Arts & Culture, Interview

POP Allston: A Space You Should Explore



Photo by Jeremiah Robinson

Right on Brighton Ave, in the heart of Allston, POP Allston’s sign hangs. One might wonder looking through the glass, what is this space? I’d been curious before attending Rock the Runway, a free fashion show at POP Allston. It was my first time inside the building. During the event, I met Alana Olson, who hosted the show. I had so many questions concerning the space. I didn’t know at the time who Alana was or what was her role at POP Allston. She agreed to meet and answer my questions. Days later, I was sitting in front of her at Refuge Cafe in Allston. Of course we’d meet in Allston. I have never met anyone more proud of Allston than Ms. Olson. Her passion for Boston’s beloved neighborhood is true. I began by complimenting the space. Then I learned that Alana is the founder of POP Allston. She began to share the story behind this wonderful space:


Boston Hassle: Was Rock the Runway the first event at Pop Allston?

Alana: No, we did an event on September 7th. We had five bands. 12,000 people showed up, it was exciting.

BH: Who were the bands?

A: It was SkaterS, Michael Christmas, Dirty Fences, CREATUROS, and IAN.

LB: Are they all local?

A: CREATUROS and IAN are local. Michael Christmas started out local but he lives in LA now. But Skaters and the Dirty Fences, even though some of the guys who are in Skaters are from Newton, are both from Brooklyn. We partnered with Live Nation and do617 who handled the booking for us.

LB: I’m not a fan of Live Nation & Ticketmaster because of their ridiculous ticket fees.

A: This was a totally free show. It was really about promoting Allston and getting people to be aware of what’s going on. It was nice getting to work with people who had the professional experience in booking bands. Because normally when you are a small organization or a startup company, you might not know how to negotiate these kinds of contracts with artists.

LB: You are one of the founders of POP Allston, can you tell me more about that?

A: I run Allston Village Main Streets. I’m the executive director of that nonprofit. We are the nonprofit organization that founded POP Allston. We worked really closely with the people who own that building. When we found it that the building will be temporarily vacant, we reached out to all the different partners.

LB: So basically you’re running the show at POP Allston?

A: Yeah, I mean I would like to say that it’s an incredible partnership of all these amazing organizations that we brought together. It’s been exciting to watch it grow and develop. And watch each partner become more independent in the space and working collaboratively. That’s one of the coolest elements of POP Allston.

LB: Who are the partners?

A: The partners are the people who are using the space. There is Orchard and they manage the conservatory skatepark inside POP Allston. Then there’s Justin Pomerleau who owns Vivant Vintage in lower Allston. He manages the Oliver Best vintage market, which is every Saturday. He is totally awesome. And then Galen Mook, who is the founder of the CommonWheels Bicycle Co-Op, which is a local nonprofit. So CommonWheels comes in and does the free DIY bicycle repairs. They help people learn about fixing their bikes. We also have a partner named Ali Singer who has a startup yoga company called Yoga Hub. She teaches yoga classes in POP Allston. We also have an artist’s studio, for the !ND!V!DUALS art collective.

LB: Adored the !ND!V!DUALS donut installation. Who is funding POP Allston?

A: The seed money to build the skatepark came from Converse. They also funded the mural that happened on the exterior of the building by the artist Monica Canilao. That mural is incredible and she is awesome to work with.

LB: How long is Converse planning to fund POP Allston?

A: The Converse money was mostly the seed money that we made to construct the space and get started. Sustaining funding is what we’re in the middle of fundraising for right now. We are at the point where everything helps, anything helps from someone walking in and dropping $20 into our donation bucket to somebody who owns a major corporation saying they’ll give us a $1000 a month. POP Allston will only be around through the end of April. It’s my goal to make sure that we can pay the heating & electric bills, and keep the building open and free to use.

LB: And hopefully keep it going after April.

A: We are in the middle of developing a long-term plan for each of our users. Once POP Allston closes, what’s the next step? I’m looking at what those options are. I think what we’ve done is build a model anyone or any nonprofit could use to activate temporarily vacant spaces. We’ve already been talking to a number of nonprofits in Boston who are interested in doing this kind of work. I think the spirit of POP Allston will definitely live on. We created so many important assets in the community event space and the free indoor skatepark. These are really exciting things that have been so successful because there is a clear need for them.

LB: I’ve seen the calendar of POP Allston, it’s full of activities, especially the main ones. How easy is it to book a show or a gig there?

