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One of the demo tapes from the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive. The archive received funding from the UMass president's office to add oral history interviews to the archive.
September 15, 2017

Creative economy initiatives fund supports UMass Boston arts and humanities projects


  • Boston
Projects include hip-hop oral history project and survey of Boston residents

Faculty and staff at UMass Boston have received a combined $102,350 from UMass President Marty Meehan’s office and the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund to pursue academic and community projects in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

The four projects and the grant recipients are:

  1. "Creative Solutions for the Poor: How Boston Entrepreneurs Mobilize Creative Resources to Serve the Bottom of the Pyramid”: Associate Professor of Management Stephan Manning and business administration PhD student Stanislav Vavilov; College of Management ($24,350)
  2. "BEACON—Your City, Your Voice: Building the Boston Area Panel”: Professor of Sociology Russell K. Schutt; Director Trent D. Buskirk and Associate Professor of Sociology Philip S. Brenner; College of Liberal Arts, Center for Survey Research ($30,000)
  3. "Popularity of Cultural Products in Online Social Media”: Assistant Professor of Marketing Jurui Zhang and Chair and Professor of Marketing Raymond Liu, College of Management ($36,000)
  4. "Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive Oral History Project”: Professor of American Studies Jeffrey Melnick, Interim Dean of University Libraries Joanne Riley, Professor of American Studies Rachel Rubin, Honors College Dean Rajini Srikanth, and Associate Professor of Management Pacey Foster; College of Liberal Arts, College of Management, Honors College, and Joseph P. Healey Library ($12,000)

Manning and Vavilov are focused on identifying best practices for so-called "bottom of the pyramid" startups--enterprises that specialize in developing products and services for low-income consumers in areas like Africa.

“Boston has become in recent years one of the major hubs for international startups specializing in BOP markets, yet we know little about success factors and best practices of applying creative resources and capabilities. We aim to identify success factors and best practices of BOP entrepreneurship out of Boston, and aim to understand how the growing sector of BOP entrepreneurship can generate innovation and employment in the creative economy in the Greater Boston area,” Vavilov said.

Vavilov and Manning will use their $24,350 grant in part to conduct interviews with BOP entrepreneurs, accelerators, angel investors, universities, centers, and other major actors in the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem and identify how entrepreneurs in Boston apply creative resources, such as human capital, networks, and intellectual property, toward BOP markets. 

“Boston’s history, as with other cities, teaches us that if such challenges are not quantified, analyzed and addressed, the underlying problems can fester, social conflicts can emerge, and progress can erode. The UMass Boston BEACON project will provide data to meet this challenge,” Schutt said.

BEACON will provide a valuable resource for scholars, policymakers, and government agencies. Regular meetings are already underway with key members of the Mayor’s Office of Urban Mechanics--to identify policy issues of greatest concern--and with Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI) leaders from Harvard and Northeastern--to coordinate survey plans with their “big data” resources. 

The $30,000 in funding will support the design of survey procedures, the development of a collaborative infrastructure, and data collection for one year.

Buskirk is also celebrating another milestone. He is a 2017 fellow of the American Statistical Association, as nominated by other members of the organization. Nominees must have an established reputation and have made outstanding contributions to statistical science in order to be named fellow for a year.

“There are millions of comments on social media and this tells us a lot about consumers’ minds. What are their interests? What are their preferences for musicians?” Zhang said.

The team will use aggregators to create a digestible analysis of 10,000 Facebook pages. Much of the $36,000 grant will pay for this machine learning. The team will also be collaborating with UMass Boston’s folk music station, WUMB 91.9 FM, to see how they can market their artists and looking at how social media networks influence the popularity of musicians.

“We conceptualize that there are two types of social networks. One is explicit social networks, like who is connected to who on Facebook. We’re also interested in implicit social networks, for example, what brands this person is following on Facebook or Twitter. If a person following Taylor Swift follows Dove or other beauty brands, it says a lot about their interests,” Zhang said.

The team of Melnick, Riley, Rubin, Srikanth, and Foster are using their $12,000 grant to hire rapper Akrobatik, who will work with Honors College student interns on oral history techniques. The undergraduate students will then record interviews with artists and dancers, producers and DJs, rappers, and graffiti artists. A UMass Boston graduate student will catalog the interviews for the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, which launched last year with digitized demo tapes played on Lecco’s Lemma, one of Boston’s earliest rap radio shows, from 1985 to 1988.

“If that goes well, this is the model for what we want to roll out on a larger scale,” said Foster, the project’s manager. “We’re really building a community archive here as told by the people. We’re focusing on stories that haven’t been told well or artists who weren’t well recognized or famous. We’re interested in stories of the art form, especially that early 80s time when the Lecco’s Lemma collection was created. It was a really vibrant time and a time that was documented by the kids that were making the tapes.”

Another part of the grant will help formalize the partnership between UMass Boston’s Joseph P. Healey Library and the Boston Public Library. The two have teamed up so that items uploaded into the digital collection housed at UMass Boston can be indexed by the BPL and found (and enjoyed) by hip-hop fans around the world.

The Creative Economy Initiatives Fund was launched in 2007 to complement the Science & Technology Initiatives Fund, established in 2004. The fund has awarded more than $3 million in grants to faculty across all five campuses, including $256,000 this year.