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public art wednesday: the cambridge street project

Yesterday I stopped by the Cambridge Arts Council gallery at City Hall Annex to check out the Cambridge Street Project exhibition.  The exhibition displays proposals of local artists for a temporary public art “corridor” along Cambridge Street, from Inman Square to the Lechmere T-stop.  This stretch has seen better days, and I am pleased and impressed that the City decided to use a major public art initiative to promote a new identity for Cambridge Street.  Visitors to the exhibition get to vote on their preferences, and then the winner receives a large grant to implement his or her project.

I was especially interested in the differences and similarities between the diverse proposals.  Several dealt with individual memory and how it relates to the physical environment: “Catch and Release” involved collecting audio stories and converting them into a digital soundscape; “Cambridge Street Stories” took individual stories and created permanent markers to them on the streetscape.  The former emphasized the process of sharing stories; the latter demonstrates the importance of commemorating small, individual moments in a permanent way.  “Telephones” had an audio art approach as well, positioning listening stations throughout the street in old phone booths.  I like that idea, since it’s interactive, but it lacked the “place-ness” of the other two story-based proposals.  “The WPA-2010” took another people-oriented approach: it plans to use the grant if it wins to support residents to create and execute their own projects.  This also seems, like “Catch” and “Stories,” to be about connecting people to their place, more than about *creating* a place with any particular intervention.  “Flocks” takes that kind of approach: rather than having something particular to say about Cambridge Street or its denizens, it just makes something extremely beautiful to look at.  The delicate, ephemeral “birds” in the proposal would  certainly enliven the space around them in a powerful way.  The only proposal that engaged history in any way (sigh) was “Plumbing Perspectives”, which encourages passers-by to peer through pipes to see historic photos of the place where they are standing, and listen through pipes to hear the sounds in the ground below them, among other things.

Hope this little teaser entices some of you to check out the exhibit, whether online or in person.

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