Earlier this Month I had the privilege of touring Fort Point’s public art scene. As it turns out, the neighborhood historically rooted deep in arts and culture is currently displaying more public art installments than ever before at one time. Leading the Fort Point charge is Emily O’Neil, executive director of Fort Point Arts Community, who also led our tour.
Emily was gracious enough to let us get to know her, so hopefully you will become better acquainted with Fort Point and creativity it fosters. Here she is in a nutshell.
Nick DeLuca: Describe your connection to Boston. Are you from here and if so, describe the difference in Boston’s art scene from when you were growing up compared to now?
I grew up in New York City. My parents are both artistic—my father is a composer (although mostly retired now, he wrote the music for more than 100 TV movies and about a dozen feature films), and my mother is a dancer turned psychoanalyst. They are avid collectors of contemporary photography and “outsider art,” and I grew up going to the theater, galleries and museums,
although I didn’t really appreciate it until I was older. I moved to Boston after graduating from Bowdoin College. My father grew up in Brookline, and my grandmother still lived there, so I had a family connection to the city. Boston also seemed like a kinder, easier place for an unemployed art history major to start out. Plus, I really wanted a car; I was ready for some independence after 18 years of subway and bus rides in NYC, and my parents promised me one as long as I didn’t move back home.
I had the good fortune to work and learn from one of the best dealers in Boston: Barbara Krakow. Barbara taught me how to cultivate and steward collectors, helping them build collections. Barbara also had (and still has) a great rapport with New York galleries (and beyond). Boston was a microcosm of New York’s macrocosm—only with better parking.
Boston today is becoming a much more forward thinking about contemporary art—and especially about public art. With Mayor Walsh’s new administration, and with the appointment of Julie Burros as Arts Commissioner, the City is well positioned to become a major contributor to the field of public art—and FPAC artists have long been ahead of this curve.
How did you get involved with FPAC?
My background is an interesting match for FPAC. I worked in galleries for many years. After a time, I gravitated to the nonprofit sector. I soon realized that I needed a more formal background in nonprofit management, and earned a Masters in Urban Policy from Tufts. I wrote my thesis on the importance of arts education, and the necessary role nonprofits play in helping brings arts to public school students.
I was hired by FPAC’s board of directors last January and am thrilled to be Executive Director of this organization. In fact, I used to come to the Artists Building at 300 Summer Street to conduct studio visits when I worked for Barbara Krakow. My office and the main FPAC gallery are actually located in the Artists Building, so it’s a true homecoming for me.
At FPAC, I am able to use my professional skills to further my personal interests: building public interest and appreciation of the arts and arts education, advocating for artists, and helping to push Boston’s public art platform forward.
How lucky is that?
Do you practice any art and if so, what kind?
I was an avid photographer in college—and considered accepting an internship as a photojournalist at Salt Magazine in Portland, ME. But I gave it up for the glamorous life as a server at Hunter’s (which is now Whiskey’s). I was a terrible server—and fortunately my tenure was short lived. I also worked at a print studio/press in Palo Alto, CA, Smith Andersen Editions for two years. It was wonderful being in the studio with artists. I really enjoy printmaking—and truly love the interplay between paper and ink. I could probably get lost for days with a press, paper and collage.
What kind of art do you wish you could be better at?
Everything! I have a mother who can dance, a father who can compose, a daughter who can sing, and a son who plays the drums (I have another daughter who is fierce at ice hockey). My role is really as art advocator and appreciator.
If you could meet any artist, who would it be and what would the setting be?
If the stolen works from the Gardner Museum are ever returned, I’d like to walk with Sophie Calle though the museum, and re-document Last Seen, the project she did around the stolen pieces. Like many Bostonian’s, I felt a deep connection to that project.
If you could spend one day in any art museum in the world, which would it be?
I’ve never been to Bilbao. That’s definitely on my list. And I’d like to go back to the Louvre. It’s been years since I was there, but I vividly remember that’s where I was when I first realized I truly loved art. I was 14 and across a painting called The Entombment of Atlala by a Pre-Romatic painter Anne-Louse Giroder de Roucy-Trioson, and I was heartbroken, mesmerized and hooked. I returned 15 years later, and had the same experience all over again. I also spent a few days at the Chinati Foundaition in Marfa, Texas. I’d like to go back again. That’s a pilgrimage all contemporary art lovers should make.
Are you an avid user of apps like Instagram that allow people to take more original photos?
No—but I am totally addicted to my iPhone camera. I take pictures all the time, but don’t always feel compelled to share them. Some are just for me.