Cedric Douglas, winner of the Uphams Corner Public Arts Commission, has
a daunting task ahead - to engage the residents and businesses in a
conversation about public art. The Arts committee under the
direction of DSNI and funding by The Boston Foundation found his
proposal most compelling. His winning proposal is already taking shape
with a brazenly decorated UP truck designed to comb the neighborhood
streets for anyone who is curious, loves talking, is passionate and
Congratulations to artist Cedric Douglas, winner of the Uphams Corner Public Art Commission.
For more than a month, select members of the Uphams Corner community
have known who the winner of the Boston Foundation's Uphams Corner
Public Arts Commission was but nobody was talking. Not just a
simple announcement, email or rumor would do for a community being
prepped as a "destination for the arts." Announcing the Arts
Commission winner had to be carried out with pomp and circumstance.
Ensuring Mayor Walsh, the Boston Foundation and the other ArtPlace
committee members were available meant the event had to be rescheduled
several times. Finally, the date was set.
evening of April 9, 2014 a large panel truck, distinctly painted in
mural style and staged in front of the Strand Theatre's entry foyer,
was conspicuously blocking the view. Why? It signaled a
"dead give-away" and who the winner was.
Finalist Presentations in January
Back in January, the five finalists presented their detailed engagement
plans on how they would handle the arts commission mandate. Only
one presenting artist suggested a methodology that had any ability to
get "just that close" to the community. What the artist proposed
was a variation on the "ice cream truck." Those are not his words
but the concept is the closest analogue familiar to just about
Fundamental to the Uphams Corner Public Art Commission is the
requirement that the designated artist be able to relate to, and
engage, the community on the topic of public art. What is
ultimately built is not intended to be the artist's creation.
Rather the artist is charged with facilitating design and
implementation based on community input, participation and
The Challenge is Daunting
Imagine walking down a typical residential side street in Uphams
Corner. Ask yourself: What about the street engages you, if
anything? The people? The street "furniture"? The
answer is generally not the residents because they can't be
found. It's also not the houses and landscaping what with Ipods
keeping us permanently company. Besides, who needs to find
anything on the street to interact with?
Missing from our walking experience is the human element, the sense of
community - people on their front porches chatting, eating, singing,
strumming a guitar or playing cards. Missing is the sound and
sight of kids running around having fun.
occasion, people can be seen when they open their doors to the sound of
sirens, whether from police or ambulance or fire truck. No matter
what the temporary attraction to the "outside," the front door is
re-locked and life returns to normal on the inside, not outside.
Getting people to vote is a near impossibility. Getting them to attend
important meetings is frustrating even if you flyer the entire
neighborhood. Asking residents for feedback about public art and
what will you get?
• Come to a meeting (come to me).
• Send me your ideas.
• Fill out this questionnaire
What you get is low response and even lower participation.
The one positive exception to the rarely-to-be-opened, locked front
door, is the ice cream truck moving slowly down the street, blaring a
repetitive but melodious tune and one that everyone associates with
"ice cream" especially the kids. Hear the sound and though you may not
know the driver personally, you do know what the truck is delivering
and (if hungry), you freely open your front door.
is it going to take to engage members of the community in a meaningful
way whether they like art or not, whether they understand art or not,
whether they even care if public art is, or is not, in Uphams
Corner? Bullhorns? Contests? Scholarships for your
approach to the engagement challenge will foster a willingness and
enthusiasm on the part of the ordinary people to contribute to the
creation of public art and to believe they can make a difference?
Human Centered Design
The challenge is how to bring the "art making / thinking / designing"
to the people, not the other way around.
answer to the community involvement challenge lies in the concept of
human centered design (HCD), a recent growing movement, practiced by
the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4Si) and many other
organizations like IDEO.org and discussed on TED Talks. As
described at a recent Boston Globe meeting for journalists, HCD begins
with empathy - with an empathetic relationship between yourself and
another human being and grows through the process of establishing a
Applying that to the challenge of public art participation in Uphams Corner
you and I can engage with each other in a down-to-earth setting where
you work with me to express yourself and show me your art – show me who
you are and what is important to you
- If I have the sensitivity to see and understand your creativity and artistic expression
- If we can continue to REFRAME the question as we interact with each other
- Then we may have the beginnings of a conversation about public art.
Up Truck profile from the front
Inside the van on the driver's side
In his January presentation, Cedric made a bold suggestion on how to
reach the people of Uphams Corner. He imagined, he said, a panel
truck decorated attractively and festively - in a manner that would
appeal to all the people's street-wise artistic sensibilities - across
the spectrum of the young and the not so young. He imagined
driving down residential streets slowly in his arts mobile, maybe
playing familiar music and then parking it, opening the back open and
inviting people to talk and expresses themselves. He would design
the inside of the truck to provide space and facilities for creative
expression. All of this would be designed as a framework to
attract people into conversation and the exchange of ideas.
Cedric was describing his truck, it seemed to come alive. In its
journey down the street, no young kid or parent had to run after it,
looking for a quick exchange of dollars for ice cream. The Arts
Truck (he calls it the Up Truck) would "stay a while" giving the
artists and artists to be a chance to mingle in artful conversation and
activities. What better way to get to know each other, to engage
in resident-driven conversation and, maybe, to express themselves
So here it is - the bottom-line.
The award is won and the journey has begun. Cedric is now the
Artistic Pied Piper of Uphams Corner, not the one who attracts children
to disappear but the one who attracts people to open their doors in
conversation, art making and the unfolding possibilities of life.
Congratulations, Cedric. May the journey be fruitful for all.
Inside the truck on the other side
Right side of Up Truck - arrows pointing to UP
|Posted: April 11, 2014 Nancy J Conrad
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