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Floating clowns and a unicorn: Art installations aim to draw more foot traffic to downtown Boston

Artist Max Streicher's “Endgame (Nagg & Nell)” clowns are among the "Winteractive" pieces on display in downtown Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Four art installations have taken up temporary residence in downtown Boston, including two enormous balloons made to look like clown heads and an 11,000-pound steel whale sculpture, part of a free winter art experience produced by the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District.

“Why not have a couple of inflated clowns in downtown Boston?” said Michael Nichols, president of the district. “We’re focused on trying to drive more foot traffic into the downtown and give people more reasons to be here.”

The “Winteractive” art experience will have a total of 16 artworks that will be installed by Wednesday and stay up for three months, until Boston Marathon weekend, Nichols said. The nonprofit partnered with three curatorial groups from Canada to host artwork from eight international artists, he said.

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A woman photographed the whale sculpture named “Echoes – A Voice from Uncharted Waters” by British artist Mathias Gmachl. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The first piece, the steel whale sculpture, “Echoes — A Voice from Uncharted Waters” was installed Dec. 17 at the Downtown Crossing steps. The two clown heads, “Endgame (Nagg & Nell)”, made out of recycled billboards, were installed Wednesday and Thursday at the Harlem Place Alley.

Also on Thursday, two more pieces went up, a “diorama of winter” called “Territories 2.0” at 175 Federal St., and a “unicorn” called “Myth and Evidence” at 1 Boston Place, Nichols said.

Nichols said Downtown Boston BID asked the Canadian groups to help curate the installations because they needed people with “real art chops” and he considers Canadians experts in winter. All but one of the artworks will have been curated in partnership with the groups from Canada, he said.

Nichols said among the next 12 installations are interactive pieces that people can feel, touch, and even slide on.

Ramell Ross and Jesse Carter carried the unicorn “Myth and Evidence” for placement as part of a display in the "Winteractive" art exhibit. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Eventually we’re going to have things people can crank or pedal and get light and sound and music,” Nichols said.

Nichols said in the winter, downtown is traditionally quieter, and he wanted residents to “enjoy their city.”

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“We Bostonians stick to our habits in the winter, and usually they’re indoor,” Nichols said. “We wanted to give people a reason to get out and explore the city in the winter.”

Paul Rush, 70, of Beacon Hill, said the initiative is “incredible” as he leaned back to capture the perfect picture of the two giant clown heads.

“Downtown used to be so active, now it’s kind of sad,” Rush said. “They should have more things like this to bring people to downtown.”

Marie J, 54, of Falmouth, worried that the huge, floating clowns would have the “opposite effect” for downtown.

“They very well may drive people away,” she said.

She took a photo of the installation because she is “facing her worst fear.”

But, Stephen Kelley, 73, of the South End, and Mark Barry, 67, of Fenway, ventured downtown just to see the clown installation that a friend had told them about.

“It’s fabulous,” Kelley said. “We walk around the city whenever there’s art, especially since the pandemic.”

Laurent Pagano worked on the installation "Myth and Evidence" behind a frosted glass display across from the Old State House. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
The tail of the sculpture named “Echoes – A Voice from Uncharted Waters.”David L. Ryan/Globe Staff


Ava Berger can be reached at ava.berger@globe.com. Follow her @Ava_Berger_.