At closed Mount Auburn Cemetery, an artist-in-residence has room to ‘think very imaginatively’

Jesse Aron Green will spend his residency creating a project for spring 2021.
Jesse Aron Green will spend his residency creating a project for spring 2021.Jennifer Johnston

Jesse Aron Green has a deep history with Mount Auburn Cemetery. He grew up in Needham, with a mother who studied landscape design — inspired by the lush landscape, she used to take him to ramble at Mount Auburn. More recently, Green returned there to mourn the passing of his best friend’s father.

And this year, Green, 40, was named the cemetery’s artist-in-residence for 2020-2021.

Since its start, Mount Auburn has doubled as an active burial site and community green space. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society founded the Cambridge cemetery in 1831. With walking trails, rare plants and trees, and architectural landmarks, the 72-acre cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and designated as a National Historic Landmark In 2003.


“It’s meant to be this beautiful place through the integration of art and nature,” said Jenny Gilbert, the cemetery’s director of institutional advancement.

In 2014, Mount Auburn added an artist residency program to its mix of offerings.

Green is the program’s first visual artist and its fourth recipient (previous residents were a filmmaker, a composer, and a playwright). “The committee felt that we were ready for a visual artist,” said Gilbert, who served on the committee that selected Green. “We were ready to embrace the unknown of what Jesse might do.”

At his studio in Waltham, the conceptual artist had already been crafting models in recent years of historic cemeteries in the area. He was at Mount Auburn last April observing the landscape when staffers told him about the residency program.

Each residency lasts two years, with the first reserved for research and inspiration. With Mount Auburn currently closed to visitors, Green has plenty of time (not to mention plenty of space) to devise his final project, due to debut in the cemetery next year. “I find myself instead using that space in a solitary and isolated way,” Green said. “That provides an opportunity to try to think very imaginatively about how, despite being separated from everyone and despite there being a fence around the whole cemetery, I might try to do something as an artist that makes people feel connected.”


Grace Griffin can be reached at grace.griffin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceMGriffin