By Cassidy DeStefano, news correspondent
Boston residents can expect streetside innovation this winter when 11 hand-picked artists converge to draft public initiatives in forms ranging from illustration to interactive design as part of the city’s new Artists in Residency (AIR) program.
“Boston AIR is a program that the mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture is running in order to integrate artists into city work,” director Karin Goodfellow of the Boston Art Commission said.
Over the summer, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced a $100,000 award to the City of Boston from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support the program, which is now collaborating with the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Each artist will partner with a city department, such as Public Works or Parks and Recreation, and receive an initial $1,000 stipend to develop a project proposal relevant to expanding cultural opportunities in Boston. Then, in January, three winning proposals will get $20,000 and a six-month residency to further develop the project.
“The idea is that we are going to work with a group of departments and agencies in the city government to look at how they can conceive their projects, their programs and even their problems through an artistic eye,” selected artist Melissa Nussbaum Freeman said.
Goodfellow said that after reviewing nearly 110 applications, a jury of industry professionals selected Nussbaum and 10 other artists from various mediums and disciplines, including dance, film, spoken word and street art, to participate in the design project.
According to a press release on October 23, the program is the first part of Walsh’s Boston Creates initiative, which aims to build a shared vision for arts and culture between the public and private sector.
“We are excited to have these artists-in-residence on board to help us enhance and integrate our cultural capital into our core city services, for the benefit of all of Boston’s residents,” Walsh said in a statement.
Nussbaum, a social justice activist, has a few preliminary ideas to achieve this type of immersion. One involves staging dramatic sequences at public places including train stations and bus stops.
“I call it the ‘5P plan,’” she said. “It involves building pop-up public performance portable platforms and hosting small performances that would convey community stories.”
In other words, a pair of actors would mount the platform and deliver compiled stories from overlooked community members using a “feeding-in” technique, in which actors abandon paper scripts in favor of vocal delivery from another actor standing behind them. This offers a deeper and more genuine connection to the audience, Nussbaum belie-ves.
However, performance art is not the only method of delivery.
Film and visual artist Roberto Mighty plans to adapt a digital approach for his proposal, as much of his work outside the program deals with interactive installations.
“My work involves film, video, sound design, music and spoken word,” he said. “I am still formulating my specific concept, but I will be using computers heavily and interactive, site-specific installations.”
Mighty added that he feels a deep connection to diverse communities because of his dual ethnicity as an African-American and Latino. His background has led to an unconventional body of work full of pieces that take time and meticulous attention to create.
“I like to note the passage of seasons in my work and I like to go in deep on projects and spend time ruminating and mulling things over,” Mighty said. “And I’m absolutely committed to the notion of public art. I love creating things for people who have never stepped foot in a museum.”
Ultimately, Goodfellow hopes the three selected proposals can help bridge the gap between government projects and public appreciation of them.
“I think we hope that this is something that we can see happen again here and grow to become really part of our practice here at City Hall,” she said. “What the individual projects will be, I don’t know; but I’m really excited to see what develops organically.”
Photo courtesy Rozman Lynch