Power of Culture Blog
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“Art making has the ability to move people along their journey of grief and loss into a more balanced place of healing and hope.”
This quote, seen at the Chandler Gallery, in Cambridge’s Maud Morgan Arts Center, resonates now more than ever. As a nation, we are approaching 550,000 deaths with more than 17,000 in Massachusetts. The danger and scope of this pandemic has upended “normal” life for the better part of a year. COVID-19 has caused emotional turmoil everywhere. While the extent of the damage is quantifiable, the effect one “act of artness” can have on a human, is not. For that we need to capture, and celebrate, the stories of human action one story at a time.
Today, Mass Cultural Council’s Communities team would like to focus on the a few of the countless stories from around the Commonwealth that have helped us all heal. We invite you to share with us the stories from your own community.
In May 2020, celebrity photographer Allan Dines hung 30 images of his photographs of celebrities throughout his back yard in Wayland, called it ‘Art in my Yard’, and invited everyone! Along with a rope which outlined the path, the backyard had adequate signage to remind people to stay more than 10 feet apart. The exhibit had images of celebrity that spanned Allan’s 25 years as photographer at the House of Blues. This simple, but powerful act, allowed many of us the first opportunity to step outside of our homes for something outside of home necessities. The experience came at no charge but Allan did take a donation for a local food bank.
In Natick, SPARK Kindness and the Natick Center Cultural District, along with local businesses held a community art project called Love 01760. In this, community members were asked to create heart halves, which were laminated and paired with another heart half which then graced windows in their cultural district. Over 1,200 hearts were then collected and placed on the entirety of a pedestrian bridge. This same community art creation spirit happened in West Concord Village led by the Village Art Room. The Village Art Room and volunteers created art kits that were then delivered safely to homes for children. Village Art Room also led a community painting project that will end with a 6 ½ by 11 ½ foot mosaic mural. Community members received a 6” x 6” tile with a portion of a scene. Once placed together, the tiles will show a scene celebrating the local farms of the area.
In Cambridge, the Central Square BID led a herculean effort to take over a parking lot made for cars and transformed it into a place for people, creating an outdoor communal COVID-safe space for the arts in the process. Starlight Square was born and served as an arts home for the 100s of artists who call Central Square their literal home, as well as their home for performances and rehearsals. Right now, Starlight Square is about to launch its next season after a successful winter with their Popportunity Pop Up Shops Initiative.
In Lenox, holding a live, outdoor, music series can be a challenge when it comes to gathering limits. Lenox found a wonderful balance by holding their Lenox Loves Music series on Sunday afternoons, which attracted a more local crowd. This, combined with adequate social distancing measures, led to an interruption-free season. Their new season is set to begin on May 16, 2021. This was only one of the various placekeeping initiatives that helped the town’s commercial district stay afloat. A collaboration between the Lenox Cultural District, Berkshire Music School, and the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, the series also allowed local students and musicians from the Music School to get paying gigs during a time of severe drought for employment opportunities.
In Maynard, a collaboration between the Revolving Museum and ArtSpace Museum brought us the incredible Corona/Crown Project, a traveling, bilingual literary art piece that served as an homage to frontline workers everywhere. The project comprises two vehicles including a transformed, 1952 Ford pickup truck covered in short poems that encourage vigilance to public health advice, and inspire hope. It hauls a trailer featuring a moving sculpture with poetry and coronavirus-inspired art. A second vehicle tows a 10-foot head sculpture sporting a bejeweled crown and cloth mask. More than 100 artists, young people, and community participants responded to an open call to contribute poems and artwork, including a series of “CURE CELLS” – artworks representing anti-viruses.
On the Cape, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod managed to pivot their Rise and Shine program virtually and recently saw one of the fruits from their labor present their first exhibit. The Rise and Shine Program has served youth since 2008 with free arts workshops and one-on-one mentorships, both at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod and other locations across the Cape. During the pandemic, mentors and mentees have been working together both virtually and in-person. A recent exhibit by 14-year-old Torriann Matheney – who spent 2020 working with three different Rise and Shine mentors—was a great success, drawing patrons from across the Cape (and beyond the bridges) who wanted to support a young woman embarking on her creative journey. Funded over the years by virtually all the Cape Cod Local Cultural Councils and, so far in 2021, by Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Eastham, Falmouth, Harwich, the Mid-Cape, Sandwich, and Orleans.
The list goes on and on: Innovation shown by the Artists Association of Nantucket to hold an Art Fair in a parking lot that brought more than 70 cars to the show and allowed the association to give artists much needed commission. In Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood where the Roxbury Cultural District held its first “NUBIAN NIGHTS: The Sights and Sounds of Jazz in Roxbury,” a three-week virtual multi-media experience which launched on March 26, 2021 and will run on three successive weekends.
These are only a sampling of the cultural manifestations taken by humans to positively effect another human’s life, in the face of the impossible. The pandemic is still with us and, while each mention of another “wave” reminds us just how hard this current is, we’re now aware of a stronger truth. That, as Kurtis Blow once told us, there are eight million stories in the naked city. Each of those stories carry a message of healing and hope. And we promise to try to capture, and celebrate, each and every one of them … one story at a time.