Notes from Workshop #31: "Making Public Art for Civil Engagement"

May 2017


“Making Public Art for Civil Engagement”

What are the necessary conditions by which art in public places can contribute to – or even generate -- civil engagement?
What kinds of interventions will ease communication among people, whether on the same or on different pages?
What are the respective roles of the public...the place...the artist in creating this kind of engagement?
We invite you to join us in this energizing Workshop to help craft some real answers in real time. Co-designing and co-facilitating the Lab will be Susan Israel, President and Founder, Climate Creatives & Energy Necklace Project. Climate Creatives and Boston APP/Lab are teaming up to cross-pollinate our methods, to see what emerges – and to figure out what we can do together that we can’t do separately.
And, by the way, to expand the definition of “we.”


Preventing civil engagement

  • Lack of understanding
  • Lack of curiosity
  • Conflict aversion
  • Fear of the unknown(s)/of the other(s)
  • Self-involvement
  • Assumptions
  • Stereotyping
  • Unfriendliness
  • Apathy
  • Blindspots
  • Lack of awareness
  • To what extent has the private domain taken over the public commons as a setting for civil engagement?

Allowing civil engagement

  • Listening
  • Animals
  • Empathy
  • Hard times
  • Eye contact
  • Good questions
  • Inviting signs: “do this”
  • Circles
  • Proximity
  • Storytelling
  • Absurdity
  • What are some approaches to bridging physical space and cyberspace?

What did the brainstorms produce?

1. Cocktail Soiree:

This idea comes from the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center’s “Salons at Stowe” 

The purpose is to invite guests for a conversation about opposing views. Start with a 15 minute social time for guests to mingle and have casual conversation, add wine to allow guests to feel relaxed and drop inhibitions. (Keep to 15 minutes so the conversations remain introductory without encouraging people to identify their view.) Ask guests to have a seat anywhere. Each of the two speakers will have 10 minutes to present their views, then have a mediator ask the guests to share their thoughts. The intent is to have guests connect on a social level before discussing the issue, and these interactions may cause guests with opposing views to sit next to each other. Since they may have already had a cordial conversation, this will help guests to build a rapport and discuss the topic in a more civil manner.

2. Multifaceted sculpture: 

Create a sculpture that changes as the viewer walks around the piece. (Example: From one angle the sculpture appears to be playing children, from another angle it reveals refugees drowning.) The intent is for the viewer to experience the change as they walk around the piece. This gives the viewer control of how quickly the difficult issue is revealed to them. And by giving the viewer that control, it also gives them time to process their feelings. 

3.  “The Other Side”

This is a 24/7 high quality video and audio “magic mirror” that connects two social spaces, one in a deep blue state and the other in a deep red state. The ideas is to bridge public space and make this a shared space for public dialogue and interventions orchestrated by interested parties on both sides of the “divide” this is inspired by the iCom project by Stefan Agamanolis, a multipoint awareness and communication portal for connecting remote social spaces

 4. “Different Facets”

This is a sculpture that allows you to see different views depending on what angle you are looking at it from. Emphasizes the idea of multiple perspectives, a physical manifestation of the the oft-quoted  Alan Kay phrase, “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points”

5. “Dinner Partisans”

Get people with different points of view together for dinner, have then share a meal, get together and meet each other in a social scene, and then have a moderator ask a difficult question to have people around a table work on a solution, little do people know that they have been seated with people of different political stripes at the same table, but once they have shared stories and a meal, they are more likely to come up with interesting solutions?

(From Ron Mallis: I thought of Luis Bunuel's movie "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" -- a group of upper middle class people attempting—despite continual interruptions—to dine together.)

Notes From Workshop #30: "The function of Public art is to Transform the way People respond to each other"

March 22, 2017


Some backstory.
We asked the following at an earlier Workshop on public art and urban design:

"How does or can public art transform the ways in which people use and think about public space? "

The sculptor Eric Sealine defined one such transformation:

"Art in public places has less to do with the object itself than with the community created by its effect on those who see/hear it."

Building and reinforcing community, in other words, through new "ritual spaces" in which (again from Eric) the “normal rules of (dis)engagement are changed.”


Thus, this upcoming Workshop.

With Eric, we'll begin with an open discussion of some basic assumptions and ideas regarding these kinds of "transformation." We’ll then spend the bulk of the evening in small groups brainstorming responses to opportunities for transformation: Where else? What else? Who else?
We want to hear from you -- your ideas, your "what if's...": 

  • Some examples of where and how these “ritual” spaces have, and can, come to life;

  • The conditions that make such spaces possible;

  • The design elements – visual, performance, both – and on the social elements – individuals, communities, groups -- that contribute to their creation.

  • Implementation roles and responsibilities

San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ mission state that “we generate culture that moves people.”
We invite you to join us in brainstorming – and collaborating on – ways to “generate culture that moves people.” It’s a pretty exciting goal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was one of the Lab’s most idea-rich Workshops, with a considerable amount of additional post-event suggestions. We’d very much like to hear from you regarding these note – and the Workshop itself as outlined in the announcement: questions, further ideas, comments – pro or con. And see the concluding remark: send those brainstorms to



  • How to engage/connect with – non-verbally and otherwise – the public more in sculptural/performance art; art being used for “social purpose”

  • Can art create moments of safety, as well as moments of “shock”

  • Impact of space on residents; how art plays into space

    • What brings us together?

    • Space in which we can feel vulnerable

    • Boundaries: conditions around the edge: good public space has an edge that provides that feeling of safety/interest/place we can inhabit

    • Rituals that allow us to engage with each other, whether we know them or not

  • Can an artist predict how the people will respond to a work of art in a public place?

  • Can such art be “transformative” in the long term?

  • Who gives permission for “ownership” of that space?


THEME 1: Is there an “equation” or “prescriptive process” to creating a space that provokes civic/civil engagement?

  • “Origin” stories: visual/collaborative ways for strangers to stop and answer the question: “How’d you get to this place?”

  • Creating a “wow” moment that makes you stop
  • Something about the piece that allows for “breaking the bubble” – permitting/prompting a conversation

  • Provide a place/space that allows the “vulnerable” to be safe – somewhere relatable to the people of the area and the “outsiders”

  • Have the power of the piece resonate to the moments beyond the time spent at the installation:

    • E.g., how can the moment you had speaking with strangers be brought into your everyday routine?


THEME 2: What could that process look like?

  • Mapping, pinging, yarn, “draw” your route

    • On my way to..., coming

    • Trigger question: focus on something the participant wouldn’t normally focus on

    • Bring you out of your routine

      • How does sharing a routine bring you out of it?

      • How would something like this provoke engagement with someone else?

  • Central point: “you are here”

  • Tool(s) to record not just personal “history,” but something about the culture within which personal history happens/exists

    • Drawing? Chalk?

    • Wall of to-do lists?

  • Visual data collection

  • Five major languages, with categories selected by language

  • People doing the same thing: bond of commonality/common ground

    • Curiosity voyeurism (re others’ routines/watching others document their experience)


THEME 3 (summarized by Herb Nolan): How can public art turn those rules of disengagement around?  

  • We need invitations to engage one another. If a work of art is successful we first look at the art and then turn to each other. 

  • Public art that engages in this way: cf. the "Bean”; Ann Hamilton’s “Event of the Thread”; Michael Alfano’s chalkboards on hiking trails

    • Later comment from Michael: My thought was to make the public as much a part of the creative process as I could. I want to go beyond interactive art to “changeable” art. I want the public not just to passively look at the art, nor interact with the art, but to be able to fundamentally change it and create new forms and images.

  • Public art does not need to be expensive cf. the Bean) to be successful in this way

  • What qualities invite this kind of engagement? Art that is:

    • interactive

    • receptive (of our input)

    • immersive

    • disruptive (of our daily routines)

    • temporal (there today, gone tomorrow)

    • open ended (reflects back our

    • engaging (challenges the audience to do something or to collaborate)

    • asking  (not stating a conclusion)

  • A big snow storm that gets everyone outside has some of these qualities.

  • How to create a safe space and state of mind that is receptive to new experience?   Joy and surprise can create that space.


THEME 4: How, where, and with whom can one or another – or several – of these “concepts” be translated into actions?

  • Answers to come...



  • From Mike Tyrrell on behalf of Brenda Be, LMerchie Frazier, Richard Youngstrom, William Bloomfield, and himself


      • One important sidebar centered on funding, and all agree it is vital to substantive visual impact, sustained programming (depending on the piece), and long-term maintenance. Funding is tricky and competitive. It's success is often tied to grant writing where given proposals are deeply synergistic with source programming/agendas. Perhaps "Funding" deserves its own charrette?


      • From here on, two "suppositions" emerged – not mutually exclusive, but certainly descriptive of range – between (1) the absolute need to invite and structure community input on permanent art installation initiatives, and (2) the desire for (and to some, the increasing need for) developing less prescribed methods for creating public art – a dynamic that encourages more trial and experimentation. Either approach should compel strategies whereby citizens can feel creatively engaged at maximum, and/or project aware at minimum.


Consensus formed where permanent long-term installations should typically require neighborhood review (avoiding "the bronze half-moon obstacle course," for example – the "we have to live with it" concerns), where conversely, invention and spontaneity in temporary work might better thrive if less beholden to prescribed review processes; i.e.: less prequalification and more risk-taking ("Here's a public art site -go to it"... and who knows?..."it might evolve into something less ephemeral; let's take a chance/we trust you").

  • Whether temporary or permanent, community input is necessary to a vital and enlightening process. In either case the artist's vision should be accorded trust and authority to the extent expected from any such leadership position. Hereby a magnanimous dialogue can ensue between the composer and his or her public. Again, the two perspectives are not mutually exclusive, and can play off each other. "All politics is local"... "A well defined problem is half solved"... "E Pluribus Unum!"...


      • Our group didn't discuss specific sites, but per Ron's request we should nominate some (and please do so here, in response to this draft?).... One area I always liked is the head of the Fort Point Channel. It's on the Harborwalk/Harbortrail, but there's much room for temporary waterborne or bank connected pieces; a good place to promote temporary, environmental art. The head of the Channel -including the water sheet- has long been the subject of speculation for improving the public realm in this area. We could potentially position ourselves at the forefront of making this place a significant and memorable gateway between Fort Point Channel and Boston Harbor, and the South End and Roxbury.





Notes From Workshop #29: Catalysts for Creating new -- and Strengthening existing -- Social Networks: Arts in Public places as tools for individual and community healing

November 30, 2016


  •  How – and at what scale – can art in public places heal communities?
  •  What – and where – are the opportunities for implementing such art?
  •  What are some of necessary characteristics of “collection points” -- that bring together the arts and the public?
  • How can such initiatives be sustained?

These questions, and others, were the focus of this workshop, taking place during a period in which healing is critical. We examined this subject from multiple perspectives and contexts, with opening input from the worlds of music, light art and technology, and public health.

Helping to establish this framework were: Courtney Grey, Founder, Kilombo Novo Indigenous Healing Arts; Rebecca Strauss, Music Director, Riverview Chamber Players (; Bevan Weissman, Co-Founder, New American Public Art (

Participants brainstormed new initiatives in the arena of arts in public spaces, with some leading questions:

  •  How would you -- informed by your environment, profession, community, personal perspective – apply them to create your own “catalysts?”
  • What are your definitions or illustrations of “healing” – at whatever scale?
  •  Where can those definitions or illustrations take places?
  •  Who participates?

From the workshop:

Thanks to Darrell Ann Gane-McCalla, Jackie Gonzales, Max Stearns, Marina Sutton

Opening remarks:

Rebecca Strauss

  • Harmony & Hope: 5/13/16 “Responding to Violence with Music”
    • concert for victims of homicide - mostly youth and children!
    • this concert brought people to Arlington Street Church that never go to that part of town
    • concert bridged gap in demographics and race
    • wants to create summer concerts in the Roxbury community
    • future concert at First Church of Roxbury
    • trying to help people claim public space, lot of people in various demographics afraid to cross
  • Certain neighborhood divides
    • healing by bringing people together!
    • art-making as an act of healing!
    • creating resilience for people!
    • “third space” a sociological term! !

