Artists and the city of Boston team up
Can a quilt help women recovering from substance abuse? Can nature videos revitalize an urban landscape? And can music foster difficult conversations about race and gun violence?
The city of Boston came one step closer to answering those questions this week when it picked the three winning candidates in the city’s new artist-in-residence program, or Boston AIR.
The winning artists — musician and composer Shaw Pong Liu, video artist Georgie Friedman, and visual and performing artist L’Merchie Frazier — will each receive a $20,000 stipend as part of a six-month residency to develop projects while embedded with various city departments. Each project will also receive a $5,000 budget.
“I would like to congratulate the chosen artists on this accomplishment and thank them for helping us to integrate the arts in our core city services,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh in a statement. “Boston AIR is just one of the many ways we’re working to invigorate Boston’s cultural scene and support local artists whose innovation and creativity can benefit the people of Boston.”
The artists were chosen from 11 candidates for Boston AIR, a program the city developed in conjunction with the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Though one of the original candidates dropped out, the remaining 10 worked closely with City Hall counterparts over the past several months to develop their project ideas, which they presented to the public last month before a panel of 10 judges selected the winners.
It was extremely clear and definitive who the top three were,” said Julie Burros, the city’s chief of arts and culture. “I’m hoping this will lead to some very fruitful thinking that informs and may lead to positive changes in some city departments. I’m also hoping for some great art to get created.”
With the new program, Boston joins a growing number of cities that have looked to artist-in-residency programs to enliven city life or encourage creative thinking among city workers. Funded in large part by a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, the Boston program is seeking a bit of both.
“I’d love for creative problem-solving to be foregrounded,” said Burros. “But I know that the artists will want to create, so each will have to find the right balance between process and product. That’s part of the journey.”
Working with the Office of Women’s Advancement and Office of Recovery Services, Frazier will develop “When Women Succeed: The Quilted Path,” a multidisciplinary fiber-art project that explores substance abuse among area women. Incorporating public workshops, poetry, and a movable art installation in which a “quilted poetry path” will lead visitors to a nylon “safe house,” Frazier’s proposal describes a work intended to present a possible “path to recovery.”
“I’m interested in looking at how substance abuse impacts our community — especially women who have families and children,” said Frazier. “I have not seen a place in the city where their voices are raised.”
For her project, “Time to Listen,” Shaw Pong Liu will partner with the Boston Police Department to address gun violence, race, and police-community relations. Liu’s proposal seeks to support the families of murder victims by providing live music at funerals, memorials, and public vigils. It also proposes a series of music sessions for police officers “who self-identify as musicians or non-musicians,” as well as songwriting workshops — some for police, some for teens — where participants can “share their views on gun violence, policing, and race.” Ultimately, Liu hopes the two groups will collaborate to produce two or three songs.
“I’ve been interested in seeing how musicians could support conversations around gun violence and support victims’ families,” said Liu. “But I thought it was important to recognize that we are in a very high-stakes moment nationally around policing, law enforcement practice, and race.”
Friedman will work with the Department of Neighborhood Development and the Parks and Recreation Department on “Altering the City: Video Landscape,” a site-specific video installation that projects images of the natural world onto vacant buildings.
“We see a lot of vacant or foreclosed properties in the city,” said Friedman. “One part of this project is revitalizing those areas, making them more visually appealing and livelier: A sort of digital park.”
Karin Goodfellow, director of the Boston Art Commission and one of the judges, described Friedman’s project as an opportunity to “engage people with urban planning in their neighborhoods.”
Goodfellow added that she hoped the residency program would forge new relationships. “I was struck by the real appreciation and understanding that the city folks had for the artist cohort,” said Goodfellow. “At the same time, the artists seemed genuinely moved and in a way surprised by the dedication and work that was being done by their neighbors, the city workers.”