5 Questions to Box Not Found (Kevin Price and Natalie Calma)

Asking yourself hard questions in the mirror is not easy, but to recognize imperfections and make progress towards a larger goal can be worth the discomfort. Kevin Price (clarinet) and Natalie Calma (violin) of Boston’s Box Not Found did just that, and what they uncovered was a fresh and invigorated path to their goals of increasing inclusivity and bringing new music to East Boston. Box Not Found’s new partnership with the non-profit organization The Well Coffee House will launch a concert series titled New Music at the Well in late Fall 2019, promising a project that “…pays artists, has intentionally diverse programming, is educational, family friendly, and has Spanish translation services available.” The new series and its application are still in the planning phase, but will be a welcome addition to the Boston area. We asked 5 questions to Box Not Found about the development of New Music at the Well and their goals for this new series.

In the lead-up to the announcement of Box Not Found’s new series “New Music at the Well,” you stated that you are “just two very imperfect people trying to have a big impact in our community.” What questions did you have to ask yourselves to arrive at where you are now?

NC: My question came from a place of frustration at diversity attempts by ensembles and concert series overall. Performing in concerts where I am the only person of color is very uncomfortable. I used to not notice it at all, but one day, I looked at the orchestra around me and at the audience in front of me, and I noticed that I was the only POC in the hall. It was a very bizarre moment, and since then, I have not been able to “unsee” it. Every concert I go to, I look around, and I usually see the same picture. The question that keeps coming to my head is “Why is this the case?”

KP: Since moving to East Boston in 2014, we have had a desire to highlight and celebrate the vast cultural backgrounds that reside in our neighborhood. As musicians that specialize in new music, the majority of concerts that we perform and attend are held in a select few neighborhoods within Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, and almost never in East Boston. We have asked ourselves why this may be the case, and what we could do to bring more of the new music scene to the neighborhood. One obvious reason is the lack of affordable space for hosting performances open and advertised to the public. We also had to ask ourselves if this is something that the East Boston community even wanted, and if so, how should it be presented to be inviting to the wide diversity of cultures and backgrounds throughout the neighborhood.

Over the years, we have realized time and again that our approach to our performances and art have fallen short of the ideals that we hold surrounding inclusivity in the arts. While this doesn’t negate or cheapen the work that we have done, we have acknowledged that we can do better to present and share the arts to our neighborhood, but we know that we cannot do this alone. We are seeking to collaborate with artists and ensembles of diverse backgrounds to promote an arts community in East Boston that celebrates all cultures and identities, one that reflects the rich cultural collage that makes up the East Boston neighborhood.

Kevin Price--Photo by Russell Hebert

Kevin Price–Photo by Russell Hebert

With the realization that there was more you could be doing to promote inclusivity, what steps have you taken to ensure you keep yourself on the right track?

KP: From the start, we have constantly reminded ourselves that this project is not for us or our own personal fulfillment, but for the betterment of the greater community around us. In planning location, dates and times of programs, and artists to collaborate with, we always evaluate these ideas through the lens of ensuring that we are making these programs as accessible to our neighbors as possible. We do this by choosing to collaborate with The Well Coffee House, whose new location on Border Street will be in a very central location in East Boston, just off of Central Square. In addition, we plan on scheduling events and performances to accommodate families, with appropriate dates and times, as well as artistic content suitable for everybody. Finally, we are ensuring that the backgrounds of the presented composers and performers reflect that rich diversity of the East Boston community.

NC: Part of that accountability comes from the community we intend to share the concerts with. East Boston is a very diverse neighborhood, but it has been encountering gentrification at an alarming rate. We cannot have a successful series if we only share with our audience the music from the very people that represent violence and oppression to them. Part of that accountability also comes from our minority colleagues. Though I firmly believe that I need to do my research to make sure that we are presenting programs that are up to the standards we have, I also recognize that there will be things that I am not able to see or consider, but someone else with a different perspective than mine will. I find the POC new music community to be very active in matters of helping each other.