Courtney Gray

  • In Boston, Clara Wainwright: communal quilt-making while talking about community issues!
  • In Philadelphia: making mosaics on walls of empty lots; using the rubble to beautify
  • Unsightly local space; community working together and taking possession of the space

Bevan Weissman

  • Our Self project in Camden, NJ: using digital media; soundbite stories collected in community
  • Giving the digital media a physical presence in the public realm by building a moveable sculptural object that can be engaged with by viewers/listeners!
  • No one vandalized the piece; shows a respect for the art and the stories

General discussion

  • How do you qualify and quantify the impact of public art?
  • How do you fund public art? How do you argue spending all that money when there are many more practical things that need to be funded?
  • Art as a “catalyst,” as a point of departure: don’t have to solve all the problems
  • People leave their mark on a space or an art piece
  • What kinds of initiatives can generate healing at whatever level?
    • Intertwined healing of individuals, families, neighborhood, community: all need to be healthy
    • In what ways are the words “resilience” and “healing” parallel? In what ways are they different?
    • Challenge: how to demonstrate value to the community, financially and every other way
  • Consider the healing impact of the space itself in which an event (e.g., Riverview Chamber Players’ “Harmony and Hope”) or other initiative (e.g., New American Public Art’s “Our Self”) is taking place or is installed  
    • Arts can blur demographic lines
    • Art (visual, performance) should be everwhere, part of daily life
    • Mainstream Boston vs. “mini-Bostons”: latter unable to reclaim space in former
    • Art should not be tailored to certain type of healing
  • Reclaim/reimagine spaces – third spaces – that can create healing while also creating new or strengthening existing social networks
    • Art can allow people to feel ownership over their space
  • Partnerships/collaborations critical in conceiving of/designing healing initiatives
    • Incorporate the community: “My voice is there; I’m part of what’s been created.”
    • For true community engagement, relinquish control, give ownership to community players
    • Lots of different players need to be involved to create healing spaces
    • “Our Self,” project from New American Public Art: “the voices protected it: the community kept it safe.”
    • The artist creates context – space, structure – for contributions by/from the community
  • Building a portal to an oasis
    • People crossing boundaries, going to places they wouldn’t normally go

    • Kinds of oases? Gardens?

  • Follow-up workshop: Designing the “oasis”: process...product...results, including longer-term impact

Notes From Workshop #28: Civic Innovation, Digital Media, and Arts in Public Places

October 4, 2016


  •  What, and where, are the possibilities for a collaborative interplay among these three?

  • How can each take advantage of the other two in order to co-invent and sustain an expanded practice of civic engagement, a deeper definition of community, and overall a newly-enriched civic life?
  • How can – or should -- such collaboration account for the particulars of the places and the publics within which and for whom such initiatives might be designed and implemented?
  •  And what are some possible outcomes?

These questions, and others, were the focus of this workshop -- itself a collaboration involving not only BostonAPP/Lab but the Engagement Lab at Emerson College and the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Participants were given the opportunity to brainstorm approaches to this co-invention — as artist, as programmer, as community leader, as citizen — and to begin outlining an action agenda by which to bring these emerging ideas to fruition.

A recent quote from an unknown source: “Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It’s about the ideas that never existed until after everyone entered the room.”

Which pretty much describes what happened.


The following notes provide a sketch of the workshop's intense discussion, and several links to several fascinating projects that, in many ways, encompass the workshop's title.

[Many thanks to Christina Wilson from E-Lab, and participants Candy Yang and Jackie Gonzalez]

Legacy Lives On - community org

·      Mothers of children who were killed by gun violence (Roxbury / Dorchester)

·      Violence up in the summer, loss of access to safe outdoor public spaces

·      Can we use music/dance/performance to activate safe spaces in these neighborhoods

·      Create opportunity of members of the community to express themselves and perform, as well as bring artists / dancers / musicians


·      Creating a space for recognition of diverse expertise across divides is critical (youth/seniors, racial, economic, drivers/cyclists, etc.)

o   Essential to have that mutual acknowledgement of what different stakeholder groups bring to the table

·      Short-term effect → trust, civic relations

·      Long term effects → traces of the project in the community (material or social capital)

Case Studies

1.     National Alliance for Media, Arts and Culture (

·      50 States at a party (dinner party hosted by community artists / activists → bring their own vision, food, perspectives):

o   Provides a tookit for how to host the dinner party and build on outcomes from the party

2.     Project in China

·      Children kidnapped and forced to perform as beggars

·      Community activated on social media creating a Twitter campaign

·      Low barrier to participation - snap a photo, note time and location, tweet with hashtag

·      Police using the incoming data to follow-up officially and locate children

3.     Bamboo Bicycle Project (also in China):

·      Building new mobility culture through people crafting their own bamboo bicycles

·      Link to similar project in Boston:

4.     Experimental Project

·      “Traveling in Your Own Room” project:

·      Exploring private spaces as a way of de-isolating people, creating community, becoming more intimate

·      Digitally curated online exhibition

·      Building on that, perhaps we could use Twitter to make community reps more approachable à question that could prompt city councilors to share details about their personal space, be more open with the public

·      Based on Key/Story Museum

o   Artist asked people to send key intended to be thrown away, and a story to accompany it

o   Artist/history/community à build collective memory

o   Ritual provides an important way to make sense of (hi)story in community

5.     Museum of Broken Relationships (Croatia)

·      Responding to the break-up of Yugoslavia

·      People prompted to send in items that were meaningful to them and sharing a story about the object

·      What would it mean to have a conversation or share a story (or history) across a (cultural) divide in the City of Boston?

What is meant by “activating civic engagement”?

·      Metaphor, at all scales (and as exemplified in the case studies), as a power tool for civic engagement

·      Building social networks / trust

·      Wanting to be part of positive change

·      Moving from tool to facilitation/process

·      What is the skill, the resume that is built? → Civic capacities (trust / empathy)

·      Moving from attentiveness to caring

·      Nurture caring

·      Sometimes caring means taking action, but it can also mean NOT doing something (not breaking/ destroying a thing in public space)

·      Triangulation between expression / witness / civic caring

·      Need a prompt that focuses the attention on something beyond a person’s job, but rather a way to get at identity mediated through the aura of an object or a story

 Further post-workshop thoughts on engagement (from artist/workshop participant Candy Yang)

1.     Why engagement:

·      to raise the awareness (eyes open)

·      to be empathetic and caring (hearts open)

·      to activate action (body participation)

2.     Who to engage:

·      focus on collaboration rather than individuals -- governments, different community groups, academics, professional individuals – to create a group effect

3.     What to engage (or what value can we provide to participants through their engagement with our projects)

·      a new/fun experience

·      building a collective memory through sharing and making sense of personal stories

·      allowing my words/world to be seen (such as this public art project on which participants can place their promises on a big billboard:

·      building connection through deeper understanding

·      healing current tensions

4.     How to scale up the engagement

·      media consumption and meaning making: everyday we spend so much time on consumption of digital media: how to let participants feel that they are creating something meaningful through engagement. 

·      consider participation scenario: allow participation at anytime/anywhere through digital media; or design the engagement based on different life contexts and scenarios

Notes From Workshop #27: Facing History: Enriching Boston's Historic Places Through Art

JULY 27, 2016


For the last 50+ years, Historic Boston, Inc., has been devoted to restoring and repositioning much of the historic fabric of Boston’s neighborhoods. Overseeing a remarkable portfolio of sites ranging from the Eliot Burying Ground in Roxbury to the Everett Square Theatre, the organization’s mission goes far beyond one of maintenance to one of activation and enlivening the urban environment.

Working with BostonAPP/Lab, HBI is now eager to engage artists in opening up new perspectives on some of the elements of this fabric:

·       How might public artists respond to one or another of the places and spaces within this portfolio?

·       Through deployment of whatever technologies or disciplines are deemed appropriate, how might artists open up new perspectives on Boston’s history and on the physical – and the related social -- components of that history? 

·       How might artists provoke a kind of “reimagining” of one of Boston’s historic sites?

·       How, in fact, does activation through art contribute to a broader and deeper definition of preservation?

·       How, and with what resources, can the ideas emerging from the workshop begin to be implemented?

This workshop first introduced participants to the shape and scope of Historic Boston, with a more in-depth examination of several specific sites. For the major part of the workshop, participants were given the opportunity to brainstorm responses to these sites – via the questions posed above as well as questions that haven’t yet been asked! Leading the discussion was Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of HBI.

Kathy began with an overview of Historic Boston’s portfolio, underscoring the organization’s role as a developer while promoting vibrancy in its preservation of historic places.  HBI will, for example, renovate a place and then sell it to investors, with stipulations.

Part of that vibrancy comes about through telling the story behind the place while saving it. Why was it brought back? And in bringing it back, what does it mean to “work with art” in the context of historic structures/places? What role can art plan in “extruding” history from a place?

 With participants divided into three groups, much of the workshop focused on generating responses to these questions. The results follow. We will be digging into this list, hoping to identify short-, medium-, and long-term possibilities as well as sources of support. We invite readers to respond to this list with comments, additional ideas, recommendations for specific sites, etc. Drop a line to, with “Historic Boston” in the subject line; you’ll hear from us soon enough!

Table 1       

  • Artists engaging with spaces

o   Call to artists within community to provide something temporary to evoke/engage with identify/history of spaces

o   Art scavenger hunt, a la Pokemon Go (virtual/dynamic media; augmented reality

  • Some sort of digital platform based on personal interests/place/location
  • Co-working maker spaces as way to repurpose spaces
  • Interactive exhibits that engage people

o   Film viewer, a la ”ViewMaster,” to include historic images

o   All installations should be accessible to all

  • Temporary vs. permanent
  • Call to artists inspired by some aspect of a place’s history
  • Permanent art that stays relevant, that doesn’t blend into the background
  • Digital art that isn’t broken after a while
  • Develop Boston historic app that lets you overlay information

Table 2

  •  “Enriching”: who is enriched, and how?

o   Homesteading

o   Transitional artists’ residences

o   Programming: live events

o   Augmented reality; overlay; non-hardscape

o   Curating tenants/businesses – experiences

o   Temporary spaces for tenants; pop-up areas; theatrical installations

o   Family activities

o   Rotating exhibits

o   Spaces for public events: e.g., block party/music festival; family activities

o   Tenants as part of the curatorial process

  • Tithing: % for arts
  • Didactic vs. emotive: not a plaque
  • Access technical resources, e.g., MIT Media Lab

o   Interactive works

o   Cf. NAPA “Culture Tap” in front of BCA: accessing recorded voices of South End residents

o   “Sleep No More”: Theater piece in building under renovation; could be dance, music, etc.

o   Illuminus-type projections, incl. historic photos

o   Projection mapping: life of the building through projection

o   Giant Tetris game on side of building

o   Locative voice system; audio that speaks history

o   Specialized media: music from the period, projections (e.g., porn stories)

o   Augmented reality (Pokemon Go)

Table 3

  • Develop a competition for each property, to be responded to by all sorts of artists/architects/designers
  • Boston Open Space Invitational
  • New app that reveals historic structures (Pokemon Go, but with history instead of critters)
  • Peek into the historic context: leads you to the next space (almost like View Finders, or tromp l’oeil)
  • Community conversation – historic structures tend to get stuck in history; oral history is important and could enrich structure/programs
  • Cf. “Humans of New York” ( as model for interviewing/gathering information about buildings, places

o   Jump to senses immediately, then work back to story/history

§  Attention grabber is important: different senses can be engaged through a scavenger hunt of sorts

§  Cf. “Stolpersteines” in Germany: applying the idea of incorporating some history into “stumbling stones”

§  Odd object out of place causes one to pause

o   Temporary pavilion/new construction

o   Lending library, physical and digital

  • Engage people from the neighborhood
  • Flxed bike that would power the story/project history of the site
  • Re Old Corner Bookstore:

o   Cf. Krzystof Wodiczko’s projections on historic structures: Bunker Hill Monument; statue of John Harvard; Krakow City Hall

o   Interactive billboard intallations

o   Needs to be multi-faceted to get as many people involves as possible

o   Smells: cf. London’s spice district; molasses flood in North End; etc.

