Huge, colorful orbs line up in a row down the Tremont Street side of Boston Common. It looks like a giant might be marshalling his marbles. Get up close, and you'll see that the spheres, each 5 feet in diameter, are globes, fancifully decorated and proffering solutions to climate change.
"Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet" has landed in Boston. The public art project, for which artists designed globes with green strategies to contend with environmental issues, originated in Chicago in 2007 and has traveled the world. The globes, 48 in all, can be found at sites such as the Esplanade, Copley Square, and Logan Airport. The Common is globe central, with 26.
"It's hard to use the words 'global warming' and 'fun' in the same sentence," said environmental activist and "Cool Globes" founder Wendy Abrams. "We manage to do that."
Abrams cites two inspirations for the project: the wrecked cars that Mothers Against Drunk Driving pointedly deploy in their Crash Car Program, and the painted cow sculptures that showed up in the streets of Chicago in 1999 — a public art project that prompted Boston to follow suit with painted cod.
With the totaled cars, Abrams said, "I love the idea of confronting people, but I wanted to offer solutions."
As for the cows: "Let's use public art to get people's attention," Abrams said. "The globes have a message. This exhibit has a call to action." When she first pitched the idea to the mayor's office in Chicago, she had modest ambitions, but the project garnered attention. "People called and said, 'How do I bring this here?' " Abrams said. "Cool Globes" has since traveled to such cities as Houston, Vancouver, Jerusalem, and Amsterdam. Boston is stop number 15.
While many of the globes travel with the exhibition, the project also vitally enlists locals — artists, sponsors, government officials, schools, and more.
"This is community-wide," says Abrams. "The Museum of Science, Logan, everyone across the city [is saying], 'What can I do to be part of this chorus of voices speaking out on this topic?' "
Andrea Sparks, an art teacher at the Park School in Brookline, invited students from pre-kindergarten through ninth grade to participate. They chose biodiversity as a theme, and drew flora and fauna from a part of the world they had studied this past school year. Sparks collaged dozens of the drawings onto the globe.
"It arrived at the very end of the school year, and we decided to do it anyway, because it seemed like a fun way to express our concern for the planet," says Sparks. "It can be daunting to think how much we're up against. But this had a feeling of celebration."
Boston sculptor David Phillips painted his globe brilliant blue and green, and then cast 500 individual frog forms and attached them. "I know the frog population worldwide is very stressed," he says. Phillips is something of a frog man — he created the bronze frogs near the Frog Pond in the Common.
Some of the globes are clever, such as Lindsay Obermeyer's "Warm Up Boston: Wear a Sweater," for which she has clad her globe in a blue knit. Others are more eye-catching, such as Yair Engel's "Affluenza," covered in bright plastic throwaways — a globe with a cautionary message that's nonetheless a visual bauble.
On a sunny day earlier this week, the globes caught the eyes of many people strolling along the Common. Helen Li stopped to take a few pictures. "It's a very good idea," she said. "It's simple, it's useful, it's educational, and it's fun."
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.