Mission Hill’s “Big Blue House” sparked the movement — an apartment where student artists were collaborating organically on large-scale paintings, scribbling down the lyrics to new melodies and building sculptures out of kitchen appliances. “There was an explosion of creativity going on at that place,” says Olivia Ives-Flores. Her goal? To find a way to harness that.
Ives-Flores started the “Acorn Street Art Project” when she was a student at the School of Museum of Fine Arts. Held in a private townhouse on Beacon Hill, the Project intermingled artists from the Big Blue House with a “white-haired, dignified crowd.” The show sold out in two hours.
Great Fruit Productions fed off that success. In conjunction with the Millennium Campus Network, Ives-Flores started coordinating pop-up shows and guerilla music concerts. Yet, she couldn’t stop talking with her friend Miguel de Braganza about opening up a permanent space…..
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The Rice Bowl Gallery stood stagnant, situated between Mass Art and the Museum of Fine Arts on Huntington Avenue. Ives-Flores and Braganza rang the landlord’s doorbell, and after receiving enthusiastic response, started cleaning out the basement that had been used as storage for the family who lived upstairs. “It needed some serious love,” Ives-Flores says, looking back on the summer of 2010.
So, they turned to Billy Ruane, who Ives-Flores describes as a “monarch for rock and roll” in Boston — the man who started the Middle East. “He was completely nuts in such a passionate way,” she says. He had attended a few of the duo’s pop-up shows. And when they asked him if they could use his apartment to host a fundraiser, he simply said, “Don’t bother. I’ll give you the money.”
With his help, the team was able to open YES.OUI.SI. in 2011, having over 300 people visit their first exhibit, Utopalypse, in two days. “We didn’t even have a Facebook page then,” Ives-Flores says, admitting the only promotion they had done was scatter 22 fliers around the Museum School of Fine Arts.
The team — comprised of artists and musicians under the age of 25 — has since curated 13 exhibitions with nearly 300 artists. They’ve hosted over 200 concerts, as well as yoga classes, poetry readings and film screenings.
Now, however, they’ve decided to shut their doors.
“The summer is slow in Boston, so we initially thought we’d take the summer off,” Ives-Flores says. After curating for six years and running a business for another two, though, Ives-Flores wanted to make sure she’s headed in the right direction. Braganza would also like to finish his business degree at Berklee, which he took a leave of absense from to open YES.OUI.SI.
For now, Ives-Flores is focused on collaborating with other companies in the city, including urban apparel truck Green Street Vault. “Green Street is a different market demographic, but at the same time I think it’s very bad ass they’re taking Boston by the reigns and doing something innovative,” Ives-Flores says.
Ives-Flores will also be launching a new website, called “Collective Creature,” which will showcase the work of “small businesses, entrepreneurs, tinkers and people who are incredible but their work exists under the radar.” Right now, although Ives-Flores sees the “amazing things” going on in the basements of Allston and Jamaica Plain or Cambridge and Union Square, she thinks they’ll never make their way to the public sphere. “It’s the folly of artists,” she says. “Very few artists are business people, which is why a lot of these things don’t get the press they deserve.”
Among the companies or groups “doing it right,” Ives-Flores points to Future Boston Alliance,Space with a Soul and Aviary, among others. What she thinks needs to happen now is a larger conversation about how art makes a city a better place.
“Everyone comes here to get trained or get inspired, and then it’s a trampoline to Los Angeles or New York,” Ives-Flores say. “If there were more YES.OUI.SIs, people would stick around.”
YES.OUI.SI will be emptied by the 15th. For a look back, though, enjoy these photos, courtesy of the team’s Flickr gallery.