A young boy shows his new 3D-printed rooster from Chris Templeman’s “Make and Take” reenway Public Art Program project in Chinatown Park
By Suzanne Volmer
BOSTON, MA — In Boston, and globally, Public Art is focused on placemaking. This means there is an active shaping of identity to build community and to foster relationship with environment.
Philadelphia pioneered the Percent for Art policy in the United States and today it is a world-class art destination with exceptional outdoor sculptures. In a percentage for art program, part of the building costs are dedicated to art in public space and that figure is customarily one percent of the total. The experience of Public Art in Philadelphia is that it fits effortlessly into the landscape and enhances the environment.
Chicago’s sophisticated Percent for Art program has used the concept to bring a human dimension to vast plazas below its skyscrapers and planners have chosen permanent sculptures by Blue Chip artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Pablo Picasso, Louise Nevelson, Anish Kapoor, Alexander Calder and Jaume Plensa. In 2016, Boston announced an arts strategy designed to network institutions, philanthropy, communities and Percent for Art planning. This program was developed to provide structure to facilitate art placement across Boston’s neighborhoods.
The Rose Kennedy Greenway is an open-air artery of parkland combined with a Public Art component. It unfolds across the swath of land that blankets the scar of the Big Dig and its artworks have energized in Boston the conversation of contemporary art in the public realm. Its artworks are supported by philanthropy and cultural partnerships. The art interactively knits together neighborhoods. Janet Echelman’s massive temporary aerial sculpture of 2015, “As If It Were Always Here,” sponsored by the non-profit Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, made a wonderful indelible impression on Bostonians. At the time, people loved taking iPhone images of it and then sharing these with friends while commenting on the installation’s “Wow” factor.
Sometimes Public Art can be temporary and on those occasions impermanence gives flexibility to include topical subject matter so that audiences are drawn into an immediacy of visual conversation. A shift toward non-permanent sometimes lowers presentation costs. It can also ease impediments in city permitting and for these reasons it can potentially have a quicker time-line of committee approval. Temporary also allows for variety, which perhaps appeals to the limited attention span that is a byproduct of the digital age. Bracketed duration also limits maintenance costs.
The winter months on the Greenway have dormancy, because this juncture is often time reserved for planning art that will begin its lifecycle in the spring. Cowan mentioned in a recent conversation that Boston’s history is a major identifier of place and he factors this understanding into his curatorial viewpoint. “Playful Perspectives” is the park’s thematic direction for this year and has included temporary sculpture installations as well as murals at Dewey Square Park.
New in Boston is The Ink Block Underpass just unveiled in late September in a previously underutilized area between the South End and South Boston. It sports a graffiti-esque street art vibe shaped with murals en masse in an expansive area under I-93. Mural art in the United States is rooted in global culture. Mexican artist Diego Rivera worked on mural commissions in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Later the Los Angeles Chicano art community developed a unique mural style to inform its L.A. neighborhoods. The influence of Miami’s Latino community should also be noted.
The muralist Imagine is one of two female artists among the eleven artists commissioned to complete projects for Underground at Ink Block. Developed by MassDOT with a mix of city, state and federal monies, the park and murals at Underground at Ink Block are managed by National Development. This is the company that won the bid to operate the parking lot and park and who is also the developer/operator of the adjacent massive Ink Block Complex. The park is meant to complement existing residential and retail at Ink Block and a new hotel still in the construction phase.
Although the emphasis of this article is on Boston’s high profile use of Public Art it is important to say that a lattice of smaller scale community initiatives and artist interventions are identification vehicles and descriptors of the city as well. Mayor Walsh’s art plan has been designed to help network community based Percent for Art Public Art opportunities, philanthropy and to foster applicable progressive institutional involvement.
Part of Boston’s unique character is its position in the technology arena and it is a center for start-up companies. New American Public Art is a design and build firm, which is one of these start-ups. “Make and Take” by Chris Templeman on the Greenway consists of a 3D printer in a vitrine and explores the democratization of art production. It slowly and continuously dispenses tiny synthetic roosters (vending machine style). At roughly 4-hour intervals anyone lucky enough to be near can take a miniature replication of a rooster home. “Make and Take” honors the Year of the Rooster, which has placemaking significance because the installation is sited adjacent to Boston’s Chinatown. New American Public Art is a start-up in residence at Autodesk, innovator of CAD design/architecture software. They worked with Chris Templeman, collaborating on the automated kiosk aspect of “Make and Take” and also programmed the interactive feature for The Greenway’s “Color Commons” that allows audiences the opportunity to create variations in color and sequencing for the “Light Blades” installation by Dennis Carmichael.
2017 Design Biennial Boston concluded on October 8th which was just before the spectacle of HUBweek’s festival of sharing October 10-15. For HUBweek a constellation of six geodesic domes and numerous shipping containers have been arranged at City Hall Plaza to house exhibits, seminars and performance events. MIT, Mass General Hospital, Harvard and The Globe are the sponsors.
The festival has been held in two previous years; however, this year it seems super-sized. It has an enveloping immersive quality, communicating an important layer of Boston’s identity, which emphasizes crossovers between art, technology and science. Sampling is how to enjoy HUBweek with many events offered to the public free. Think self-curated experience. There will be light and sound art and a saturation of start-up companies abounding in an atmosphere that will make the experience of HUBweek a dynamic forum from morning into night form seminars to party-time (9 a.m.-10 p.m.). The thrill for audiences is in the energy and potential to be inspired by ideas on the cusp.
(Artscope publisher Kaveh Mojtabai will moderate a discussion on “A New Wave of Public Art in the Boston Area on Sunday, October 15 at noon at The HUB, 1 City Hall Square, Boston as part of HUBWeek Boston. For more information, visit hubweek.org.)