Emerson's Ted Cutler thinks Outside the Box

by Jaclyn Diaz / Beacon Staff • October 4, 2012

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Theodore Harry Cutler plans a Boston art festival.
Theodore Harry Cutler plans a Boston art festival.

The popularity of music festivals has certainly surged in recent years with Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coachella and Electric Zoo becoming staples of pop culture. From the east coast, past the Mason Dixie Line to Black Rock desert, these cultural conventions have taken a slice out of the bacchanal pie. Now Boston, an often forgotten city for performing arts, is reaching for its own fork to dig in.

The Outside the Box music and arts festival, a brainchild of Emerson College alum and frequent benefactor Theodore H. Cutler, hopes to join the ranks of the Zoo and Lolla.

The event, a 10-day celebration of all things artsy, is scheduled to occur from July 12-21 in various locations around the city.

Boston Common, Copley Square, Emerald Necklace, City Hall Plaza, and Christopher Columbus Park are the current venues chosen for Outside the Box. Theaters including Emerson’s Cutler Majestic and Paramount Theater will hold ticketed performances as well.

Cutler, a native of Boston, originally thought of the idea for Outside the Box years ago, he said.

Teaming up with former Emerson President Jacqueline Liebergott in 2008, Cutler traveled to various festivals throughout the country. 

 “The reaction to the festival was an overwhelming, ‘Yes we need it, yes we need it,’” said Cutler.

Despite the support from the city’s art institutions, the country’s economy at the time prevented continued development. A year and a half ago, Cutler once again began to receive phone calls about the gala, and the wheels started to spin.

Industry veterans Sherrie Johnson, artistic director for the event, and Kevin T. Colan, managing director, began working with Cutler this past summer to make  his vision a reality.

Johnson worked for several years with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, Canada. Colan was the Chief Executive Officer of performing arts in Albany. 

 After hearing plans for Outside the Box, Colan said he felt he could lend a hand.

“This is so unique because this is one man’s idea. Not with the concept to make money, but to attract the worlds eyes to Boston and to attract tourism to Boston,” said Colan. “For one man to say ‘I love this city and I love the arts so much’, that’s what really made me want to come.” 

Cutler said he hopes the event will keep tourists interested in the Boston arts scene. The festival, according to Cutler, is the chance for Boston and its performers to stand out.

“Boston is known for colleges and universities, hospitals and health care, but it is not known for the performing arts. And it should be,” said Cutler. “It has always made me angry because I always thought we had the best organizations in the country. We don’t have a reputation internationally [as being an arts city] and that always bothered me.”

In an effort to attract a diverse crowd, Cutler said he is making the event as affordable as possible. The concerts and showcases that occur in the parks will be entirely free to the public. 

Start-up funds, according to Colan, were largely provided by Cutler, who worked in the music business for many years. However, the Outside the Box project is still looking for sponsors. 

“As they say, he puts his money where his mouth is,” said Colan.

Both men feel confident in the future of Outside the Box, expecting it to continue for the next few years. Cutler estimates that attendance will peak at one million. With tourists and hungry visitors, Cutler predicts the event will jumpstart Boston’s economy.

For Outside the Box, Cutler promises an amalgamation of art, science, culinary arts and international culture. 

“I will take everything from Lady Gaga to Shakespeare and everything in between,” said Cutler. 

The finalized list of events and performers will be announced in March.