A: I’m more than willing to help someone who wants to navigate the process of having a special event at POP Allston. Live music is such an important part of Allston’s community. It would be the hardest thing to do at POP Allston for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that building shares a wall with residential neighbors (laughs). We have to be good neighbors and be courteous but that doesn’t mean that we are ruling out the possibility of live music. We are interested in seeing what we could do.

LB: What about the blasting music during the Rock the Runway fashion show? It was brilliant by the way, that was a fun night.

A: I was happy with each of the designers that was featured, but also with Trephin salon who came out & volunteered their time. They’re a startup & dug the spirit of what we’re doing. They were like, yeah we’ll come to Allston and do forty models’ hair & makeup, no problem.

LB: They looked good, and the dog. I was impressed by the models’ attitudes.

A: It was really sassy. Omar who had the dog on the runway is a longtime employee at Orchard skate shop. I’ve met so many people, it’s been a blast.

LB: Was POP Allston your idea?

A: It feels weird to take credit for something like that. I would say more than POP Allston being my idea, I was lucky enough to know all the people who could come together and do such interesting and creative things. It was more like I was at right place in the right time. It’s not a new idea. The way we did it, I think, is creative and cool.

LB: How do you feel about Converse bringing out an artist from California, rather than having a local artist from Allston do the mural for the building?

A: Pretty much every work of art we’ve done in Allston has been with definitely a local Boston artist if not a local Allston artist. But it was exciting to work with the national arts community with this one particular project. Especially that the life of this building is so short. It was a great opportunity for a local artists to build connections with someone who is working nationally. It brought a lot of good intention with the work that we’re doing. Converse is really interested in doing work with local artists on the interior of POP Allston, providing opportunities to local artists through POP Allston. I think everyone deserves to be part of the creative community in Allston, whether you live in Boston or San Francisco. It is exciting that we’re a destination for these kinds of artists. It was really exciting to work with a woman who is a muralist, there are not a lot of them. I thought Monica brought a really unique perspective. There is only a couple of women doing this nationally, so it’s really cool stuff.

Mural by Monica Canilao

LB: I don’t understand how Allston is different from Boston.

A: Allston is a neighborhood within the city of Boston, like how Brooklyn is part of NYC.

LB: Do you think Allston is our Brooklyn?

A: I think Allston is way cooler than Brooklyn. Bring it Brooklyn.

LB: Bring it on!

A: In terms of what you mean by that question, is Allston the creative young community where the hipsters live? Yes.

LB: I don’t like the term hipster. It’s a term for people who lack creativity. But since we are using that term, I believe the younger hipster crowd is in Allston, while the slightly older one is in Somerville. I dig the vibe in both.

A: I agree, Allston is definitely the youngest community in the city of Boston by far, more than 60% of the people who live here are between ages of 18 and 30. We’re incredibly young, which adds to the vibrance and that creativity you’re hitting on. We really as a community benefit from that creative energy.

LB: I can’t wait to attend another live show at POP Allston & see more action. Have you been badgered by requests to book the space?

A: I’ve been epically badgred. It’s the number one thing. It’s one of the things that I love about Allston right now. We’re seeing venues being closed left & right in the greater Boston area, like Church, TT the Bear’s Place, and Johnny D’s. We are losing all these spaces. This is an exciting time in Allston because we’re not losing our music venues. I will fight tooth and nail to keep them.

LB: I’ll join the fight with you.

A: We should. I think part of that is because there is so many people who want to play music. They don’t care where it is. They’ll throw a basement show. They’ll have a party. They’ll play music wherever.

LB: The greater Boston area has more bands per capita than any other major city, I presume. It would be sweet to provide the space needed for them to perform.

A: We’ll try and figure out a way to do something that brings in live music.

LB: Who do you encourage to come out to the skatepark at POP Allston?

A: Everyone, it’s so much fun. It’s a cool community. If you are interested in it, I would recommend it. If you have little kids, especially this winter, bring them.

LB: What’s the age range?

A: It’s open to anyone. If you are under the age of eighteen, we do require that you wear a helmet. There is a waiver you’d need to sign to be able to skate. If you are under eighteen, your parents have to sign that for you. I see at the park kids as young as seven and people well into their fifties. It’s a multigenerational thing. It’s a fun community of really intelligent and creative people. Have them come and learn about biking. CommonWheels does incredible work with kids in this neighborhood. That’s some of the most fun stuff you can see; little kids hopping on bikes and loving life.

LB: What would you like POP Allston to be?

A: I would like it to be a space that anyone in Allston can come to and enjoy. I hope at the end of April, that’s what everyone says, that they loved having it and they’re excited that we came up with it because it could only happen in Allston.




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