  • Different senses applied to history: kinetic motion related to farm, e.g.
  • Using actions of the past to enliven the present

Notes From Workshop #26: From Apps To Arts In Public Places: Code For Boston, Creative Technology, And The Creative Spirit

MAY 5, 2016


Some of the most extraordinary technology-related work underway in the Boston region continues to emerge from Code for Boston, part of the Code for America “Brigade” network. CfB describes itself as a “group of developers, designers, data geeks, and citizen activists” using creative technology to solve civic and social challenges through new apps that reflect and respond to community needs. One need only participate with – or simply observe – the geeks and hackers at work every Tuesday evening at the Cambridge Innovation Center to witness an in-depth, disciplined approach to civic engagement and to the kinds of positive outcomes resulting from that engagement.

The question: is there a way – or even a reason – to expand from this strong, community-driven approach to “app-making” to a comparable approach to “art-making” in/for public places?

The issue is not only that of integrating technology generally into art in public places, but of adapting CfB’s discipline as a development model – a discipline that, as stated by one of CfB’s regulars, encompasses a workflow of “collaboration, iteration, and experimentation.” What are the lessons to be learned from CfB about new ways of working productively with government and community partners?  What do they suggest not only for new aspects of the creative process but for new kinds of work emerging from that process? 

The May 5 exploratory workshop/brainstorming session focused on the principles underlining CfB’s take on civic engagement, how these play out within CfB’s universe, how the fundamental logic can – and does – work in the environment of art in public places -- and how you might respond to that logic with your own ideas, projects, and initiatives.

Leading the workshop was: Harlan Weber, founder and leader of Code for Boston and Director of Design and Service Innovation at MassIT, the state IT agency; Isaac Chansky, co-organizer at Code for Boston and Front End developer at BEAM Interactive; Emily Royall, analyst and technologist at Massachusetts Data Office as MassIT, and Curator for Cultural Computation at MIT; Matt Rouser, Chief Technology Officer, Department of Neighborhood Development, Boston.


NOTE: The comments and questions recorded below are more suggestive than they are detailed, particularly given the rich and active discussions they prompted throughout the workshop. Our hope is that they in turn propel further inquiry and, as a result, further collaboration.


  • From Harlan Weber: leveraging technology and design for use in the public sphere
    • The imperative to frame one’s work with a government agency as a partnership, with the agency serving as both friend and educator
    • How to get the problem/challenge “right-sized”
    • Continuous use of GitHub to keep documentation up to date
    • Constantly employ the discipline and elements of collaboration


  • From Emily Royall: working at the intersection of computation and culture, imagining and reshaping relationships between people, cities, and technology
    • What is public space?
    • How are artists who are working with technology transforming our notion of public space?
    • From Marina Abramovic: art = context + intent
    • What is public space? Where is it going? Is there an intersection between physical and virtual spaces?


  • From Matt Rouser: integrating creative technology and urban strategy to make cities better for the people living in them
    • Notion/practice of “radical transparency”
    • What kind of role can this transparency play in the creation of art?


  • From Isaac Chansky: applying technology to public art, within a framework of collaboration, iteration, experimentation – and anything else that makes sense contextually
    • How to create a more interactive experience for people?
    • Why should technology be involved in arts in public places?
    • Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
    • Adding technology: still doesn’t solve how you work with people
    • Add: “technology” to art, public, place!
    • Constant iteration by everyone working on the project



  • From workshop participants – questions, ideas, both large- and small-scale: 
  • Equity and ethics: how are they made – and kept – part of this world?
  • Screens on MBTA could provide digital info
  • Open source map of arts in Boston: identify places where are is/should be
  • Neighborhoods as cultural districts: e.g., Roxbury?
  • Calling out arts districts
  • Implications of infusing places with art, and what happens
  • ArtsCommons: to help grown/bind the community
  • How to visualize the stories of the people who’ll be part of the ArtsCommons
    • Possibly a new app via Code for Boston?
    • How technology has a power to provide a unique perspective
    • Journey/narrative, created by input from population
    • Get community involved in building art together

Notes From Workshop #25: BostonAPP/Lab Goes To Boston Arts Academy’s STEAM Lab

FEBRUARY 23, 2016



A recent quote from an unknown source: “Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It’s about the ideas that never existed until after everyone entered the room.” 

Collaboration drives what BostonAPP/Lab does and what it seeks. 

Collaboration is also, virtually by definition, what defines the Boston Arts Academy’s STEAM Lab – where experimentation and exploration are constants as participants seek ways to integrate the arts into a curriculum of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering. Boston Arts Academy is the city’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts and recently was one of eight schools recognized nationally by the Ovation Foundation and President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities for its STEAM initiative.  


The goals in proposing a meeting of the Labs can be summarized as follows: (1) How does this program work in concept, in practice, in results? (2) How can this approach inform the ways in which artists might work in public places? (3) How can artists working in the public sphere in turn inform the work of the Lab?

STEAM lab is a place to play, think, create across disciplinary boundaries while keeping art central to learning: what possibilities does this kind of collaboration suggest? 


STEAM Lab director Dr. Nettrice Gaskins began by narrating the Lab’s work -- its approach, its achievements, its relationship to the Boston Arts Academy as a whole, and ways in which the Lab’s multidisciplinary approach can be and has been embedded in arts in public places. Her PowerPoint presentation was further enriched by the description by one of her students, Nate Whitaker, of his own explorations around the notion of “virtual space.”

As can be seen in the admittedly fractured nature of the notes below, the general Q&A and the subsequent small-group discussions were more evocative than conclusive, generating some basic questions (schools as public space), topics for deeper exploration (weighing the A in STEAM), pondering next steps (how do we share expertise).

We hope readers will weigh in with their own questions – and even answers – regarding this kind of collaboration, and what it may mean for schools, for art, and for the interrelationships between the two. How can schools, in fact, be – or are they already? – public spaces?


  • Culture: how it operates in the country

  • What we do daily that produces energy output

  • How to tap into cultural knowledge

    • Path through ArtsCommons

    • Cultures interact and inform most about their culture:

      • Later collect and identify strengths and ways to improve...or identify needs

  • Other schools that do not have ability and resources to bring STEAM lessons into their classes:how do we share expertise?

  • What can I take away that I can do right now?

    • Portable STEAM lab?

  • Weighing the “A” in STEAM

  • Making STEAM look like a lot of things

  • How do we make STEAM accessible?

  • Finding motivation in the art: enough to explore/learn

  • Capacity for time/level of involvement

  • Understanding the “Why” (this is cool, but how does it work?)

  • Augmented realities: how it changes the typical classroom

    • Eliminate infrastructure of projectors, marker boards, smart boards, tv’s

    • Eliminate computer labs, and dedicated technology space

    • New spaces all have technology and art capabilities

      • “tinkering spaces”

  • Art and food

  • Educations sites and land as public art space

  • Schools as public space: outward, not inward

  • Intergenerational, intercultural, interdisciplinary art: 

    • Critique: subjugated knowledges

    • Art for the “defined” people?

    • Technology of the self (Foucault), not just “technological devices”

    • “Dynamize” gaps, negative spaces/places

    • Multiple feeds into central spaces:

      • Alumni, creative core, neighborhoods, cultures, populations, group

Notes From Workshop #24: Food And Arts: A Marriage In The Public Market

JANUARY 26, 2016


What kinds of installations, performances, and interactive engagement will work in the Boston Public Market/The KITCHEN?

What does, or could, a marriage between food and art look like?

Are there ways to incorporate into this new generation of activation other elements within the Trustees’ portfolio -- which now includes The KITCHEN -- of community gardens and open space?

Helping to frame up this brainstorming workshop were: John Vasconcellos, formerly Senior Regional Director, Boston and the Southeast, for The Trustees; Cheryl Cronin, CEO of The Boston Public Market; and Mackenzie Sehlke, Assistant Market Manager, Programming.  This will be the start of a long-term initiative, and we’ll be announcing next steps at the workshop itself.


Workshop participant responses/recommendations, by category:

1. Illumination

  • Outside: projections/light shows/lasers/lighted sculptures

  • Signature art piece: cf. BSA Green Staircase

  • Simple, but fun, signage

2. Marketing/communications

  • Need to communicate experience to those who may be interested (both in- and out-of-town)

  • Consider building’s visibility

  • Generate attention/curiosity via building mapping, projections, art 

  • Lighting: opportunity for contemporary projection on exterior

3. Vendor engagement

  • Programming: vendors bring live music from their area/farm/town

  • Local music/local food

  • Screens in market with recipe ideas, based on specific ingredients from vendors

  • Branded bags with spaces for vendor-specific info stickers

4. Civic engagement

  • Outside “directional” interventions/art that lead people to the BPM/KITCHEN

  • Live streaming video of kitchen activities, visible in the market and/or on the street

  • Create a “community table,” instead of a buffet experience: people talk about their food experiences/share recipes/knowledge

  • Field trips: from schools to market, AND from market to schools, via truck/bus

  • Students study grocery/market layout, food production, entrepreneurship, design

  • Traveling empty school bus w/pop-up kitchen

  • Farm visits: sign up at Market

  • Culinary competitions: different age groups

  • Interview people: experience in the market; sound bites for media

Develop a BPM/Kitchen app, to include:

Storytelling (about vendors, farms)

Pop-up BPM/Kitchen-branded stall(s) to be placed in different communities

Community Garden “State Fair” – e.g., which garden has the best tomato?

Connect Market to:

Local gardens

Economic diversity

Cultural diversity

5. Partnerships: “home-made food,” “home-made art”

Bring artists/artisans into Kitchen to demonstrate

  • Metal fabrication

  • Woodworking

  • Letterpress printing

Find out what surrounding groups/businesses/organizations do/need, and find a connection via the content of the Market/Kitchen.

Promote homesteading programming:

  • Canning, cheese-making, kombucha-making, candle-making, etc.

  • Give space over to craft market once/month or so, focused on food-farm-related items

  • Work with region-wide waterfront fish businesses, including fishermen/women

6. Food-as-art

  • Vegetable art

  • Latte art

  • Competitions for all ages to make food art

7. Venue

  • Extend market and kitchen images/atmosphere/character into (throughout) other parts of the building

  • Kitchen doesn’t look inviting from street; looks like private space: make it look exciting

  • Both BPM and Kitchen need to be or feel “messier”

  • Make the street entrance the primary entrance

Activate the public/private perimeter – i.e., the outside edges around the building

  • Flowers, stands with produce, street performers, painted murals on sidewalks

Add art in hallway + lighting +vendor programming and art in hallway: call it Nourish

  • Art installation in hallway, changeable, a la Dewey Square

  • Overall, plan for/implement ongoing series of temporary installations throughout the two spaces

Notes From Workshop #23: ArtsCommons On The Ground

DECEMBER 15, 2015

from workshop announcement:

The many participants in the Lab’s November 24, 2015, workshop – where we began to bring the ArtsCommons to life ­­-- created a rich set of both general and specific responses to the ArtsCommons’ core questions:

  • Location: where can/should the ArtsCommons best be sited?
  • Users: who will/can/should be engaging with these spaces?
  • Curation: what topics/ideas issues can the ArtsCommons’ programming address?
  • Criteria: how do we set priorities - and who is “we?”
  • Infrastructure: what are the essential mechanical, electrical, environmental, safety requirements for the ArtsCommons?

