Dudley Square residents tell a collective story

When we learned that JR, the international street artist would be in town creating a giant installation on the Hancock Tower, we knew we needed to find a way to bring his art and it’s graphic power deeper into Boston. Read more about the inspiration behind the project with The Inside Out Project and The Up Truck in Kate Gilbert’s essay from Faces of Dudley. Paperback copies are now available at cost ($7.23) on Blurb.com.

Recognition and voice: Dudley Square residents tell a collective story

“I have a story to tell,” read one board. “I survived breast cancer,” declared another. “I am the whomp whoomp,” stated a third, somewhat mysteriously. All were in response to the following questions asked of young and old waiting to have their portrait taken during Faces of Dudley:

“What do you want people to know about you? What won’t they understand just by seeing you on the street or looking at your portrait?”

They say pictures “are worth a thousand words” and “never lie,” but we were after truths that transcend image and easy interpretation. The 174 portraits we pasted to the outside of the library were not photos of sports figures and celebrities selling themselves. They were of real people, and the answers matching these local faces were as varied as the community itself.

They could be altruistic, such as: “Patrick M. loves to help people.” Or uplifting: “Living, not surviving.” And even earnestly humorous: “I’m a left-handed writer obsessed with social justice.”

These last three sentiments are perhaps emblematic of the current concerns and future hopes of Dudley, a predominantly black neighborhood in Roxbury, Massachusetts nestled between the gentrified South End and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods, and echo our motivation for the project. Will these faces and their voices still be here in the future? 

Between 1998 and 2008 property values in Dudley increased 69% while the prices for three-family homes (the most common type in the area) increased 94% between 1998 and 2000 alone – faster than any other area in the city*. Now a 25-story, mixed-use high-rise is being planned near the historic transit hub. Meanwhile vacant lots remain within the center as speculative owners wait for the right time to “cash in.” Residents wonder what Dudley will look like in another 10 years, and if they can afford to live there.

Amidst this ferment, the Bruce C. Bolling Building, a city-led redevelopment of the iconic Ferdinand Furniture Building, opened on April 7, 2015 in the heart of the neighborhood. It occupies an entire block and its impressive footprint of 215,000 square feet is now the headquarters of the Boston Public Schools, the Roxbury Innovation Center, community meeting space, Dudley Café, Dudley Dough, and other future retail establishments. The building’s long-term impact has yet to be felt, but this significant development coupled with the proposed high-rise make it clear that 2015 marked a transitional year for Dudley, and one we wanted to highlight.  

Organizations such as Alternatives for Community and Environment, Discover Roxbury, Dudley Square Main Streets, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Madison Park Development Corporation’s Hibernian Hall, Press Pass TV, The Food Project farm, and Future Boston among just a few are working diligently to protect the rights of existing residents to live in the community where they’ve established roots. Their intent: to share their collective culture, provide skills for young people, encourage small business development, and further develop Dudley Square as a unique and diverse cultural and economic center that’s reflective of its current residents. 

It was our goal at Now and There to take a snapshot in time with Faces of Dudley; to create a human place-marker, or baseline, from which the organizations committed to Dudley Square’s sustainability could measure their success and from which all Bostonians can track the commitment to creating sustainable communities.  

The platform provided by The Inside Out Project, a truck converted into a mobile photography studio that created the poster-sized portraits, couldn’t have been a better place to begin attracting attention. Who doesn’t want their picture put on the side of a building?  We thank the brilliant artist/activist JR for being a living example of how art can change the world and to his entire truck team of Jaime Scatena, Basil Sema and Norman Archer for challenging us to “Turn Boston Inside Out”. 

To encourage individual stories we partnered with The Up Truck, the brainchild of Cedric Douglas, to gather the thoughts behind all the faces. For his team’s important work engaging with people on a one-on-one level we are eternally grateful. 

The Boston Public Library and the Dudley Branch were gracious hosts and were it not for the assistance of Karin Goodfellow and the Boston Art Commission we may not have come to be in Dudley at all.

Together, we present the faces and the voices as given.  

To know Dudley Square is to know its people as individuals. To know more about them, check this book out of the library and talk to Tracy Wiggins at the circulation desk; chat up Little Sammy, the custodian; or ask any number of the children and adults in the library about their personal aspirations and hopes for the community. 

The collective story of Dudley Square, Roxbury, is in their hands.

Kate Gilbert, Director
Now and There  

* “For Dudley, By Dudley: An analysis of gentrification risk in the Dudley Square Area of Roxbury, Boston” by Rian Amiton, Matthew Hammer, Joshua Morris, Elizabeth Nollner and Abigail Vladeck, Tufts University; on behalf of Alternative for Community & Environment, May 1, 2009.