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Mission Hill Arts Festival returns with a women-led lineup

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Mission Hill Arts Festival returns with a women-led lineup
R&B/pop duo The Loop performs at last year's Mission Hill Arts Festival. PHOTO: Mutsuko Ohnishi

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The Mission Hill Arts Festival returns for its fourth year with seven performances this summer by diverse musical and multimedia artists centered on the theme “Elements of Earth: An Uncommon View.”

“My desire is really to renew a passion or sense of wonder for our planet, but in a more creative way — to reorient, in a sense, the way we look at it and discover Earth’s personality,” says Luisa Harris, arts curator and co-founder of the festival along with pianist, composer and educator Kevin Harris. She mentions creativity, elegance, unpleasantness, persistency, humor and sensibility as possible elements of the Earth’s personality.

The Lee Fish Quintet at the Mission Hill Arts Festival in 2023. PHOTO: Robert Torres

This year’s lineup includes Zakiyyah, Camila Cortina-Bello, Ivanna Cuesta, Abria Smith, Yagmur Soydemir, Sissy Castrogiovanni and David Graham. The musical acts are all women-led groups, a wonderful coincidence, according to Harris. In addition to the music concerts, Graham will perform live poetry supplemented with his own photography. In past seasons, dance and spoken word have also been represented.

The musicians span a large spectrum of genres. Artist-activist and Boston native Zakiyyah uses her classical training to fuse hip-hop, opera, jazz, R&B and gospel for a completely unique sound rooted in Black musical traditions. Cortina-Bello uses the infectious beats of her Cuban heritage as the basis of her music, blending in jazz and classical strains as well.

The artists aren’t held hard and fast to the festival’s theme, but many of them do have songs about the earth in their catalogues. The theme will be central to the dialogues held at each event. Since its inception, the Mission Hill Arts Festival has hosted a dialogue between the artist, the audience and the festival collaborators as part of each performance, to create a sense of community and engagement. In this way, the audience is participating in the concert rather than just experiencing it.

An enthusiastic crowd enjoys a performance at last year’s festival. PHOTO: Mutsuko Ohnishi

“I think audiences come expecting to be enriched, to really participate, collectively and personally,” says Harris. “They really come with an expectation to walk away with something.”

Born during the pandemic shutdowns, the festival was intended to bring neighborhood music-lovers together in a safe, outdoor space. The enthusiastic reception illustrated a need for more live music in the Mission Hill area. Harris estimates 30% to 50% of the audience are returning from previous years.

The Mission Hill Arts Festival runs June 22-September 7 with one performance in June, one in July, four in August and one in September. All performances take place at The Yard at the Tobin Community Center. Ticket prices range from $22-40 with discounts for students, seniors and youth and free admission for children under 12.

Harris hopes the community comes together each time for a night of enjoyment, but also one of thoughtfulness and discourse.

“There will be some exchange,” says Harris. “I would like them to come out of it thinking about primarily how to have a healthy relationship with the Earth. So, not earth functioning for us, but us functioning with Earth.”