One of November’s participants wrote later that the ArtsCommons’ “openness is its generosity once the artists and community get their minds and hands on it, it will go beyond anything we come up with in a workshop.”

The challenge, then: identify the specific steps required to create a successful launch ­­ and ensure a residual impact ­­ of the ArtsCommons. For example:

  • What are the most critical ingredients for structuring an effective ArtsCommons partnership?
  • Given the flexibility built into the ArtsCommons’ initial design, what are the most efficient/effective approaches to siting, configuration, use of materials, etc.?
  • What kinds of “prompts” will activate what kinds of activities or uses over the course of a two­ week ­long residency at a single site?
  • What are the definitions of success – immediate as well as on­going ­­ for the ArtsCommons?

The ideas summarized in the notes below suggest the multiple strategies by which participants saw the ArtsCommons coming to life.


Brainstorming kinds/examples of potential artnerships:

● Community Investors: (Ideas are money, time is money)

● Town Hall meetings to provide the community a voice in what happens in their space, as well as a way to find out what we should/can be leaving behind

● Space is money. What is a surplus in the community that needs to be shared?

● “Life Is Good”

● Studio Fresh

● Loft F Gallery, Design Museum Boston, Industrial Designers Society of Boston, Energy companies – solar, batteries etc.

● Blockchain (bitcoin) companies – enabling people to prove concepts ● Incentivizing partnerships via potential profitable scalability

● Organizations already established in communities and can foster activity. Places may not have the kind of venue like the Children’s’ Museum; however, they do have organizations like the Boys and Girls Club where children can create a sense of community and are encouraged to express themselves through art. Thus maybe a “leave­behind” or performance is not a physical mark on the location, but enhancing these established communities.

● Community organizations

● Micro communities

● Boston Redevelopment Authority


Brainstorming kinds/examples of ctivities:

● Collaborative/Diverse performances based on communities (anniversaries, memorable dates)

● Themes for local civic engagement; dialogues and themes via installation(s) that would address social issues, and travel from one site to the next

● Incubator for social groups

● Physical platform that can engage and enable communities to evolve/continue ● Create frameworks of time

● Location, Location, Location: The “black box” as a means of creating a place of activity? To draw, engage and connect people – perhaps in a place with little/no pre­-established social engagement.

● Visual, lecture, performing ­ one of each.

● Theme for X amount of time.

● Social media ­ pulling attention, keeping focus ­ creative direction

● Food and gardening ­ seasonal

● Campfires


Brainstorming kinds of/criteria for uccess:

● Knowledge: Consistency, Accessibility (social media), Word of mouth, visibility – posters/structures

● Create/sustain dialogue with the community to see what the ArtsCommons means to them

● Pre­-work with and preparing the community for the ArtsCommons as crucial component of what happens on/in/around the ArtsCommons

● Regularity: Reliable

● Variety of audiences at one time (trick them, be vague enough to appeal to everyone) ● Cross­-seasonal unit that can scale and be simple/pure/’magical’/intuitive

● Timeline enabling community to engage and adapt to it before taking it away

● Physical “list” that can be passed on

● Growth of community in platforms, groups, friendships

● Educational components such as people learning about local activities or just generally learning from one another

● Cross-fertilization of cultures

● Drop Box – Social Media hype before it gets there “Drop the Box”

● Equal Opportunity: “Natural Selection” shouldn’t rely on funding – kit of parts should enable any idea to be seen through and given the chance to “prove itself.”

● Spatial/ Physical hype: what happens in the space before the physical structure gets there? Excitement, Questions, Mystery, Imagination

● Ideological Hype/Community Influence: community brainstorms for topic/themes Understanding community needs. Who knows best? Insider or outsider?

● Constructive community input – ideals, not problems. Fill the space with good, not remove the negative.

● Involvement – core community vs. outside community

● Incubator for movement: urban gardens, uplift what exists, reality that needs healing

● Creating community: social media … network > physical space … destination

● Sponsor a cube ­ network Kickstarter

● Must haves: power, wifi, security

● Performance: intimate, secured, stage, collecting something – filled with stuff

● Barber shop; mani­-pedi

● Transparent walls

● Open studios/Open streets

Notes From Workshop #22: ArtsCommons In The Community

NOVEMBER 24, 2015

from workshop announcement:

Beginning last November, and over the course of three Lab workshops (and beyond), several of the Lab’s “scientists” (aka designers...) and others have been focusing on giving shape to an idea called the ArtsCommons.

What’s the big idea? In brief...
•    an outdoor, portable, flexible, free-standing, and multipurpose “(art)maker’s space” designed to support performances, installations, and exhibits, and to catalyze community interaction.

What are the results so far? 
•    a total re-imagining and repurposing of 20’ steel shipping containers, aimed at generating new opportunities/new possibilities for artists to create new works and for communities to engage with those works. 

Building off these physical designs, the focus now is on programming and partnerships and the curating of both: 
•    What – and who – can/should/might be served by the ArtsCommons?
•    Which art(s? What kinds of engagement? 

With this workshop, we want to offer artists, community leaders, organizations, and institutions the opportunity to speculate on...
•    What sorts of art initiatives – whether individual or multi-disciplinary – are prompted by the ArtsCommons’ physical characteristics/configuration? 
•    In what ways can civic engagement be made part of the ArtsCommons’ art equation?
•    In what ways can the ArtsCommons’ physical space serve as a social space?

Note: Major thanks to Ben Bruce and Greg MacGlashing for the physical concepts and design, and to Eagle Leasing for its enormously generous offer to provide steel containers that will constitute the ArtsCommons, and to the many individuals and organizations, including the Rose Kennedy Greenway, who have been collaborating with us on this project. And, finally, to the enormous, extraordinary group of workshop participants who've been helping us to answer the Who/What/Where/How of the ArtsCommons!


This workshop saw a tremendous turnout from some of Boston’s brightest (and most generous) architects, engineers, artists, educators, and organizers. After a brief review of the origins of this project (dating back to November 2014), the workshop kicked off with a presentation by Ben Bruce and Greg MacGlashing of the core elements of their design, emphasizing the ArtsCommon’s function as an art space as opposed to a building -- a “black box” that will provide opportunities for art installations and performances as well as for civic engagement. To this end Ben and Greg’s drawings carefully identified the components of this space, including the canopy, walls, exterior, and through-space. 

The next steps involve not only identifying the ArtsCommons’ programmatic components, but also dealing with such practical issues as the containers’ use over the long-term; basic maintenance; provision for such as electricity and sanitation’ security; etc. Perhaps one of the most critical challenges entails the identification and cooperation of potential local partners willing to provide, or at least identify, a site or multiple sites for the ArtsCommons. 

Following, then, Ben and Greg’s presentation of the design concepts, as well as a brief Q&A, participants broke into smaller groups: while making use of scale models (i.e. cardboard boxes and paper figures) to help trigger ideas, participants brainstormed responses to myriad questions focused on: Curation (what?); Location (where?); Infrastructure (how?); Users (who?); Criteria (why?). 

The notes below comprise a compilation of those responses. Collectively, they seeded the ground for a December 15 follow-up workshop, whose chief goal will be to drill down into specifics on each of these major questions.

Rashmi Ramaswamy
●    Some key assumptions:
o    Art as an entry point into neighborhoods
▪    As a way for expression and presentation of culture
▪    Thematic components are overlaid by each neighborhood
●    Recreation
●    Facilitation
●    Innovation
●    Language
o    Travel from one neighborhood to another allows for continuation of art-making and discussion, leading to civic engagement (and/or as the result of civic engagement)
▪    An exchange of art and culture at each location: “Give and Take”
o    Transformation of the ArtsCommons’ exterior as it travels from one neighborhood to another

●    What does the ArtsCommons offer?
o    For seniors, a place to hang out and socialize
o    For youth (12-15 year-olds), judgment/expectation-free space
o    Rehearsal space
▪    Scheduling/check out the Box
o    Free co-working space
o    Community sing alongs
o    Exhibitions (products)
o    A Twitter feed!

●    First step:
o    Deposit the untransformed container in a neighborhood (no programming)
o    Invite or give permission to deposit art and culture on the outside so that the container becomes a vehicle for culture before anything else happens
▪    Inexpensive way to build interest, and then follow up with the programming


Liz LaManche
“Community needs to generate its own priorities for programming! There is much local talent and much need for space”

●    Curation
o    Community sing-alongs
o    Community exchanges: Performers from one neighborhood go to another to promote the goal of people moving between neighborhoods
o    Open rehearsal space for all artists
o    Exhibitions from community workshops
o    “Graffiti walls”
o    “Slow motion” internet, a physical Pinterest board with a question to ask of the community: When container moves to another neighborhood this gives people a glimpse of creativity from another part of the city
●    Infrastructure
o    Judgment-free zone
▪    Space for middle school groups, or as safe space
▪    Hang-out space to engage in activity (physical or creative) without adult supervision
o    Multi-lingual space with lots of seating, room to socialize, low cost, and combat isolation
o    Include mechanism for checking out/scheduling use of space
o    Wi-Fi power source: daytime use to hang out
o    Flexible space, usable by all media

●    Location
o    Grove Hall, Dorchester
o    Washing & Erie Streets, Dorchester
o    Boston Center for the Arts Plaza
o    Ben Franklin Institute, corner of Tremont and Berkeley
o    JP
▪    Pond
▪    Emerald Necklace
▪    Franklin Park
▪    Forest Hills

Julie Ann Otis
●    What could you do with this box that you couldn’t already do in open public spaces?
●    Where are the spaces where this would not be an intrusion but a gift?
●    Opportunity to recognize communities rather than build communities
●    Possible sites: Foxx Park Tea Party, Assembly Square, beneath bridge in Chelsea

Matt Rouser (and ”Team Awesome”)
●    Projects
o    Interactivity is key
o    3-dimensional and immersive
▪    Works well with storytelling angle
o    Participatory acoustics (visual/audible)
o    JP, Rox, Eastie, or Rosie for a day
o    Get LEGO to dump a million bricks
o    Short films festival
o    Food component
o    Music: Berklee [cf. Maria F., Mike A.]
●    Partners
o    CDCs can play a key role in getting youth involved
o    Maker spaces
o    Local foods (e.g, Union Square, Aeronaut Brewery, Exodus Bagels)
o    Schools and teachers
o    Porchfest: JP, Somerville
●    Places
o    Eggleston Square (connect with Urbano Project)
o    Places of real vibrancy and visibility
o    Hidden out-of-the-way spots as a destination
▪    Possible concerns with safety

Tim Barnett
●    Does the AC become a temporary shelter at night/during downtime? Is that positive or negative?
●    What happens during the night?
●    Do the panels shift from place to place?
o    Use detachable panels to create a chronology of graffiti
o    Rotate the panels from one neighborhood to serve as gallery; replace with fresh panels
●    How does this flourish during the winter?
o    Convert to a public sauna: Rome had it right!
●    Curation: What?
o    Graffiti as non-vandalistic
●    Location: Where?
o    Provide an outlet for creative and otherwise devious acts

Eric Rigo
●    Community engagement over public display
o    From neighborhood to… Copley Square?
o    From Allston to North End to JP, and back
●    Possible events:
o    Yoga classes
o    Art classes
o    Lectures
o    Public chalkboards
o    Galleries
o    Community meetings
o    Food trucks
o    Games (e.g. ping pong)
o    Close up at night/turn into coffee shop/bar
o    Movies
o    Retail vendors
o    Crafts


Group #1
●    Virtual reality, such as projection onto proposed spaces
●    African dance: Dance Complex, Central Square Cambridge
●    Bring out local theatre productions

