Four artists took on the challenge of creating meaningful art that could easily be overlooked on an already crowded canvas: Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington.
Two of them pinned blue acrylic butterflies to a 25-foot-long chainlink fence along the bikeway. Another stenciled foxes and rabbits underneath an overpass. The last artist spray-painted words along the surface of the bike path itself.
Fittingly, the series of public art installations celebrating the bikeway’s 25th anniversary is called PATHWAYS, a joint effort of Arlington Public Art and the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture.
“Arlington Public Art pursues different initiatives and saw this as a great opportunity to put art into a very busy...very well trafficked location, a place that is quite beautiful and kind of has a lot of the qualities that define the character of Arlington,” said Cecily Miller, the project curator.
Three pop up exhibitions went up during the month of June before and two larger projects will be installed during September.
The project was conceived as the arts groups applied to the Massachusetts Cultural Council to designate both Arlington Heights and East Arlington as one cultural district, easy for both residents and tourists to identify.
The Minuteman Bikeway acts as a bridge between the two neighborhoods, so it made sense to include the bikeway in the application process. A decision on the cultural district isn’t expected until fall, but the PATHWAYS project will proceed anyway.
“We started thinking about ways to bring art to the bikeway,” Miller said, “and this made it a great opportunity to join the celebration of the anniversary.”
A joint committee selected the artist Frank Vasello for one of the fall installations, which will be integrated into a staircase connecting the bikeway to a playground.
Adria Arch will be in charge of the second fall piece: a community knitting project. As part of the Arlington Knitting Brigade, 60 volunteers will knit giant sleeves for seven trees.
Organizers hope the PATHWAYS project will also be involved in a celebratory bike ride Sept. 23 commemorating the bikeway’s 25th anniversary, Miller said.
One of the three pop-up pieces, Flutter, is a loaned installation. The artists Claudia Ravaschiere and Michael Moss initially installed blue translucent plexiglass butterflies along a 250-foot chainlink fence in Boston. It was redesigned in Arlington to run along 25 feet.
“We like the diversity of a symbol that took on meaning in many different cultures because Arlington is very diverse too,” Ravaschiere said of the butterfly. “It also speaks to journeys traveled because certainly they have many, many stages in their lives before they become something we think of as really beautiful.”
One of the main goals of the PATHWAYS projects was to make the artwork seem as natural as possible.
“I think in its incarnation in Arlington it’s fairly subtle,” Moss said. “It’s sort of like an unexpected discovery.”
Subtlety also runs through the work of a London street artist who goes by the name STEWY. His series of animal stencils called City Fox is a pedestrian underpass that runs along the bikeway.
The third piece is titled the Rhetoric of Opposites. The artist Nilou Moochhala, an Arlington resident for the past nine years, said her work was inspired by the divisive nature of the current political climate.
Moochhala used temporary spray paint to write 25 pairs of opposite words down the length of the bike path, such as include/exclude, visible/invisible, and you/me. She wanted her piece to utilize the opposing directions of the bikeway.
“That’s always been an interest of mine: how to use public art and design to connect people potentially or to provoke them to think about the spaces that they go through,” Moochala said.
“The idea behind art is to provoke and cause you to think. You don’t have to necessarily like it, but if it’s created some sort of reaction in you, I consider that successful.”
Sophia Eppolito can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.