Boston Art Walls; Image via Citizinvestor
A sculpture will soon suspend above the Rose Kennedy Greenway; graffiti artists will receive “Designated Free Wall Space” to showcase their talent; and City Hall Plaza will boast a rainbow-colored stairway. The arts are experiencing a reawakening in Boston, having received a public push from Mayor Marty Walsh. But can a layer of fresh paint hide decades’ worth of stagnancy?
“The things that really come to the surface if you’re not too tuned in are more institutional,” said Olivia Ives-Flores. “That’s always been my issue with the Boston arts scene.”
“Appreciating the things that suck about Boston are allowing us to see what we want.”
As a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Ives-Flores (photographed below) opened YES.OUI.SI., an art gallery formerly located on Huntington Avenue, with then Berklee College of Music student Miguel de Bragança. The first exhibit drew roughly 300 patrons to the space, with marketing materials equalling nothing more than 22 fliers scattered around her school. To Ives-Flores, YES.OUI.SI was a place where independent musicians, like her fellow classmates, could have autonomy.
“I felt like there was no place for young artists to show their work and come together,” she remarked. The Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Institute of Contemporary Art were what ruled the city and, although reputable, it’s not where emerging talent was hiding; the next generation of artists were in Boston’s basements.
The space was well-received, because “people in Boston are hungry and want to be exposed to new art,” according to Ives-Flores. Yet the gallery eventually closed its doors, and YES.OUI.SI. is now a creative agency based out of Central Square focused on helping companies render authenticity for their brands through art.
Curator Anna Schindelar is trying to test that theory, however. Schindelar works at Kendall Square’s Voltage Coffee & Art, where her main goal has been to engage the community in art and put a spotlight on local talent.
“It sometimes feels in Boston [and] Cambridge that the art scene is so insular and cyclical,” said Schindelar in an email to BostInno. “Are we reaching new people?”
When asked how she sees the area art scene, Schindelar described it as “small, dynamic and separated, but thriving,” noting “it has good intentions.” (Take the local artists’ murals soon to be on display at Boston’s bi-annual outdoor music festival.) But overall, Boston is “very conservative in its topics depicted and artists allowed to represent the city,” so said Schindelar, echoing Ives-Flores’s statement of how institutional the industry can feel.
There is hope Boston can shed its antiquated image, though.
“I think Boston is really trying to break out of its shell,” said Malia Lazu, executive director and co-founder of Future Boston Alliance, an organization focused on fighting for and supporting “the progressive and cultural growth of the city in the 21st century.”
When Future Boston launched in 2012, then Mayor Thomas Menino was about to enter his 20th year in office. “We knew things weren’t getting done,” remarked Lazu in a previous interview with BostInno, prior to Menino stepping down. “We knew that if the wrong person brought it, progress would stop. Yet we allowed for that. We, as Bostonians, allowed for that.”
With a new administration under Walsh, however, visible changes are being made. It’s now residents’ responsibility to keep the momentum strong.
“I think there’s always people who believe it’s difficult to change a city, especially a city as old as Boston,” Lazu argued. “But maybe that’s just more reflective of what they think they can change. … Boston could actually change, if we were willing to live differently.”
Soon-to-be aerial sculpture in the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Future Boston wasn’t warmly welcomed to town. Lazu said her life was threatened for trying to help a woman open a jewelry store. But, she’s glad the organization was received as “a persona non grata,” because she and fellow founder Greg Selkoe, the man behind streetwear e-retailer Karmaloop, “had to run an emerging movement without the government.”
“It forced us to really engage the community,” she noted, adding, “Appreciating the things that suck about Boston are allowing us to see what we want and then living differently. … We are the change. Marty Walsh doesn’t know what to do. He’s not an artist. But he will administer what needs to be done.”
The New England Foundation for the Arts recently awarded roughly $60,000 in grants to support five area public art projects. Another $60,000 of Boston’s capital budget will go toward creating blank outdoor canvases in Boston’s inner city, where young artists can display their work “in a positive space.”
Lazu, Schindelar and Ives-Flores agreed, however, that this should only be the beginning.
To Schindelar, more public art — “art that is available and accessible to everyone, not just museum goers, people who know where the contemporary galleries are or who are artists” — should be the main priority. Beyond making Boston more aesthetically pleasing, Schindelar said, “[Public art] shows people who think they may not be artistically inclined, or who think art is over their head or that they don’t ‘get it,’ the opportunity to find art that they do like and that they do get.”
“Boston has this complex of being less exposed than New York, LA and San Francisco.”
MassArt alumnus Dillon Buss, a local video producer, suggested the City create “a central creative hub,” whether it be a YouTube channel, blog or hashtag, to funnel all the activity happening and make it more accessible to the masses. Ives-Flores also encouraged a new public space similar to the old YES.OUI.SI., sponsored by the City, that young people could create and curate.
Yet, there’s still more that could be done without the City.
“When it comes to the City, act first and ask for forgiveness afterwards,” Ives-Flores urged. “Boston has this complex of being less exposed than New York, LA and San Francisco. The thing we really have strong on our side is this incredible hub of intellect and this ability to create new technologies. … I see a fusion of art and technology.”
“There are times when you do need to use the City, but there’s a lot you can do without it,” Lazu said. “The more we can create without the City, the more models we can give the City to adopt.”
Similar to the “use it or lose it” mentality of late-night MBTA service, residents have a part to play in keeping Boston vibrant.
“We make up Boston,” Lazu reiterated. “What makes Boston is its people. And people want to come together and build a dope city. We no longer want to be jealous of New York and San Francisco.”