Group #2
●    How to get to know a community
●    Couple of suggested neighborhoods: Hyde Park, Davis Square
●    Coincide with, and support, events already happening
●    Identity and branding of AC containers
●    “Where will it be next week?”
●    Construction of AC: Throw an art party
o    “A kit of parts”
●    Tie-in with parklets [e.g., Roslindale; engage BTD, NUM?]
●    Schools with large open spaces:
o    MIT, Wentworth
●    Design should reflect some of the characteristics of an accordion (expanding, contracting)

John Greene
o    Multiple locations
o    Live-stream the activity to opposite sites
o    How can other communities’ activities influence yours?
●    Where
o    Behind TD Garden: green space under Storrow Drive overpass (i.e., space that is lacking a sense of place)
o    “I’m not from an urban community, but commute to work in one. How do I feel about this? How am I involved?”
●    Why
o    Something is lacking that is wanted
●    Physical design
o    Different experience depending on whether the container’s long side or short side is open
▪    Long side open provides a stage
▪    Short sides open provide opportunities for passage through

Group #3
●    Questions/implementation steps
o    Who manages?
o    What is APP/Lab’s role in management?
o    Length of “season”
o    Who does outreach to community leaders?
o    Fundraising via local businesses?
o    Identifying events that are already underway

Peter Cataldo
●    “Mosaic of Boston”
●    How do you inspire people to engage in art?
●    How does the container age/weather?
●    Food, beverages, and bathrooms
●    Local area/tourist area and  urban/suburban
●    Technology
o    Communication
o    Social media

 Mary Sweeney
●    Data collection
●    Interactive musical instruments
●    School performances
●    Boston Arts Academy as collaborator (via dance, visual arts, theatre, chorus)
●    Partnerships with local restaurants
●    Food competition (creative, bizarre foods)
●    African drumming class w/dancing
●    Safety is a major criterion for site selection: a safe area, highly visible
●    Revolving ownership of container
●    Culturally diverse, including every neighborhood
●    Link with porchfest(s)



Notes From Workshop #21: Let's Face The Music

OCTOBER 27, 2015

from workshop announcement:

For the sake of argument let’s assume the following: When many (most?) of us talk about or envision a new work of art in a public place, most likely the focus is on some kind of visual expression.

  1. Is music as public art different from music as performance? If so, how? If not, why not?

  2. If there are differences, what are the ways in which -- to pick up how Robert Irwin frames art in a public place -- "you can take [musical] art out into the world?"

  3. Given #2, what are, or what could be, the complementary roles or skills sets of, e.g., a musician, a composer, a community leader, a municipal agency, a producer, etc.?

  4. Ultimately, what -- if anything -- needs to happen to ensure that music is incorporated more explicitly in the common understanding of"public art"/"art in a public place?"

Helping to lead the band was: Mike Avitabile, arts administrator/director of Hub New Music;Maria Finkelmeier, composer and founder/director of Kadence ArtsMike Hardin, percussionist;Erik Holmgren, Mass Cultural Council’s program manager for Creative YouthJon Sakata, concert pianist, installation artist, and instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy.


Lillian Hsu, Cambridge Arts Council, opened the meeting with a question: “What is the monetization of disembodied art?” In other words, how are not-for-sale, specifically uncommercial arts being monetized in our society?

Ben Bruce, who, with his colleague Greg MacGlashing, has been designing the ArtsCommons (the subject of November’s workshop, was quick to remind us of art’s inherent capacity for collaboration across mediums and disciplines. Dan Beyer similar emphasized the need for busking-specific infrastructure in Boston.

Some characteristics of music as public art:
•    Free
•    Easily engaged with
o    If it is public, people need to feel that there are no boundaries and they have the ability to walk up and interact (participatory vs. non-participatory performance/public art
•    No set time during which the engagement is scheduled
•    Has to happen in space: public space needs to be there to accommodate musical public art
Not long after preliminary discussion got underway Jon Sakata (installation/music artist and teacher) asked us to interrogate terms like “public,” “music,” and said a personal goal was to investigate alternatives. Rob Trumbour (Khoura Public Art) spoke, too, about otherness and the public, asking us “Who are we excluding by talking amongst ourselves?”

Erik Holmgren of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s YouthReach initiative sharpened our focus, stressing the (less obvious) need to “speak the language” of Greater Boston’s heads of government and policy makers; these are, after all, people who typically place taxation and corporate welfare over the public’s less easily perceived needs—access to arts!

Ken Field, from the Honk! Festival, cut to the chase, asking: “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?”

Some questions to be resolved
•    Artists’ intentions and interaction with all other elements
•    What is specifically social about music?
•    What in the arts appeals to policy makers?
•    Releasing the barrier of the financial requirement to perform the art.
•    Accessibility
•    Familiarity
•    “But what if I don’t want to listen?!?!” (vs. visual art, where there’s an option not to look at it!)
o    Speakers (Bluetooth)
o    It does end
•    Everyone seemed to agree Public Art requires: free admission and variable length of participation. Jon said public art resembles the museum, in that people come and go according to their degree of interest, as they do looking at a painting.

Maria Finkelmeier of Kadence Arts championed both participatory and non-participatory performance art, and stressed the ubiquity of music in everyday life. Exposure to the various arts throughout one’s upbringing, Maria suggested, naturally leads one to expect it for future generations, particularly with regard to the public school system.

What is the value of the “art” to the public, to the artists and to the politicians?
•    What are the common languages?
o    Speak the language that resonates, when talking about, e.g., funding
o    Need to be able to articulate the value of art to the people with whom we’d like to work
o    Possible issues for policy-makers:
•    College readiness
•    Truancy
•    Crime rates
•    Economic Development
Lillian and Jon continued to remind us of the perceived need for “authenticity” in the arts. How is it conveyed, and is it necessary? How does a venue (e.g. ticketing, membership) affect public art? Everyone was asked: consider the difference between open and curated public art.

Looking for public spaces
o    Dedicated Space pros and cons
o    DCR
•    Re Zakim Bridge: Understand infrastructure capabilities/limitations (there, and elsewhere!)
o    Greenway Conservancy
Models that may/or may not work:
•    Montreal 2 -3 MM has invested in public art :
•    From the Honk! Festival
o    No vendors, which helps local businesses
•    El Sistema:
•    NYC Jazz in Colors
•    Vinyl in London
•    Water Fire in Providence
•    Group Muse
o    Pros: Spontaneity
o    Cons: Only reaches a certain demographic
Take-aways/challenges/next steps
•    BostonAPP/Labs Band: The Boston APPtet
•    Directory: how to set that up and keep it live
•    Call Renata von Tscharner, Charles River Conservancy, for links to DCR in order to take advantage of/access the Zakim; contact new Director of External Affairs at DCR
•    What is the Brand…?







Notes From Workshop #20: The City As Art

JUNE 23, 2015

from workshop announcement:

What kinds of urban spaces provoke what kinds of responses from artists, architects, and designers? And how can those spaces be re-imagined as “urban catalysts,” enabling social and well as physical re-invigoration of a specific site with its own specific conditions? To what extent does this “call-and-response” approach represent new opportunities or new frameworks for creating art in public places?

Recent work by graduate architecture students at the Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) have incorporated this notion of art as an urban catalyst – of art that provides an opportunity for agency – by proposing interventions that, as described by the current BSA show, are “bigger than a breadbox and smaller than a building.”  Homing in on a specific, and very much related, challenge, how can such an approach enhance a city’s overall strategy for a more vibrant, supportive, and invigorating public realm that overall is also a vehicle for agency? Presentation, discussion, and brainstorming were led by Rob Trumbour, from Wentworth Institute of Technology andArtforming, and Chris Osgood, who recently left the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics to become Boston’s Chief of Streets. 


1. Approaches to civic innovation: Rob Trumbour, with participation by James Jarzyniecki, Mandy Johnson, Andrew LaFosse, Samantha Partington, and Liem Than
•    Students from Trumbour’s studio offered their respective thesis projects and the underlying principles in support of civic innovation
o    Trumbour set the stage for the presentations by discussing the visits he makes with his students to, e.g., New York, Big Bend National Park, and Marfa, TX, to visit the works of Donald Judd. 
o    How space helps create the constructed object. [Note from Ron Mallis: a New Yorker profile of Robert Irwin – “In a desert of pure feeling” – speaks directly to this subject: “how you can take art out into the world.”]
o    Designing space(s) that offer opportunities for two kinds of “performance”: (1) pragmatic and (2) abstract

Liem Than and Samantha Partington, “Mapping Big Bend”
Master’s student translations of what happened in places visited
Final image summarizes what they took back. Emerging and remote, scalelessness and edgelessness. 
Thesis explores how you can get lost in a landscape
Concept was translating the scale of perception and how it is lost in larger landscapes. How do we organize a space when a space is a perceptual field? 
Build out of modules. To create triangular structure
Creating different areas and boundaries

Andrew LaFosse, “Building for the Revival of Urban Art in Boston”
Thesis related to graffiti art is the true embodiment of a culture
Choose building with high visibility in East Boston

James Jarzyniecki, “Two Connections”
Two Connections The city to the waterfront and the person to the location that they are in.
Language of how people relate to the environment around them. Provide a map at the start of the project.
Emerald necklace linkage. Providing small pavilions for events or discussion. Pavilions create their own sound. Identical pavilions.

Mandy Johnson, “Spatial Performance: A Place to Dance”
Art and function in architecture
Site creates it's own rooms. Space begins to be made by the existing conditions. Abstract site mappings. Created a series of interventions that the site already began to form itself. Pragmatic elements abound for performances.
Interventions take on the look of pavilions. 
She has designed performance spaces. Spaces like this allow for improvisation or abstract performance. Breaking up the uniformity of the underpass. 

2. Democratizing the city and spaces within it: Chris Osgood
•    Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics ( focuses on innovation around engagement, economic development, the streetscape, and education. 
•    NUM runs experimental projects inside and outside of City Hall designed to
o    engage and empower residents
o    improve the experience of the city
•    Focus on innovation to provide better services to citizens
•    Funding: Direct City funding, capital budget, grant funding, partner organizations interesting in trying new things.
•    Examples:
o    Citizens Connect app: empowers citizens to contribute to maintenance of their own neighborhoods; now accounts for 28% of all service requests
o    Participatory Budgeting: 12-24 year olds get to vote on where $1 million in City capital funds go, led by the City’s Office of Youth Engagement & Empowerment
o    HubHacks permitting challenge, led by the City’s Department of Innovation & Technology: resolve permitting issues
o    Where’s my school bus?: track location of school buses via mobile app
o    Public Space Invitational: requested proposals/new ideas in three categories: public realm, City Hall itself, and “Random, Awesome Design,” or RAD.
•    City Hall has become a more inviting place: “percent of ‘fabulousness’ has increased because of artful interventions” (including Liz LaManche’s “Stairways of Fabulousness” in the building’s atrium)
o    Technology for Autism Now (TAN), a local startup: provides a range of mobile applications to support the education of youth on the autism spectrum
o    Streetscape: a range of innovations, including:
•    Parklets
•    Outfitting trucks with vehicular side guards for bike safety
•    In general, “making streets more delightful”

3. What are the big ideas/questions/challenges that came out of tonight’s APP Lab?
•    How does the work – and the approaches – represented by the Wentworth projects respond to/fit with NUM’s agenda?
•    Design interventions that generate “agency” among users:
o    E.g., the “conversation” pavilions proposed near the Charles, or the stand-alone platforms under an overpass, providing a kind of stage for however anyone wants to use it
•    What are the possibilities for a “Street Art festival?” 
•    Can artists request a space to create art from the city?

4. Ideas to build on from the workshop:
•    Contact the Community Liaison. An amazing resource for each neighborhood.
•    “Bright Side of the Road,” by Michael Moss and Claudia Ravaschiere: an installation in Ft. Point: “creating usable area through an act of guerilla urban gardening.” Can we install more of these?
•    More parklets in Boston. 
•    City to help create stages for temporary installations. 
•    How to get an "Art Permit" from a city or town? Neighborhood reps are first contacts. 
•    Different strategies for street art. Sometimes just do it guerrilla style.
•    How to figure out the stages. Things are not impossible. Let's break it down into manageable steps and get it done.
•    Explore opportunities for collaboration with/among NUM, Office of Arts and Culture, Greenway Conservancy, etc.

