Looking back and ahead, a New Year's greeting from Director Kate Gilbert.
In a decade from now when Greater Boston is a must-see destination for public art enthusiasts I believe we’ll look back at 2015 as a pivotal year. 2015: the year public art became an integral part of the re/development of engaging public spaces, the year when artwork selection processes shifted from juried to curated, and the year we learned to balance spectacle and civic engagement.
Already we can see it beginning with four examples of curated works: Amanda Parer’s “Intrude” (those unforgettable giant rabbits) and the other ArtLAB projects on the Lawn on D, Theo Jansen’s mysterious “Strandbeests” selected by Peabody Essex Museum and brought to Crane Beach, the Greenway and City Hall Plaza, Lawrence Weiner's text work “A Translation from One Language to Another" curated by the MIT List Visual Art Center for the Greenway Wall, and “Faces of Boston” our own partnership with The Up Truck and Inside Out Project in Dudley Square and Back Bay Station.
A decade ago Boston artists had very few opportunities to engage with a public audience —happily there has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a guerrilla art scene in certain pockets of the city including the Fort Point—but in 2015 we have curated spaces like the above mentioned, public art funding such as NEFA and the Barr Foundation’s newly created Creative City grant, and encouraging paradigm shifts at Boston City Hall that are making it easier and more affordable for artists and communities to create artworks. 2015 marks a tangible shift in the creation and support of public art in Boston. It just so happens to also be our birth year!
Boston is closely emulating other national models of curated public art within public (and quasi-public) spaces. Examples like El Anatsui's stunning “Broken Bridge II” at the High Line where public art is an integral part of the programming, shows how selecting museum-quality works can successfully replace the outdated model of juried public art. But as Jerry Saltz recently pointed out in “New York Has Solved the Problem of Public Art. But at What Cost?” the down side of spaces that cater to experience and spectacle may be the loss of places for contemplation. “The High Line is the harbinger of a bad pathogen now transforming public space into fussy, extra-busy, overdesigned, high-maintenance mannered playgrounds, curated experiences, and crowd-pleasing spectacles,” he writes.
But these spaces are also giving artists a new platform from which to share their work and it would be a shame for the nascent public art renaissance, born within these curated spaces, to be thrown out with the fussy-public-space bath water.
In 2025 I hope Boston has learned from the successes and failures of the High Line and other national examples and we can say that we were vigilant; that we made sure our civic spaces offered joy and delight without catering to our inner toddler. And that organizations like Now and There helped artists produce works that offered opportunities for examination and dialogical exchange.
In this our first year we’ve already collaborated in one such project, Faces of Boston, with its final product Faces of Dudley, the book, to be printed soon. And we’ve been working with an artist to commission an artwork that frames an important social contract in a very public way. (But more on that in 2016.)
In a decade from now we hope Boston has been rated the best place to practice public art, and to experience it, and that Now and There been a part of that success. Until that day you know we will be doing everything we can to achieve that goal. And we also know there’ll be many of you working alongside us!
So here’s a hip-hip for 2015—a fruitful first year for Now and There and public art throughout Boston—and a hooray for 2016.
May it be a creative new year for all!
Kate Gilbert, Director
In July 2014, Kate Gilbert was named the Director of UrbanArts Inc. In January 2015, Now and There, the reinvigoration of UrbanArts was born. When she's not predicting the future of public art, Gilbert teaches studio art and keeps up her own interdisciplinary art practice.