By Shaina Richards, news correspondent
The Fenway Alliance celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Opening Our Doors festival by providing free activities from local cultural and academic institutions on Monday, Oct. 10.
The member institutions welcomed the public to explore 65 activities in 17 indoor and outdoor venues. This year’s festival included musical and dance performances, rare “behind-the-scenes” experiences and historical tours.
The Fenway Alliance is a consortium of 21 of the Fenway area’s large, local nonprofits. Its members include Northeastern University – one of the founding members – along with the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Huntington Theatre Company (HTC), YMCA of Greater Boston, Wheelock Family Theatre, Mary Baker Eddy Library and First Church of Christ, Scientist.
“It’s probably one of the richest areas of large academic, community and cultural institutions in the country,” Kelly Brilliant, founder of the Fenway Alliance, said.
This year, the festival included several new performances and featured public art installations, including several street pianos for the public to play at various locations in the Greater Fenway District.
The HTC featured self-guided backstage tours, offering the public one last chance to go behind the scenes of their Boston University Theatre as it currently stands. Since Boston University sold the building to an investment group earlier this spring, the production shop conveniently located in the same building as the theatre will be moved off site. The existing shop is going to be demolished and turned into condominiums, with HTC retaining rights to the theatre.
In addition to the tours, the theatre company presented special performances by cast members from their production of “Sunday in the Park with George,” a “costume corner” where people could dress up and take pictures and a hat-painting activity based on a song from the show.
“A lot of kids and even a lot of adults joined in to decorate hats, up to the very oldest of our subscribers,” Annalise Baird, research coordinator for the HTC, said. “We were surprised by how well it did. It was packed all day.”
The MFA had its annual free day on Monday, also in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. The museum offered art-making activities, tours for families and musical performances throughout the day. MetaMovements, the producers of the free Salsa In The Park lessons, offered salsa lessons in the morning at the entrance to the museum.
Working together with Berklee College of Music and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the MFA also hosted the Boston Pops orchestra in the afternoon, featuring 17 of its members. Earlier in the day, two Berklee students played the street pianos for visitors to enjoy.
On the Christian Science Plaza Main Stage, the Hyde Square Task Force, an organization dedicated to youth development and civic engagement, featured a performance from their award-winning dance group, Ritmo en Acción. The dance initiative’s lively performance featured teens sharing the beauty of Afro-Latin culture through dance.
“People love the idea you can get all this culture in one spot without having to pay,” Brilliant said. “I’d love it if people came and really enjoyed something and came back and paid to support these organizations.”
As part of the Fenway Alliance’s Public By Design Initiative, which commissions a new piece of public art each year, the festival hosted a temporary public art installation called “Tír na nÓg,” or “Otherworld” in English. The public had a chance to meet the Irish artists Caoimhghin Ó Fraithile and Michael Dowling, who also has roots in South Boston.
Commissioned by South Boston’s Medicine Wheel Productions, “Tír na nÓg” includes Fraithile’s piece “South of Hy-Brasil” and Dowling’s “Well House.” Both of these works can be seen from the banks of the lagoon in the Back Bay Fens.
Another new participatory public art project called “Before I Die…” took place at the YMCA on Huntington Avenue. People were invited to reflect on what they want to accomplish before they die and write their thoughts on a wall for others to see. The YMCA also hosted an indoor kite flying session with professional kite flyers.
Brilliant came up with the idea as a way for the Fenway Alliance to give back to the community.
“When I first started 15 years ago, I think we had about eight institutions participating. It was an untested kind of activity but we drew a nice crowd,” she said.
In the past five years, the Fenway Alliance has invited more community partners to participate, including local youth groups and environmental organizations such as the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
“Every year, more organizations have joined with art and community work and over the years our attendance has grown and stabilized. The highest we’ve ever gotten is 14,000, but now we usually get between 12,000 and 14,000 people,” Brilliant said. “Overall, I want people to leave with the sense that these are welcoming institutions.”
Photo courtesy The Fenway Alliance