Notes From Workshop #19: Designing In Collaboration

MAY 13, 2015

This workshop began with an overview of some of the current work sponsored by the Enterprise Rose Architecture FellowshipNella Young, Director of the Fellowship, set the stage by first describing Enterprise Community Partners, the parent organization, as an intermediary in the community development field, with over 500 people nationwide bringing tools, grants, and network-building skills to creating affordable housing that links design with community-building. Within that framework, the highly selective Fellowship program offers opportunities for trained architects to bring a design perspective to the community development process.




1. Overview

The Workshop began with an overview of some of the current work sponsored by the Enterprise Rose Architecture Fellowship. Nella Young, Director of the

Fellowship, set the stage by first describing Enterprise Community Partners, the parent organization, as an intermediary in the community development field, with

over 500 people nationwide bringing tools, grants, and network-building skills to creating affordable housing that links design with community-building. Within

that framework, the highly selective Fellowship program offers opportunities for trained architects to bring a design perspective to the community development

process. Nella offered a quick tour of some examples of Fellows’ work around the country, including:

  •  Yakima, WA: an “Idea Jam” to facilitate discussion about what community members wanted, which led to a “tour de farce” bike race design competition

           for new bike racks.

  •  Asheville, NC: asking the question “what do you guys wish could happen but doesn’t seem to get done,” and generating a community response that led to

           mobile food trucks, programming for healthy food, and education for community members.  

  •  Detroit, MI: an invitation to artists to propose murals for three sites, with community members selecting the muralists.
  •  Santo Domingo, NM: a “community heritage path” linking the town’s two hubs by collecting the histories of peoples’ families and using community input to

           develop a public art plan along the path.

A major take-away from these, and other, examples: collaborative action builds trust, which in turn builds, or strengthens, community in ways that are

sustainable because they derive from the community itself.


2. Case studies: collaboratively re-imagining places

Mike Chavez, Rose Fellow, Fairmount-Indigo Line Community Development Corporation

  • Focus on housing, commercial, and greenspace development
  • “Goatscaping”

o Target of opportunity: West Street “urban wild” (e.g., proliferation of poison ivy): goats as landscapers?

o Kids brought the idea, including a budget, examples from other places, etc., to the Mayor, and gained approval.

o Beyond the obvious spectacle of ivy-eating goats, the effort strengthened neighborhood bonds and contributed to building a kind of infrastructure for ongoing, and expanded, community efforts.

  •  Green-roofed bus shelters

o With donated materials, Mike and his community colleagues “greened” bus shelters along the corridor.

o Ran workshops on this project with students at New Mission High School

o The MBTA is currently looking to expand the program to other sites. Mark Matel, Rose Fellow 2012-2014, Project Manager, Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation, Roxbury

  •  Within the overall frame of detailing how a real-estate development process and economic pro-forma can involve artists, Mark focused on Bartlett Place –

originally, an 8.5-acre MBTA bus yard – and the goal of a “creative village.”

 Nuestra bought the site in 2010.

 Goal: to provide not only housing but neighborhood amenities – public park, art in public places – while establishing strategies to counter the effects of gentrification.

 Financial model included apportioning a percentage of the rental revenue on an ongoing basis to support art.

 Engaged the community in determining the kinds – and placement – of public amenities. Original scheme: a single plaza. Revised scheme: three plazas.

 Plan now includes an arts magnet school as well as a grocery store.

 Challenge: how to build places, not just buildings.

3. Key principles reflected in the work of the Fellowship

 Social and community context can and should shape design.

 Ask the community to help generate ideas.

 Listen and bring ideas from the community to life.

 Creating feedback loops helps cultivate love and forgiveness.

 Action builds trust.

 Build history and community identify into the future of a project.

4. Miscellaneous

 CDCs have ownership power with which to begin and complete development projects: where are the mutual benefits in further collaboration with, e.g., planning directors, city policy makers, etc.?

 How to expose what the CDCs are doing to a larger audience.

 Lead artists to engage in small-scale projects that are built on community engagement and whose results strengthen the community.

 Increase opportunities for people in the neighborhoods to be part of what happens around them.

 The Figment project as an example of creating space for people to collaborate and, in the process, bring something to give to others.

Notes From Workshop #17: Art As Play

MARCH 26, 2015

Open-ended play is essential for human development throughout life. It is also part of the creative process, whether one is an artist or a scientist or mathematician. Yet if the built environment tells us what a culture values, the built environment in cities around the country tells us that play is something that only young children do within playgrounds and park fences. We live in a time when more and more people are moving to urban centers.  We also live in a time when there is a named disorder for lack of play – play deficit disorder.

Led by Lillian Hsu (Cambridge Arts Council), David Robert (Center for Speculative Children’s Design), and Sarah Carrier (landscape designer), workshop participants began with a group brainstorm and then were given materials to create one example of a playful activity that each could take home and multiply in her or his neighborhood or city, the next day or any day.

Notes From Workshop #16: "ArtsCommons" 3.0: Physical Structure, programming, partnerships

FEBRUARY 18, 2015

From the workshop announcement:

Last December, the second “ArtsCommons” workshop generated a set of core principles to shape the physical and programmatic components of a shared approach to art in public places – with the Rose Kennedy Greenway’s Dewey Square Park as the site.

Lab participants have been examining ways in which these principles can be brought to life. What if we used large steel containers in a variety of configurations? What if we could turn those containers into stages, sculptures, theaters, galleries, and more? What sorts of opportunities would they provide for new, more expansive collaborations? How do we make those collaborations happen?

Helping to facilitate the workshop was Sebastian Mariscal and Brian Militana of Sebastian Mariscal Studio, design concepts; Dan Sternof Beyer New American Public Art, infrastructure; Maria Finkelmeier, Kadence ArtsCedric Douglas, Cedric Douglas Design, and Alex Castillo-Nunez, HOME Association, programming.


The February 18 workshop continued to explore both the physical and programmatic features, characteristics, and requirements of the ArtsCommons, homing in both on a pilot – for which we are continuing to plan a launch sometime this summer on the Greenway – and on a longer-range plan that will feature the temporary installation of steel containers in various neighborhoods around the Boston area, creating a kind of co-located “ArtsCommons,” that would serve as portable “makers’ spaces” or participatory museums for the work originating in these neighborhoods. 

The session began with the presentation, by Brian Militana of possible configurations of one or more 8’ x 20’ steel containers. Dan Sternof Beyer, using Sketch-Up, showed some of these same configurations in scale.

Maria Finklemeier, Cedric Douglas, and Alexander Castillo-Nuñez followed up with program ideas one of whose key ingredients would be ongoing community engagement, whether the ArtsCommons is situated on the Greenway and/or co-located in multiple neighborhoods. One expressed vision was to bring together on the Greenway, in a kind of festival, the individual neighborhood containers, or “makers’ spaces,” providing a multi-dimensional collage of Boston, its neighborhoods, and its art – whether dance, theater, music, or visual. 

During the Lab’s open forum, participants raised a number of questions and offered an equal number of suggestions, regarding physical and programming issues around design, transportation, liability, and costs, leading to a more defined focus on what is feasible at least for the pilot phase. 

The discussion was both free-wheeling and energetic, and broke into several categories:
•    Portability
o    Somehow show evidence of the ArtsCommons idea even while the containers are being delivered or situated
o    Construction sponsor for craning to stand crates on end, if necessary
o    What finally are the physical parameters? 
•    Purpose
o    What? Why? Who cares? 
o    Bring together multidisciplinary talents throughout the city
•    Ideas/actions
o    Possible launch/pilot: two weeks, six artists.
o    Art as experience.
o    For roll-out: artists engage with communities
•    Neighborhoods curate shows
•    Respect the people
•    Flexibility, setting the stage
•    Courtesy to neighbors. 
•    Outreach with artists/organizations
•    Schedule
•    Physical parameters
o    Movable performance
o    Open access
o    Event layout. Interaction, visual/performance
•    Getting started
o    Continue engagement with the Greenway
o    Planning grant application submitted to the New England Foundation for the Arts
o    Design charrette scheduled to determine optimal configuration/ programming approach for pilot
o    Currently underway: initial steps toward creating 5 working groups
•    Publicity/advertising
•    Structure/layout
•    Artist installations
•    Community partners
•    Funding


Notes From Workshop #15: "ArtsCommons" 2.0: Making the ArtsCommons Come Alive

DECEMBER 10, 2014

from the workshop announcement

Participants in the previous workshop – 'Arts Commons: Sharing Resources, Linking Disciplines, to Create Art in Public Places' – brainstormed a wide range of responses to the question of what could happen in and on the Rose Kennedy Greenway’s Dewey Square Park when resources are shared and disciplines linked to create art in public places – an “arts commons,” in other words.

Next steps via the Lab: beginning to close in on what’s feasible, what’s desirable, what’s implementable – challenges, opportunities, first steps – with, again, Dewey Park as a potential site. As we’ve moved on, much of the task we articulated for the November Lab still holds for this one:

Given this site, what would a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary – maybe even “rapid-fire” -- collaboration look like? What kinds of outcomes might be expected? Where’s the public in all this? What principles that can be adapted to other situations/ environments/practices?...How do we make this happen?


1. Workshop’s action items
•    Context and Goal Setting
•    Program
•    Timeline
•    Core Ideas
•    Cost
•    Infra requirements 

2. Review of brainstorming from November 12 Workshop
•    Group 1: 
•    Favorite idea: some kind of monument or interactive --  permanent or semi- permanent -- installation.  
•    Sonic playground walk, or a big public chalkboard on one side of the building, something that people can interact with in an impromptu manner 24/7. 
o    Then have mini residencies around the space.  
•    Focus on having the public installation be something into which local Boston people can insert their lives, faces, and voices. Not just a passing tourist experience, but  something reflective of the city.  Have access points to draw people in and make it media- and technology-rich. 

•    Group 2:  
•    “Boston Commons Too”
•    Lots of ideas, inspired by the notion of the Gum Wall in Seattle: How can we make a public art installation that people can interact with? 
•    Large wall structures for each Boston neighborhood. 
o    Tall and moveable that people can interact with.
o    They would be set up all over like a forest that you can move through. 
o    Since they are portable, they can go into the neighborhoods and the neighborhoods can curate their own pieces. 
o    Also, because they are movable, they can be anything: backdrops or stages or individual art installations.
•    “Saturday Morning Springboards.” 
o    You can go to the area and learn a craft (or teach one) and it can advertised creatively all week.  
•    Put a screen up over the mural, have projections and images,
•    Great place for all the people who come in from South Station. 

•    Group 3:  
•    Couple of ideas around food trucks: lunch is a very good time with huge crowds, so have performers on top of food trucks.  People are in line, so you have a captured audience.  If we could connect the trucks, have large scale or individual performances. 
•    Make large-scale tapestries: then people could take them into the park and have their lunch there. 
•    Snowman army: make your own snowman
•    Camp night: on the weekends, when basically vacant, have  a camp night – reimagine the space with movies, food, etc.  
•    Seed bombing: Greenway is equipped to nurture that. Seed bomb a plant or area. People can go back and be reminded of that.  Learn to become green people. 

