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Jewish Arts Collaborative’s ‘Be the Change’ offers mixed-media public art with mixed results

Installed in the Fenway, the exhibit features seven artworks by local artists based on the Jewish tzedakah box.

Ruth K. Henry, “Free to Learn,” mixed-media sculpture.JArts

Jewish Arts Collaborative’s “Be the Change” challenges artists to be “artivists,” as Laura Mandel, JArts’s executive director, puts it in a video, and to use public art to raise awareness about social justice.

Installed in the Fenway, “Be the Change” features seven artworks by local artists based on the Jewish tzedakah box, in which change is collected for people in need. In Hebrew, “tzedakah” means charity; its root, tzedek, means justice. The artworks pose questions elucidated on labels, such as “How do we respect and appreciate our diversity?” Each has a QR code to scan to learn more.


But these pieces are too easy to pass by. Some don’t work together. Others are in easy-to-ignore locations.

Cicely Carew, "Wishing Well," wood, spray paint, aluminum, mesh.JArts

Two sculptures beautifully located on Kilmarnock Street make for a tonal mismatch. Cicely Carew’s hopeful “Wishing Well” overflows with frothy peach and blue mesh, inviting viewers to wish for safe, accepting, and empowering spaces for BIPOC people. Its companion, Caron Tabb’s “I Am My Sister’s Keeper,” is a white-as-marble statue of a woman with black chains spilling from her open womb. Tabb’s sculpture is the only one with a label that pins viewers down as “you” rather than a communal “we”: “How will you work for Reproductive Justice?”

Inspiring the public to act requires a vision for the future as well as a cold eye on reality. Tabb’s piece would make a great protest sign. As public art, it’s too pat.

Chanel Thervil, "Searching For Home," wood with plastic dollhouse pieces. JArts

Muralist Dana Woulfe’s abstract, explosive, and too small “Power of the Vote” is almost lost around the corner on Brookline Avenue. Four others are in a no-man’s land next to a garage driveway on Van Ness Street. Still, this group gels as an unexpected little art-and-justice encampment. Chanel Thervil’s “Searching for Home” takes on racial discrimination in real estate, known as redlining, fencing a dollhouse behind towering polls on a grass-green pedestal with three raised fists. Written on the back of the house: “Where do you find home?”


Ruth Kathryn Henry’s “Free to Learn,” featuring a school desk and chalkboards, invites viewers to answer questions: What do you want the freedom to teach? To learn? When I was there, the chalkboards were covered with answers such as “civics” and “indigenous history.”

Such easy interactivity is a gold standard for this kind of public art. It prompts us to take part in the art and in the discussion. “Be the Change” sometimes hits that note, and sometimes misses it.


At Kilmarnock and Van Ness streets and Brookline Avenue through late October.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at