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The beauty of collective art creates sacred spaces

Young creatives are making space for creative work and collective gathering in an otherwise divided city.

Boston, MA, 01\15\2020, Jadon Smith talks about his choice of artwork at the Museum of Fine Arts.  Teen curators at the Museum of Fine Arts talk about the work they've chosen to highlight. 

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Boston, MA, 01\15\2020, Jadon Smith talks about his choice of artwork at the Museum of Fine Arts. Teen curators at the Museum of Fine Arts talk about the work they've chosen to highlight. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Art is both a necessary weapon and a vital key to saving lives.

In some ways, it serves as representational justice, fighting false narratives and serving truth. In others, it is a way to find solace. But it is always a craft meant for the people.

In Boston, the City has AIR, an artists-in-residency program making art a civic priority. We have the ICA where “Yayoi Kusama: Love Is Calling” continuously sells out, where conversations about race as a public health issue are hosted.

We have the Museum of African American History where Boston’s jazz history is currently on display. We have the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where we don’t just have art, but we have found a place for hip-hop and poetry and dance fitness from Boston creatives like Dutch ReBelle and Trillfit.


We have the Museum of Fine Arts, where “Black Histories, Black Futures,” is on display. Curated by students all over the Boston area, it explores Black art and community.

Where do young people belong in a 150-year old museum?, the show asks. In the center, they say.

The young, the marginalized, the overlooked, and the art belong at the center — not just of the museum but of this city. We must mark space specifically for creative work and collective gathering, especially in a city as divided as Boston. Young creatives are bridging the gap.

“It’s hard to identify with institutions like galleries and museums because there is so little representation,” says Brenda Phan, 32, co-founder of Girl Magic Meets. “This new movement came from a need to make our own space to create and connect with like-minded and similar individuals. It’s an exciting time to be an artist in Boston and to start something new because the community here is becoming more inclusive and supportive.”


Girl Magic Meets was created four years ago by Phan and Nancy Fields to empower womxn through collaboration, photography, and sisterhood. Just like Frederick Douglass knew the power of the portrait, so do Phan and Lewis. Having hosted over 30 events, they give womxn the agency to represent themselves and tell their own visual stories.

“Our passion project has grown into a wonderful community full of creatives from all backgrounds, ages, gender, and fields,” says Phan. “It is a space where we can also network and support each other through photography and other creative projects. We’ve discovered that by providing a platform, both digital and physical, we’ve empowered people to making connections with those they would not have met before, sparking new ideas.”

People are tired of being shut out or waiting for galleries and museums to deem them the next it-creative. They are borrowing from the pages of the black women’s art collective Where We At and Spiral and the Black Arts Movement of the ’70s. Space-making is part of Boston’s new era.

“I am so encouraged and inspired by the creative community in Boston right now,” says Johnette Marie Ellis, 38, Boston artist and thought leader. “I came up here. I know there’s been arts here but it wasn’t as accessible as it is now. Boston needs as many spaces as possible to have these conversations that not only root us in ourselves but allow us to see each other.”


Almost three years ago, she founded Mother Mercy, an incubator for creatives and thinkers. Last November, Mother Mercy hosted an art show that was the result of artists coming together and asking themselves, “What’s not working?” Ellis believes when we come together to create, it’s more than just space, it’s the opening of a door.

“It’s cold here, we keep our heads down, we grill each other, and there are not a lot of places to be soft. We aren’t built that way. In New England we build fortresses and you can’t be your full self all the time. Boston needs these spaces because this is a place where I want people to be their full selves, their creative selves. brave selves, afraid selves. The portals I want to create, as Johnette Marie Ellis, create doorways.”

Art collectives are growing in Boston. There’s Space Us, started last year by Stephanie Lee and Ellen Shakespear, to bring empty storefronts to life with vibrant art and ideas by local creatives ― often from marginalized communities. And Hoodgrown Aesthetic, a podcast launched two years ago and solely dedicated to artists of color living in Boston and abroad. And at Trident Bookstore, Jovonna Jones took a Black History Month book panel last February and transformed it into the Black Studies Reading Room, cultivating a community for arts and literature.

The old-school mentality of paying dues and waiting your turn is dead and it should be. Black artists and artists of color, along with women, young folk, and LGTBQ+ creatives are disproportionately hurt by that privileged philosophy. Rather than wait for a seat at the table, they are creating entire collectives, rooms, and movements.


“The world changes according to the way people see it,” James Baldwin said. “And if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it.”

Sarah Weston and Gisella Dimitroff got tired of seeing streetwear design, sneaker culture, and street art dominated by men makers and buyers. Women and them are part of the hip-hop arts, too.

“There isn’t always a safe place for women in creative communities to come together,” says Weston, 23.

In 2018, they were part of the team at Bodega that hosted Her by Bodega, an event to celebrate women in the culture. By January 2019, they created Her Muse Collective, dedicated to safe creative space for women, them, and allies.

“We respect all pronouns and allies,” Weston says. “A big thing here in Boston is for people to stay in these little circles. We want everyone to be welcome and, yes, support women, but also to break that barrier that keeps us broken off into groups.”

Wednesday night at the Canopy Room in Somerville, they will host Her House. The intimate bi-monthly networking event is all about solidarity and collaborating. They also curate “For Them, By Them,” a recurring pop-up that is equal parts party and a market dedicated to local artists, designers, photographers, musicians, DJs, and creatives who don’t always have the spotlight.


“In Boston, it’s the same artists that get hyped up and chosen for events,” Weston says. “If you don’t have the hype, it’s hard to stay afloat. We want to give everyone inspiration in a city that doesn’t always support them so we can all help Boston glow up, together.”

Art amplifies voices. Art delivers messages we aren’t always willing to hear with our ears. And one of art’s most fundamental beauties is in the power of collective gathering.

Sometimes, it’s about making art together.

Sometimes, it’s about appreciating art and learning from it, together.

And sometimes, the art is in the creative magic of coming together.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.