3. About the site: Dewey Square
•    Review of some of the events – the Occupy movement and more recent demonstrations -- that have occurred in Dewey Square.
•    What would engagement, via the Arts Commons, look like? How do you engage the public?
•    Could some of these installations be about social issues? Climate Change? Inequities of Wealth? Resiliency?
•    100,000 people moving through the Square each weekday
•    Note: little activity at night or weekend, even some weekdays
•    Physical dimensions/considerations:
o    Plaza: 35,000sf
o    Lawn: 10,000sf
o    No noise ordinances
o    Available infrastructure includes power, water, lights, trash pickup, tents

4. Arts Commons: core concepts
•    Mobility, to/from neighborhoods: opportunities that emerge from various corners of the city coming together, inter-community sharing of resources (cf. cross-disciplinary sharing of resources among the artists)
•    Physical structure:
o    Modular, reusable, flexible (in terms of size, shape), moveable
•    Structurally sound
•    Re-usable
•    Support performances as well as installations
o    Movable panels
o    Identified as “scaffold,” (became the “go-to” label!), “armature,” “template,” “skeleton,” 
o    Opportunity for (1) branding of the Arts Commons and (2) further branding of potential sponsor/funder
o    Possibly engage No. Bennett Street school in connection with creating the “scaffold”
o    Pop-up shop tactics offered as model for use/re-use of “scaffold”
o    Cf. Dan Beyer’s earlier plan – adaptable here? – for a kind of basic structure for the Greenway:
o    Sebastian Mariscal to summarize and share his ideas re the “scaffold”
•    Programmatic structure:
o    Curated, with original “commoners” serving in that collective role
o    Flexible: works/artists as interactive, able to respond to viewers’ inputs
o    How is this put together and by whom? What are the limits of this structure?
o    Project leader/leaders for each round of performances/installations
o    Food vendors as part of the framework
o    “Theme”: Necessary? Desirable?

5. Summary: action Items fulfilled for Workshop 15, and next steps
•    Context: Dewey Square
•    Goal: Prospectus/brief to take to potential funders/sponsors
•    Program: 5 project teams
•    Timeline: 5 days = 5 project teams | June - September
•    Core Idea: “the Skeleton” provides the physical heart of the Arts Commons
•    Cost = $20,000 (est. out-of-pocket) funding required
•    Infrastructure requirements: primarily thru the Greenway Conservancy
•    Detail the physical structure and flesh out the programmatic structure


Notes From Workshop #14: “Arts Commons” 1.0

NOVEMBER 12, 2014

from the workshop announcement:

With the Lab’s focus on “incubating new collaborations” this workshop drilled down into what that means in practice, bringing together artists from many disciplines (music, theater, design, visual arts) to set out their points of view on what this kind of collaboration – or “arts commons” – looks like. For the major part of the workshop, participants working in small groups had the opportunity to brainstorm, and figure out implementation strategies for, their own cross-disciplinary ideas focused on art in public places.

The roster of all-stars helping to facilitate the workshop were Charlie McCabe, formerly Director of Public Programs, Rose Kennedy Greenway; Jamie Gahlon, Associate Director of HowlRound: A Center for Theater CommonsAlexander Castillo-NunezJessie Tolbert, and Kadahj Bennett, founders of the Home Association theater collective working in a variety of media including video, poetry, live performance, and design; Maria Finkelmeier, percussionist/composer and head of Kadence Arts;Cedric Douglas, named Upham’s Corner’s Public Artist; and Brian Militana, project manager with the architecture/design firm of Sebastian Mariscal Studio.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  _________________

Looking at Dewey Park as a canvas for an “Arts Commons,” we identified a series of ideas focusing on an interdisciplinary approach to art in public places and sharing resources. 

Jamie Gahlon presented on Howl Round and the Theatre Commons:

Howl Round is a movement of theatre practitioners committed to advancing the health and impact of not for profit theater.  We want theater to be accessible to all with no barriers.  A Commons to us is a form of wealth we inherit or create together, which is shared in order to benefit an entire community. No one should own culture - it should be a human right. 

At HowlRound we use common - based peer production, or open sourcing, to produce content.  Using this method a large community of stakeholders is created. 

Howl Round also has a data project: the New Play Map.  Modeled after Wikipedia, anyone can contribute or participate by adding information.  The map charts development and production of new works through space and time. The goal is to create a new narrative around how theatre gets made and to democratize everyone’s knowledge of theater.

Another component we have developed is HowlRound T.V.  We use it to broadcast theatre performances, panel discussions and more, anything of interest to the theatre community. This connects people across geography and provides an accessible archive of recorded video. 

In addition we also host weekly Twitter discussions to provide an open platform for theatre makers as well as in-person convenings to inspire action. 

The key ideas behind all of these platforms is that that community sets the agenda and every person is a stakeholder.  Our role is as stewards, facilitators and infrastructure designers. We unlock abundance and don’t promote scarcity behaviors (there is enough for everyone, if we share resources efficiently). 

This has worked very well for  HowlRound, people have been very responsive and the participation has been incredible. We are really bringing people together and connecting. There is so much potential if we can all work together and share our resources. 

Charlie McCabe presented on Dewey Park:

Greenway at a glance: 15 acres,1.5 miles long, owned by the city and sits over a freeway. The Greenway does about 300 events a year with many different collaborators. Greenway open from 7am until 11pm and we estimate about 100,000 people walking through the plaza everyday makes it one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in Boston. 

This area is really great in terms of flexibility and amenities as well as the number of eyeballs that end up on it and it would be a great place for an Arts Commons. It is heavily programmed to begin with, we aim to have it programmed most Monday through Fridays as much of the year as possible. For example we have a Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Thursdays that has been running for five years. We also have demonstration gardens – where we grow and harvest food and then donate it.  Plus, a large number of temporary events.

The air intake structure is a huge part of Dewey park.. There is a giant box fan that pulls air out of the area in case of fire.  And the park is maintained entirely organically.  

There was a hesitance towards busking in the past but recently we decided we would try and do a little more Ad Hoc performances. The Greenway has started bringing in singer/songwriters to the farmers markets.  

A lot of daily use of the park in warm season is just people eating and hanging out on the park.  The food trucks onsite serve between 1,500 and 2,200 Monday through Friday during lunchtime. 

With the number of people who pass through the area, to have even a small fraction of that veer off course and check out something in the park would be huge.

Maria Finkelmeier discussed her work, and performed: 

Being a Percussionist means 6 years of higher education to make anything sound like music. Maria has performed in many different locations and areas including on stage, in galleries, at festivals and even in treehouses.

Strengths as a collaborator: 
-    Can perform in many styles
-    Comfortable improvising & composing
-    In touch with many musicians
-    Capable of organizing events such as Make Music Boston and helping with concert  production

Needs from an Arts Commons:
-    Visual or contextual inspiration
-    A place to perform and collaborate
-    Ideas of how to preserve a single performance for sustainable public art
-    Introduction to different sounds, instruments (found and traditional).

Alex Castillo-Nunez presented on the Home Association, and performed:

Studied theatre at the Boston Arts Academy and has been involved in theatre and now photography as well.  He then got into writing and poetry. Words become pictures become films.  

Inspiration is found in surroundings, Alexander likes to be able to connect emotion and imagination and put them together which is something we find a lot in music.  There are many ways to express emotions, music helps not only in voice but in the things behind it – they complement each other. In an Arts Commons – I can give some words and take some pictures, there’s only so much weight in that, but things become more connected when they are together. 

Kadahj Bennett, also with the Home Association, works with schools and other organizations to cultivate the creative voices of young minds. We focus on issues kids and youth in Boston are dealing with and help give them a voice when they feel like they don’t have one. We try and understand their positions through questions and conversations, and we want them to put that into something creative –an expression of how they are feeling. 

Cedric Douglas presented on his work: 

The number one reason – as an artist growing up in Boston I feel like Boston is not a creative place.  Go to all these lectures and talk but we need to take action.  This is a revolutionary city but we do not continue with that attitude in the arts.  Now it seems like a lot of things are changing with a new Mayor and the appointment of an Arts Czar both committed to bringing arts to the city . 

I am a Graffiti artist, and have worked for 20 years but there are not a lot of places in Boston to do graffitit art, I did work in Bartlet yard.  I want people to see this type of art they never see. Graffiti and street art is prevalent in many other communities and cities in the world. 

I have used my art on projects to projects aimed at solving a problem, like connecting youth to arts organizations, or reaching out to people and getting them involved in decisions abou their communites. Many people don’t have the time to go to town hall/planning meetings, but I created a platform to reach those people.   Imagine if we all came together the kind of things we could do. 

I am now working on Uphams Corner community project. I received a grant form Art Place America. The goal is to get the community members feedback about what kind of art they want to see in their community so I created the UpTruck.   We just set up in the middle of the street, and people just come up and work with us on art projects. Soon you have people working together and talking to strangers. We are bringing people together through art and get people to think creatively while getting their feedback to make public art.   We want to take this stuff further, we want to bring in more technology so people can use that and pursue art in a different way.  

We have to come together and make art in our communities and make Boston better. 

Brian Militana presented on his work:  

We are an architect and design firm working on large scale mufti family project in Mission Hill that is unique because of the public spaces it has incorporated into it. 

The site sits between Parker and Terrace streets.  It is built into the slope of the that area and so we have a very steep three story building. There was an existing art park and community garden that the community felt very strongly about keeping.  So we put a garden on the roof at Parker Street and set of courtyards in between areas of the building   for community members and residents to use. 

We are trying to integrate the public greenspcae with art based programming and create different platform for events. The way we can contribute to an Arts Commons is in identifying potential and physical space and figuring out how they might be able to use that. 

In terms of principles, its good to not start from scratch - work from resources that are there -  both physical and social. Then be able to develop the physical and social structure in parallel. It’s also important to bring many different kinds of activities together in one space. Be inclusive and maximize the number of opportunities that can happen.  

Be aware that sometimes when we try to be open to many different things we get a generic framework; that may be a mistake. Create new and different settings for people to react to to make people excited people about where they are at.  Dewey Park is an incredible place with a lot of great stuff happening already. 

Break into working groups to brainstorm what an Arts Commons would look like:

Group 1: Favorite idea was thinking of a monument or interactive permanent or semi permanent installation.  Sonic playground walk, or a big public chalkboard on one side of the building, something that people can interact with in an impromptu manner 24/7. Then have mini residencies around the space.  Also focus on having the public installation be something that local Boston people can insert their lives, faces and voices into. Not just a passing tourist experience - something reflective of the city.  Have cccess points to draw people in and make it media and technology rich. 

Group 2:  “Boston Commons Too”
Lots of ideas, inspired by the notion of the Gum wall in Seattle.  How can we make a pubic art installation that people can interact with? Large wall structures for each Boston neighborhood. Tall and moveable that people can interact with. They would be set up all over like a forest that you can move through. Since they are portable, they can go into the neighborhoods and the neighborhoods can curate their own pieces. 

Also, because they are movable, they can be anything - backdrops or stages or take them and turn them into their own individual art installations.

Other idea is to have “Saturday Morning Springboards”.  You can go to the are and learn a craft (or teach one) and it can advertised creatively all week.  Put a screen up over the mural, have projections and images, also a great place for all the people who come in from South Station. 

Group 3:Couple ideas around food trucks, lunch is a very good time with huge crowds so have performers on top of food trucks.  People are in line, so you have a captured audience.  If we could connect the trucks, have large scale or individual performances. 

Make large scale tapestries then people could take them into the park and have their lunch there. 

Snowman army – make your own snowman 

Camp night- on the weekends basically vacant, have  a camp night – reimagine the space with movies, food, etc.  

Seed bombing – Greenway is equipped to nurture that. Seed bomb a plant or area. People can go back and be reminded of that.  Learn to become green people. 

Notes From Workshop #13: Open Web, Art, And The Civic Realm

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

The open web offers opportunities for enriching experiences at the intersection of art, public, and place.  For civic technologists, art in public places is an untapped avenue for impactful citizen engagement. What collaborative possibilities can be unlocked by bringing together the arts and civic web communities to weave a richer social fabric?

The chief “incubators” were Kawandeep Virdee, co-founder and open web technologist at New American Public Art, and Lyre Calliope, Community Lead, Code for Boston.

