THE POWER OF ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN THE CITY
This past February marked my third year participating, in various capacities, with the Boston APP/Lab. I reflect on this as several projects and initiatives are moving steadily forward within the Lab, especially the ArtsCommons project.
My connection to Boston as a city and my well-being as a person have increased immeasurably since joining the Lab. The workshops, which offer genuine collaboration, exciting discussion, and, especially, provocation, opened doors to active civic participation for me. I felt like a stakeholder in the projects and places discussed, and in the neighborhoods I’ve visited and come to know better. For the ArtsCommons, my activity in helping to design and facilitate that project has brought me in touch with more people across more networks than anything I could have hoped to achieve within the confines of my full-time day job as an architectural designer.
I started working on the ArtsCommons while at Wentworth Institute of Technology, introduced to it by my friend, colleague, and, at the time, roommate, Greg MacGlashing. We were in graduate school at WIT, and our theses often overlapped, concerned with the public realm, and the civic forces that shape it. We both celebrate, revere, and partake in the creation of art that the two of us obsessed with making - and, most importantly, with the processes by which people create. With the APP/Lab and the ArtsCommons, I saw the palpable reality of the potential of transforming shipping containers (thanks to Eagle Leasing) to help bind community and art. For two years, I helped to facilitate workshops, meetings, collaborations, designs, schedules, and events. The research and the work I did had direct, tangible results. I saw the ArtsCommons come to life at JP Porchfest, in the Summer of 2016, with the help of my friends (most of whom were from WIT), after weeks of direct collaboration and engagement with the neighborhood surrounding the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.
Photo from the ArtsCommons x 2016 JP Porchfest Event
In the process of trying to make the ArtsCommons a sustainable, successful project, I met with citizens, local business owners, politicians, developers, architects, designers, technologists, activists, artists, students, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, non-profit organizations.. The list goes on for miles. I met in the State House, on nearly every city street, in train stations, restaurants I’d never patronized, held meetings at my office, at the Boston Society of Architects Space, neighborhoods I’d never been to, with people whom I’d never met. Everyone, every place, was open, willing, and encouraging. People saw value in what we spoke of, in our articulation of the the mission: incubating collaborations for arts in public places. With this project, those involved can envision new ways in which art transforms, enhances, and celebrates communities, neighborhoods, families, businesses.
Because of the APP/Lab, I had a platform to chase, to share my beliefs, and to challenge my assumptions about the world as I saw it. Each day, with ever-opening eyes, and an ever-opening heart, I see beauty and potential in those places I visited, and all those I still have yet to.
Throughout my life, I imagined living and growing in New York City. I took frequent visits on Metro North from New Haven to NYC, and marveled at the buildings, the life of the streets. I got lost in the hip-hop, the graffiti, the sidewalks, the school buses, the projects, the parks, the bridges. I saw an amplification of where I grew up, and as such, an amplification of myself. It has always resonated, and will always resonate, with me.
Still, after graduating from WIT, I didn’t make the transition to NYC. Later, I attempted, and failed, to transition to Portland, Oregon. In both cases, I tried very hard. But in the end, it was my deep, resounding connection to Boston, and to the civic life I was readily a part of, which has kept me here. Boston isn’t NYC, and never will be, and that, at least for now, is alright with me. The people, the neighborhoods, the many cultures of Boston have welcomed me and helped me to find a home here. I am fortunate to have been a part of the Boston APP/Lab because I have been witness to beauty in this City I would have likely missed, or even misjudged.
As the APP/Lab moves into a new chapter, with the ArtsCommons being pushed forward by Rob Trumbour, Lizzie Falvey, and a studio of Wentworth architecture students, I get to see my impact ripple outwardly-- my effort, my love, my design, and my school will be embedded into the life of the City - and without question, the life of the City is embedded in me.
Ron Mallis (Right) and I at Impact Hub Boston, Mapping our Creative Network