Natalie Calma--Photo by Russell Hebert

Natalie Calma–Photo by Russell Hebert

New Music at the Well is a response to the lack of diversity and inclusivity in new music culture. What do you believe this initiative will bring to the Boston community as a whole?

NC: My hope is that it will join the other existing efforts by POC new music performers and help elevate the value and beauty of different perspectives and experiences in the field of music. I also hope that it will be a valuable cultural addition to my neighborhood. We want to be able to pour more of ourselves into East Boston.

KP: We feel that there’s a great opportunity to showcase and celebrate the cultural richness of the artistic community as a whole. From our experience, with few exceptions, the general contemporary classical community is vastly monochromatic, and we feel that the way many performances are presented put up more barriers in preventing audiences who may be new or unfamiliar with new music from feeling welcomed or included. By focusing on presenting works and performances by artists of all backgrounds, we see this series as a catalyst for inviting and welcoming both our Eastie neighbors as well as the rest of the Greater Boston area to come together to discover the joys and potential of new music. We want the city of Boston to know East Boston not just for Logan Airport and Santarpio’s, but more so for its residents, culture, and arts that make the neighborhood so special.

The process of setting up a concert series can be met with difficulties working through various logistics. How did the process of identifying The Well Coffee House as a partner organization contribute to Box Not Found’s mission?

KP: Natalie has been involved as a volunteer with The Well Coffee House (TWCH) at their South Station and State Street locations for the last several years. One of the aspects of TWCH that we love the most is their mission of supporting local non-profit organizations that they feel are serving the community effectively, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Massachusetts, Rosie’s Place, Chica Project, Zumix, and many more. All profits that go beyond covering operational costs are donated to a different organization each month.

For years, TWCH had been seeking an East Boston location to open a new coffee house.  With their focus on love for the community, it was an obvious choice for us to collaborate with TWCH at their new East Boston location, and they received our proposition of working together with us with open ears and arms. While the space is still under construction at this time, plans have been in the works for accommodating dedicated space for presentations and performances within the coffee house, and we are extremely excited to see the completed space later this year.

NC: I volunteer at The Well Coffee House, and through that I have been able to see firsthand the incredible impact they have on the Boston community. They are Box Not Found’s inspiration to give to non-profits that are making a difference in the city. Their new space in East Boston will be used as a coffeehouse, but they are also in the process of creating new programs that will have a positive impact in East Boston. I love how they are not a self-centered organization and are trying their best to be a blessing to the city. Partnering with them is the best fit for us, as Box Not Found, and as people.

Box Not Found at The Well Coffee House (Left to right: Kevin Price, Matt Love, Julie Love, Sara Peña, Natalie Calma)--Photo by Nicole Parks

Box Not Found at The Well Coffee House (Left to right: Kevin Price, Matt Love, Julie Love, Sara Peña, Natalie Calma)–Photo by Nicole Parks

What advice would you offer to others who are trying to have a similar impact on their communities but are unsure the best course of action?

NC: Around us, there are people that want to make a difference. Reach out, ask people out for tea, and talk about what worries you, what you see as problem, and what you would like to do to help the situation. The POC new music community is huge, vibrant, and excited to lend a hand. Take a grant-writing class. Invest in the community you live in. There are so many amazing non-profits that are doing beautiful work out there, and they need help!

KP: As we have stated earlier, nobody is perfect, and none of us alone can resolve the issues surrounding diversity and inclusivity both in the new music community as well as the greater community. Seeking to implement and execute the perfect solution oftentimes causes us to hold back, second guess, or discard our ideas. Be willing to stand up for your beliefs. Share your thoughts and ideas with others, both those within and outside your personal circles. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When you make mistakes, embrace them, learn from them, and move on. You will not satisfy everybody who comes across your ideas, but making a difference for even just one person in your community is invaluable. Seek to be the change that you want to see around you.