Notes From Workshop #12: Catalyst Conversations

JUNE 10, 2014

The lab was clear in the importance of public art that the public can engage in. If there is an art piece that people have the opportunity to put in their own creativity into it, they too may understand that the art is also theirs. It builds a strength in people and creates a sense of unity. Thousands of thoughts, one language: Art.

Leading the charge was Pedro Alonzo, independent curator; Camilø Alvårez, owner, director, and preparator at SamsøñDan Sternof Beyer, co-founder, New American Public ArtMatthew Blumberg, founder and executive director, GridRepublicGeorge Fifield, founding director, Boston Cyberarts Inc.; and Primavera De Fillipi researcher, CERSA / CNRS / Université Paris II and research fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University

Notes From Workshop #11: More Than Pipes

APRIL 30, 2014

The recent, and important, Public Space Invitational announced by Kris Carter and Michael Evansof the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics is a major contribution to a more robust and inclusive civic environment, with proposals that fulfill NUM’s request for initiatives that are “simple, intuitive, and literally awesome.” This is significant. But what’s next?

What/where/how are the new ways in which multiple stakeholders – artists, communities, agencies, hackers – can come together to increase the limits of what’s doable in cultivating public spaces? What technologies and resources can be brought to bear that expand and sustain participation in these efforts? How can we weave together physical, organizational, and community-based infrastructure from the outset? How can these kinds of efforts reflect a multi-faceted understanding of urban equity?

“Creators” included Nigel Jacob, co-chair, Mayor’s Office of New Urban MechanicsDan Sternof Beyer, co-founder, New American Public ArtChrislene DeJean and Terry Marshall, co-founders,Intelligent MischiefLyre Calliope, Community Lead, Code for Boston; and Nate Smith, artist. We particularly want your participation and your ideas, leading to outcomes that will serve all stakeholders.

Notes From Workshop #10: Art And Design As Practical Social Action

MARCH 25, 2014

How does, and how can, art serve as a partner within the Boston region’s continuing drive toward greater technological and entrepreneurial invention and innovation? More broadly, what is its role in community-building, in fulfilling the artist Joseph Beuys’ notion of art’s potential for “practical social action?”  What are the opportunities for and challenges to building community through new kinds of collaborations and enterprises? South Boston-based Artists for Humanity has provided a model for the kind of integration that incorporates art, design, innovation, and entrepreneurship, leading ultimately to revitalized communities.

The “action figures” included Jason Talbot, Co-Founder and Special Projects Director for AFH, andJohn Cannistraro, Jr., President of Watertown-based Cannistraro Plumbing and an AFH corporate partner. We’ll speculate on future outcomes for AFH while opening up the discussion to see where, how, and under what circumstances this kind of integration can take place.

Notes From Workshop #9: Beyond The One-Shot Deal

FEBRUARY 25, 2014

What are the opportunities for art in new development beyond the "statue in the lobby?" How can those opportunities be realized -- and how are they being realized? Are there economic models that, when applied, allow for a long-term relationship between art and creativity on the one hand and real estate development on the other. Can art be integrated into a development's long-term operation -- whether the development is affordable housing, mixed-income housing, or mixed-use?

The lead "explorers" in this workshop included Mark MatelRose Architecture Fellow and Project Manager for the Bartlett Yard affordable housing project; Sebastian Mariscal, principal withSebastian Mariscal Studio and designer/developer of new mixed-income/mixed-use Parker & Terrace Development in Mission Hill; and artist Cedric Douglas, many of whose works appeared this summer at Bartlett Yard and who is a finalist for a permanent installation at Upham's Corner.

Notes From Workshop #9: Lessons From Beach Project

JANUARY 28, 2014

A complex initiative, with many parts and many players, is underway at Magazine Beach to restore both the 1818 magazine and the open riverside area that surrounds it. This is a significant case study about aligning the art, the public, and the place on a critical site, with participants ranging from the nearby neighborhood association to state government and agencies and from artists to non-profits.

The “lead provocateurs” were Evan Hines, Director of Development for the State Department of Conservation and Recreation; Rep. Jay Livingstone of the 8th Suffolk District, Massachusetts House; Rob Trumbour, Director at ArtForming; Renata von Tscharner, Founder and President of theCharles River Conservancy; and Cathie Zusy, Chair of the Magazine Beach Committee, Cambridgeport.

Notes From Workshop #8: Tactical Urbanism/Tactical Art

NOVEMBER 6, 2013

A key ingredient in generating a more vibrant and inclusive environment for art in public places comes from tactical urbanism: short-term, small-scale, and high-reward initiatives focused on improving the public life of a neighborhood and a city. This workshop was convened to examine these tactics, and how to inventory what those tactics require for success, and the kinds of spontaneous interventions that make up much of art in public spaces.

The workshop provided examples of how, when, and where these strategies result in partnerships with certain municipal agencies in support of their goals. It's tacticians included Dan Sternof Beyer of New American Public Art; Gary Dunning of Boston Celebrity Series; and Rachel Szakmary of theBoston Transportation Department.

Notes From Workshop #8: Lessons From Beach Project

JANUARY 28, 2014

A complex initiative, with many parts and many players, is underway at Magazine Beach to restore both the 1818 magazine and the open riverside area that surrounds it. This is a significant case study about aligning the art, the public, and the place on a critical site, with participants ranging from the nearby neighborhood association to state government and agencies and from artists to non-profits.

The “lead provocateurs” were Evan Hines, Director of Development for the State Department of Conservation and Recreation; Rep. Jay Livingstone of the 8th Suffolk District, Massachusetts House; Rob Trumbour, Director at ArtForming; Renata von Tscharner, Founder and President of theCharles River Conservancy; and Cathie Zusy, Chair of the Magazine Beach Committee, Cambridgeport.

Notes From Workshop #7: “An Architect, An Artist, And A Developer Walk Into A Bar…”

SEPTEMBER 23, 2013

Questions on the table at this workshop were:

  • Given these three perspectives, what are the overlapping interests that will, or that do, guarantee a workable, sustainable model for collaboration that embeds art into a project’s initial design and development concept? What are the opportunities? The constraints?

  • What would a final “protocol”, or at least an informal, but rigorous, arrangement, look like?

  • What collaborative tools can be developed to support this effort?

Leading the discussion was Tamara Roy, Senior Associate Principal with ADDInc.; Gillian Christy,Sculptor; and Mark McGowan, Manager of Development with Skanska.

Notes From Workshop #6: Making It Happen

JUNE 27, 2013

BostonAPP/Lab is moving toward organizing and bringing more transparency to the complex series of roles and responsibilities underlying its initiatives. The result is a “Knowledge Grid” – or, the BostonAPP GameBoard®. This workshop took aim at refining and strengthening the GameBoard. We want to make sure that we’ve covered all the right bases, that both the “who” and the “what” are fully accounted for and that this can serve as a useful model for initiating and monitoring future projects, whether you’re an artist, a city agency, a donor, or a community organization.

Lillian Hsu, director of the Cambridge Arts Council, and Dan Sternof Beyer, head of New American Public Art, analyzed one of their projects in terms of the GameBoard. We then broke into small groups to examine how the model can be improved and, ultimately, serve as a valuable tool and road map.

Notes From Workshop #5: The Intersection Of Arts, Politics, And Economics

APRIL 18, 2013

How can public art transform the ways in which people use and think about public space? What are some of the new models for private sponsorship of public art? How do we foster these new partnerships? This workshop addressed these and other questions surrounding the role of public art in urban design.

The panel included David Feldman, Feldman Advisors/Studio Echelman; Marggie Lackner, Director of Design and Architecture, MDOt; Rob Trumbour, assistant professor of urban design at Wentworth Institute of Technology and founder of Artforming, a design and research collaborative.


The following are admittedly a set of subjective impressions of the 90-minute session – impression that I invite everyone to contribute to, contradict, or expand upon!


•    From the T: The need for “creative partnerships” in the face of severely constrained financial and human resources

•    Does this open up new opportunities for community-based groups to work with the T – and if so, how can those constraints be overcome? What does – and what should – such partnerships look like?

•    Speaking of partnerships, WIT’s project at Atlantic Wharf involved the participation of Boston Properties: still to be explored is the degree to which that kind of participation might serve as a model for ways in which to engage the development community.

•    Partnerships again underlay Janet Echelman’s work – whether with the engineers or with the Mayor of the city or Porto

•    More specifically about Echelman’s Phoenix project, David made the following points regarding partnerships in a note to me:

o    Public art is political even when there's the money. Public art is a risky venture for politicians. [The] Phoenix [project] got through bruising political context because the coalition that got Phoenix done was broad, including the usual urban-focused art/architecture crowd but also the business community. It was quite a close-run thing. Funny anecdote: Janet was invited to keynote at Int'l City Manager's Conference in Phoenix last year, introduced to the audience by the Phoenix City Manager who admitted that he'd been in the opposition camp prior to her project but now he's the biggest fan. That's what happens when the work finds a warm reception from the community. [Italics added]

•    We didn’t spend nearly enough time examining funding strategies, a shortcoming I’m hoping to alleviate through the next several Lab sessions, and beyond. 

•    At the March Lab session, Conrad Crawford, Director of Partnerships for the Department of Conservation and Recreation talked about ways in which DCR can function as a kind of clearing house, with DCR staff knowing “the arts and permitting/funding players in government agencies.” He encouraged artists and planners to get with DCR staff, underscoring how “it’s a relationship-based business…show you’re aware of what they need…If you’re doing sensitive stuff in public space be careful and considerate…; be thoughtful of the real needs of public security.”


At the end of the session, people were asked to send along responses to a kind of assignment regarding the “function of public art.”

The first arrived from Eric Sealine, and I include it here. I’m sending this – and the preceding notes -- as a Google Doc, so that it’s possible to start a conversation. Once the website is more functional than is currently the case, we can take this further.

In any event, I hope everyone will take up the invitation to speak his/her mind!



From Eric Sealine:

I appreciated your 'assignment' and have been thinking about it, and the idea of community, all this sad day.  How about this:

The function of public art is to transform the way people respond to each other.  It has less to do with the object itself than with the community created by its effect on the people who see it.  If it is successful, they look at the object and then turn toward each other.  

In the case of Echelman's piece in Porto, people cross a busy intersection to spend time with each other in the space created by the sculpture.  Her "1.26" to me is an even more successful piece, even harder to read, even more unexpected.  Her pieces create what I think would be called in anthropological terms "ritual spaces", spaces in which the normal rules of (dis)engagement are changed.  When the gentleman asked "What are we transforming?" I was stumped.  Maybe the answer is, "We are transforming ourselves." 

I was recently in Chicago and saw Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate".  It has been renamed "The Bean" by the locals, and for very good reason;  it is now theirs.  People who have no other connection to the art world know exactly how to regard the piece.  They play with it, and with each other.


Notes From Workshop #4: Creative Strategies, Practices, And Collaborations

MARCH 26, 2013

This workshop's panelists included Jason Turgeon of FIGMENT Project at Bartlett Yards; Neil Horsky, community artist and educator; and Conrad Crawford of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Notes From Workshop #3: Lessons From The HONK! Festival

FEBRUARY 26, 2013

This workshop's panel included Ken Field and John Bell of the HONK! Festival; Lillian Hsu of theCambridge Arts Council; and Annie Houston of the Mass Cultural Council.

Notes From Workshop #2: Building A Network

JANUARY 22, 2013

On October 24, 2012, over three dozen participants, representing foundations, artists, NGOs, city and neighborhood agencies, planners, architects, landscape architects, among many others, convened at the Boston Society of Architects for a “brainstorming roundtable” emphasizing challenges, solutions, and action steps aimed at a more robust and vigorous environment for art in Greater Boston’s public places.

From that event there emerged a new working group–BostonAPP/Lab–to sponsor a monthly series of sessions devoted to identifying how, by whom, and by what actions these and other challenges would be met.