Fenway Alliance Executive Director Kelly Brilliant interviewed Catherine Morris for this article.
Catherine T. Morris is the Founder and Executive Director of Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest and the Director of Public Programs for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a Fenway Alliance Member Institution. As the Founder and Executive Director of Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest, Catherine has created an organization that strives to breakdown racial and social barriers to arts, music and culture for marginalized communities and artists of color across Greater Boston. As a result, BAMS Fest has presented over 400 local and independent musicians and artists, curated in 2020 public spaces and has attracted over 10,000 attendees. Catherine has been a presenter, panelist, and moderator with SPARK Boston, Podcast Garage, Berklee College of Music, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Simmons University, MIT, and Fenway High School. She is a 2018 National Art Strategies Creative Community Fellow (The Barr Foundation), and has served on grant review panels for the Cambridge Arts Council, The Lewis Prize for Music, and the Boston Neighborhood Fellowship (The Boston Foundation).
Catherine was inspired to create BAMS Fest by her experiences living in Philadelphia, where she held seven internships that shaped her unique perspective on and heightened interest in cultural festivals, particularly their ability to bring BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color) communities together, boost economies, and equitably expand economic mobility for artists and small businesses. When she returned to Boston, her hometown, in 2014, she entered dialogue with community members– particularly elder leaders– who told her that Boston lacked BIPOC-focused creative spaces and a broad sense of community belonging. “I wondered if Boston was willing to do something for everyone.”   
During that same time, Catherine was attending graduate school at Simmons College (now Simmons University, a long-term Fenway Alliance member), where she received her master’s degree in General Management. While at Simmons, Catherine participated in a competitive shark tank-like session where students presented original business pitches to an all-female panel of business leaders from various fields and communities in Boston. Catherine’s pitch describing a large-scale festival of BIPOC performers won the competition. 

The first planning meeting for BAMS Fest was held in 2015 amongst a group of community leaders working in diverse industries with a wide range of skill sets– finance, law, business, nonprofits, and community organizing. “I leaned in hard with the elders in my community, ” Catherine explained.

“Between May and September 2015, I built a partnership with ArtsEmerson. For three years, BAMS Fest partnered with Emerson’s Black Box Sound concert series. We sold out every show during our three-year run there.”   

Also in 2015, BAMS Fest partnered with the Fenway Alliance’s Opening Our Doors Festival following a meeting with Executive Director Kelly Brilliant and the Assistant Director at that time, Arreen Andrews. Opening our Doors was headlined by one of BAMS Fest’s premier participating jazz artists Valerie Stephens, who despite performing outdoors on an unusually hot 87- degree day in October was a huge hit.
Even with city wide support and affirmative buzz from the years 2015-2018, Catherine had to fight a tireless campaign to convince Boston’s “powers that be” not only that she and her team could accomplish a large-scale festival, but that hosting a festival focusing on Black and Brown artists would produce positive outcomes for the city. With Catherine at the helm, the BAMS Fest endeavor started methodically, creating numerous small and well-executed events that built an organic audience for the festival’s roster of multidisciplinary artists. As Catherine explains, “in a city like Boston, race will always be a factor, in addition to social status, and even my status as a tall African American woman! I knew I had to be patient and just continue to build up our audience. Personally, I was ready to hit the ground running, but I knew Boston didn’t work that way.”  

