Emerson College and Massachusetts Literary Education & Performance (Mass LEAP) are entering a new partnership and relaunching a poetry and spoken word festival that for the past seven years has showcased the talents of Boston youth.
On Saturday, November 16, 6:00-9:00 pm, Mass LEAP and Emerson will celebrate this partnership, and unveil the new festival name, brand, logo, and registration for the March 2020 festival at the Bill Bordy Theater. Mass LEAP alumni and current participants will perform and display their artwork at the free event, which is being organized and hosted by Michelle Garcia Fresco and Kofi Dadzie, Mass LEAP alumni and board members.
“We are excited to have our community carving out our festival’s future, and humbled to have Emerson alongside us as we embark on this journey,” said Mass LEAP Artistic Director and Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola, who is studying for an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson. “As a writer first-born in a youth poetry scene, I know how monumental the work we are doing has the potential to be,” Olayiwola said.
Mass LEAP had its beginnings in 2012, as a series of community conversations, according to co-founder and Executive Director Alex Charalambides.
“Several teaching artists and local youth arts organizers took a look at the local landscape and saw a lack of youth spoken word programming, especially compared to other major metropolitan areas in the U.S.,” he said. “Mass LEAP’s first festival project was our first attempt to become a lighthouse so mentors and young leaders could build community connections.”
Since 2012, Mass LEAP has brought together more than 1,000 teens from dozens of schools and youth organizations in the Boston area for an annual spoken word poetry festival consisting of workshops, performances, and a poetry slam competition culminating in a grand slam festival showcase. The festival launched under the name Louder Than a Bomb MA.
Louder Than a Bomb MA was inspired by the Young Chicago Authors youth poetry slam festival of the same name. With early support from the nonprofit Mass Poetry, Louder than a Bomb MA attracted 14 schools and youth communities in its first year, serving close to 100 teen writers.
The popularity of the festival spread each year, with poetry slam teams from across Massachusetts participating. The festival went on to receive consecutive years of funding from the Boston Cultural Council, adding new events, and continuing to grow as a critical cultural institution that brings together young people across racial, social, economic, and geographic lines.
During a 2019 festival hiatus, Mass LEAP spent time talking with program participants, volunteers, and their board of directors to imagine the future of the festival and its place in the state’s youth arts culture. Feeling that it was time to rebrand the annual festival with a moniker that would be more associated with local community, Mass LEAP launched a campaign asking participants, partners, and community members to vote on a new festival name.
Over the course of the past year, Mass LEAP developed relationships with a variety of partners at Emerson College, realizing that as a literary district location with strong ties to the performance arts and a history of reaching out to the greater community, Emerson would be an ideal location and partner for the festival.
“I can’t think of a better home for the Mass LEAP Festival than at Emerson – in the heart of Boston where youth creativity, community, and calls for social change meet,” said Sylvia Spears, Emerson’s Vice President for Equity & Social Justice.