DIY aspect to it, so each year people don't have to totally reinvent the wheel. I know I personally can’t maintain an event like this myself. It's something that works best if people work on it together. It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication, but you get a lot of organizing experience and make a lot of friends and contacts just through planning.

I actually wrote a piece about this for The Media, I have to send it to you … about how frustrating it is to me looking at Allston from the lens of longevity. People have such amazing talents, and they pour their heart and soul into this community. And then they leave. For very legitimate reasons. They outgrow the space. It is such a transient place because of the colleges.

The frustrating part though, is there's all these amazing ideas, and then the brain drain happens, and there's nothing left. Not even like an oral history, a resource, some awesome zines, a website, that sort of encapsulates all of the ideas people have brought to the table. I see people coming and reinventing the same wheel and thinking up all of these ideas again, but if they had the prior knowledge of people before them, I think there would be a more cohesive story line to what is being created in Allston. I'm hoping people will start to think more about sustainability, and about ways we can sustain the community and the friendships and connections we're creating right now.

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HEY ALSO: The Media's second-ever public editorial meeting will happen this Saturday as part of Allston DIY Fest from 3:30-4:30 pm. Come join us to talk about ‘the media’ vs. The Media, pitch story ideas, and offer criticism. We’ll also have a table set up somewhere at some point. Say hey + buy a button.

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