Catherine, ever generous in her praise for the elders of her community, passionately describes how she leaned on cultural and community leaders like Elma Lewis for guidance, inspiration, and support. “I listen to my intuition and pay attention to the timing of when I’m supposed to meet people; slow growth has worked in my favor. We are a close-knit town, and you have to be validated by someone to get things done. On the plus side of that, provided you are received well, folks here generally make good on those introductions and truly help you.”
Finding a one-time venue, let alone a long-term home, was a particular challenge for BAMS Fest. Catherine freely admits the “venue journey” was not easy, especially considering how crucial location is to the success of large scale events in Boston. Catherine scouted potential venues for a full year, touring a diverse range of locations– everything from the Xfinity Center to the Lawn on D to the fairgrounds in Brockton. Finally, her mother suggested Franklin Park, the location Catherine realized BAMS Festival should have its inaugural moment. “This is where civics gets involved, and politics,” Catherine says of the process of securing all the appropriate permits and other permissions. She met with Julie Burros, Boston’s Chief of Arts and Culture at that time, and the current Arts Chief Kara Elliot-Ortega, who was quick to embrace the vision for BAMS Fest. Catherine also met with Chris Cook, then Commissioner of Parks and Recreation (who is now the Chief of Energy and the Environment). Because Franklin Park resides within the historic Frederick Law Olmsted Park system, special considerations would need to be in place to ensure the Park would be protected. Catherine met with the Boston Police Department and the Fire Department.  Through Dr. S. Atyia Martin, former Chief Resilience Officer for the Mayor’s Office, Catherine was introduced to Nerissa Williams Scott, CEO and Lead Creative Producer of That Child Got Talent Entertainment, who saw the potential for BAMS Festival right away and helped her navigate the many obstacles. Importantly, Catherine also made sure to show up at everyone else’s events to gain buy-in and support, but also to show she supported other efforts to lift up the City, as well.

In hopes to accomplish her goal to “scale the event up,” and recognizing the barriers to accomplish large scale events in Boston for artistic and community leaders of color, Catherine created a larger Steering Committee to assist. She explains:
“Irish and Italian festivals receive a lot of bells and whistles in our city, whereas festivals featuring Black and Brown folks are often minimized, or worse, perceived as threats to public safety. Coming in there was the expectation that I would fail. I had to prove a higher standard of professionalism. When you are a visionary, you so clearly see your vision, but you encounter a lot of doubt by many in the beginning.”
Catherine founded BAMS Fest in part to ampllify the Black arts movement happening in Boston. As a result of her efforts to achieve this goal, performers who participated in the inaugural festival represented an astoundingly vast variety of musical genres and styles. Many white Bostonians assumed the festival would exclusively showcase Rap and R&B, says Catherine. “Even our logo scared some people. So... when I personally met with so many people and staged so many smaller events—[I strived to build] trust among potential dissenters and a place of belonging for our Artists. Relationships matter to me. I knew the quality of events had to be very high—this was the Boston I grew up in after all, and I wanted the festival and it’s promotional events to reflect that.
“I adhere to the philosophy of Robert Lewis, Jr. (Founder & President of The Base): ‘Excellence is the standard. I’m giving you the best of me, because we deserve it.’  The Artists who signed onto BAMS Fest–Valerie Stephens, Latrell James Obehi Janice, Elideusa— matter to me. They were the ones I started with; they were the core.” 

For Catherine and BAMS Fest, part of the formula of success has been exquisitely rigorous preparation and slow incremental progress. She readily acknowledges she thrives with this approach, but admits the process should not be quite so difficult. When times are especially challenging, she leans on her staff for encouragement.
Read the rest of Catherine's story through the link below.
Reopenings + Virtual Programming Updates
Updated Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm

All visitors need to reserve timed-entry tickets in advance, including members.There are no ticket sales at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Some areas of the Museum are temporarily closed and open galleries have limited capacity, but there are plenty of galleries to explore. Featured exhibits include: Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation on view through May 16 and Monet and Boston: Lasting Impression on view through March 28. See more of what’s on view here. Everyone needs to wear a mask at the Museum, both inside and outside on the MFA's grounds.
Huntington Theatre Company
Tiger Style!
Are you missing seeing theatre? Trying listening to the audio version of the hilarious play Tiger Style! by Mike Lew, produced by the Huntington Theatre Company in partnership with GBH. Tiger Style! features squabbling siblings Albert and Jennifer Chen and explores what happens when educational achievements and hard work don't lead to personal or professional success. Traveling from California to China, this entertaining contemporary play examines the immigrant experience, racial stereotypes, parenting, and notions of success with wit and sharp humor. The play has been produced as a podcast in 4 30-minute episodes and has an accompanying series of insightful conversations with the "Exploring Tiger Style!" podcast; both podcasts can be found here or through Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
All Museum staff and visitors are required to wear a mask or cloth face covering for the duration of their time in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Inside the Museum, please observe six feet of physical distance between you or your party and others, including Museum employees. The Museum reserves the right to deny entry to travelers or returning residents who are unable to demonstrate meeting Massachusetts testing or quarantine requirements. Wipes and hand sanitizer will be available throughout many areas of the Museum. The Museum will be operating under highly restricted visitor capacity, with a limited number of tickets available each day. Entry to the Museum will be timed, with all members and visitors required to reserve or purchase tickets online or by calling the Box Office. Groups and Tours are suspended until further notice. Parties of 8 or more are not permitted. Coat check will be closed until further notice. Click here for a full list of prohibited items. Outdoor garden spaces are open to ticket holders through specific doorways and entry points. The ISG's current featured exhibit, Shen Wei: Painting in Motion, will be on view through June 20.
The Mary Baker Eddy Library remains closed for all tours and on-site visits. However, online research services continue. Follow the MBEL on Facebook and Instagram, and join their email list to be the first to know about new podcasts, upcoming events, blog content, monthly updates, and news from the library. This month, MBEL Black History Month with a featured article on Daniel A. P. Murray, one of the Library of Congress’ first Black American librarians.
The Massachusetts Historical Society will not have any in-person programs or events until further notice and is currently closed to both staff and the public. MHS library staff members are available to remotely assist with research and are working hard to make as many collections and services accessible as possible. Reach a member of the reference team via email, by calling 617-646-0532, on Twitter, or through the MHS Facebook page. Consult with the reproductions coordinator regarding reproduction or publication/permission requests via email or by calling 617-646-0532. Learn more about which services are available during closure here. MHS currently has a full slate of online author talks, panel discussions, workshops, seminars, and brown-bag lunch programs. The next installment of the Confronting Racial Injustice Series will be held virtually on March 11. Please visit the online calendar and follow MHS on Facebook and Twitter for program listings. Sign up for the MHS email list to receive weekly calendar information and timely updates.
Massachusetts Cultural Council
Michael J. Bobbitt Named New MCC Executive Director
Michael J. Bobbitt, formerly the Artistic Director of the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, officially joined the Agency on February 1, 2021 after a unanimous vote of the governing council in December, thereby becoming the most senior cultural official in the Commonwealth. 

Bobbitt trained in nonprofit arts management at Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management program, The National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, and Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certification Program. He served as an Associate Professor of Theatre at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and volunteered on the boards of Non-Profit Village, Maryland Citizens for the Arts, Leadership Montgomery, Weissberg Foundation, Watertown Public Art Commission, and ArtsBoston. He is a member of MASSCreative’s Policy Committee.

“In this role I will look to everyone involved: the creative community, consumers, citizens, and government partners to help the Agency catalyze growth and drive robust economic development," said Michael J. Bobbitt. "I hope to broaden and amplify the beneficial impacts of the cultural sector for all who are living, working, and learning statewide.”

Former Acting Executive Director Slatery says: “Massachusetts’ cultural sector is dealing with massive economic devastation from COVID-19, while [striving] to collectively promote equity and ensure access for all. Mass Cultural Council is preparing to lead by example, and Michael is the visionary leader we need to guide the sector through this next chapter.”
Kaji Aso Studio
Kaji Aso Studio presents an uplifting virtual presentation of art, music & poetry inspired by the theme of Sanctuary. This event is free and open to the public and will premiere Sunday, February 28th at 7:00 pm EST. For more information, email Kaji Aso Studio here. To join the event, click on the button below.
The Boston Resiliency Fund Boston's fundraising and philanthropic fund to provide essential services to Boston residents and to assist first responders and critical care providers.
Dorchester Art Project, run by Brain Arts Org, helps facilitate creative independence in systematically undervalued communities by providing affordable studio space to Dorchester- area artists.
Black and Pink Boston is a prison abolition group lead by and fighting alongside incarcerated queer and HIV+ people in Massachusetts.
Families for Justice as Healing leads advocacy to decarcerate women and girls in Massachusetts by organizing in the most incarcerated communities in the Commonwealth to transform the way communities respond to harm and develop alternatives to police, courts, and incarceration. 
One in eight residents of Eastern Massachusetts are experiencing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. Donate to The Greater Boston Food Bank to help struggling individuals and families access food.
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