Lot Lab is tearing down fences — literally and figuratively. For the last two years, organizers of the program, devoted to creatively reimagining underused lots, have been working to transform the entrance of the Charlestown Navy Yard into an outdoor art oasis.
Local nonprofit Now + There — which curates public art exhibitions — introduced Lot Lab’s work at an opening reception on June 7, where attendees were encouraged to participate in a healing ceremony and create chalk murals. The Navy Yard exhibit is free and open to the public and showcases the works of Ghada Amer, Massiel Grullon, and Sam Fields, who all have ties to Boston. Their large-scale, site-specific artworks will be displayed in the 100-square-foot lot through Oct 31.
“With this show, we’re trying to address the lack of contemporary public art in Boston neighborhoods and especially art that represents who we are as Bostonians today,” said Kate Gilbert, founder and executive director of Now + There.
When Gilbert and her team began discussing spaces to launch Lot Lab, she said the Navy Yard’s sea of asphalt and historic location made it an obvious choice. Gilbert pointed to two divisions in Charlestown: physically by a bridge, but also racially and socioeconomically.
“Our goal was to repair this divide through art,” Gilbert said. “We came at it as ‘How can we make a comfortable gathering space where people from the Bunker Hill projects can feel comfortable alongside tourists?’”
Gilbert and her team removed the fence around the lot to make it more welcoming and organized a community listening session so neighborhood residents could weigh in on the project. The outreach led them to choose the exhibit’s theme: mending.
The next step was to seek artists committed to audience engagement, inclusivity, and intersectionality. One of those artists was Sam Fields, a Massachusetts native and beneficiary of Now + There’s Accelerator program, which supports up-and-coming artists. Her work, “Stay,”, a hanging mural created by weaving and splicing over 360 colorful nautical ropes, was created with help from her current and former students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA). She explained “Stay” was inspired by the Navy Yard’s complicated history as part of an institution that systematically excluded certain types of people.
“I feel like the theme of mending is in all of my work,” Fields said. “This piece is about mending our past and moving forward.”
Massiel Grullon also took inspiration from the location. Her mural, “Knotical Waves,” features blue and green curving lines painted directly onto the ground. The colors are meant to reflect Boston Harbor, and the curves, the knots from boat rigs. “Knotical Waves” is Grullon’s largest mural yet.
“I have family that lived in the Bunker Hill projects. I’ve had picnics near the lot and near the USS Constitution,” said Grullon, who spent a portion of her childhood in Charlestown. “So it’s really great to be able to pay homage to it.”
Half of the lot is dedicated to Ghada Amer’s “Women’s Qualities.” Amer grew up in Cairo, but attended SMFA for graduate school in the 1980s. Her work consists of a circle of large-scale flower beds that spell out the words most often associated with women, as revealed by a regional poll. The native plants highlighted in her artwork all have various medicinal qualities.
“I’m creating a space where people can do what they want and think what they want,” Amer said. “It’s meant to be a meditative garden.”
Now + There has planned several community events at the lot this summer — including hands-on workshops, walking tours of the Navy Yard, and live band performances. One work, spearheaded by Boston artist Kyle Browne, will evolve throughout the exhibit’s run. Browne will lead kids from Charlestown youth organizations in making their own nautical flags to be rotated on a flagpole at the lot.
“I hope people will take a moment to appreciate that art is a critical part of building more resilient and connected communities,” Gilbert said. “I want them to walk away feeling connected to the space and connected to someone new they meet there.”