fb-pixelQuestions of shared ownership are on full display at Boston Common - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Questions of shared ownership are on full display at Boston Common

Now + There "guide" Gabriel Graetz explaining the "What Do We Have in Common?" project on display in Boston Common to passerby Tonia White.Dana Gerber

The latest public art piece to take over Boston Common, fittingly, explores what we have in common.

The work, “What Do We Have in Common?” by Brooklyn-based artist Janet Zweig, is a massive wooden cabinet placed near the Parkman Bandstand. Both sides contain 200 blue markers with laser-cut questions meant to inspire conversations about collective ownership, or things that “belong to everyone, anyone, and no one,” Zweig explained. Who owns the moon? Who owns the Green Line? Who owns leisure?

During daytime hours, weather permitting, 12 “guides,” decked out in overalls and pushing wheelbarrows, install markers into the ground and engage people in dialogues about Boston Common, the broader idea of a commons, and what they may have in common with the passersby.


“I don’t expect them to result in answers,” said Zweig in an interview. “I’m hoping that everyone is going to take away a sliver of all of these layers of meaning.”

"Who owns community?" is one of the many questions etched into blue markers scattered throughout Boston Common as part of a public art display curated by Now + There.Dana Gerber

On either end of the cabinet is a giving library, which doles out six books a day, all on the subject of shared resources.

The artwork, which is on view until Oct. 24, was commissioned by the Friends of the Public Garden to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It was then curated by Now + There, a public arts nonprofit.

Liz Vizza, president of Friends of the Public Garden, said the organization was looking for a piece that would confront people with the responsibility of what it means to “own a place in common, like the Boston Common, [and] how caring for it forges community.”

“As we emerge from this difficult time, which has forced us to distance in so many ways, the importance for us is what are the things that bring us together?” Vizza said. “The wisdom and the magic of the parks is that they ask us to come together for their care.”


Though the guides aren’t there at night, the cabinet and the markers glow in the dark.

To emphasize the diverse population that utilizes the Common each day, 32 of the markers are in non-English languages, including Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Now + There also recruited a diverse set of guides and many speak two or more languages, said executive director Kate Gilbert.

“I hope that the public sees each other as more than just the public that’s coming through the Common,” Gilbert added. “That we see each other as is as individuals, in recognizing the differences within and being more accepting and open.”

The artist also noted the piece’s circular purpose. “I put it out there in the world and now it belongs to the public, which I think is apt for this piece,” said Zweig. “It belongs to you.”

Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com. Follow her @danagerber6.