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Engaging communities + Grant recipients

Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

For over 30 years the BSA Foundation has awarded grants to support public education programs in Massachusetts related to the built environment. Rose Kennedy Greenway—a 2015 grantee—received a grant to support Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. The program engages knowledgeable and friendly volunteers in providing information about art on The Greenway, our contemporary art practices, and the park system. Learn more about Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy here.

Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy's summary of the program:

The project’s primary product is an ongoing public education program that provides trained, volunteer Arts Ambassadors in the park to engage visitors in conversations about artworks exhibited on The Greenway.

Who was the audience and what was the benefit?

The program engages Greenway visitors from all walks of life—downtown workers, residents from throughout Greater Boston, and tourists from around the world—and introduces them to world-class contemporary public art exhibitions that rotate annually.

Image courtesy of Amy De Genaro.

How did this program meet BSA Foundation funding goals?

The Conservancy’s Public Art Program engages people in meaningful experiences, interactions, and dialogue with art while giving artists unique opportunities to exhibit bold new work embodying 21st century Boston. Art Ambassadors are the voice of this program. Stationed near artworks on The Greenway, they interact with people of all ages and backgrounds to field questions and give tours, with the goal of elevating public understanding of art and design. Ambassadors are knowledgeable about contemporary art, the artwork on The Greenway, and the park’s contribution to the built environment of downtown Boston. They are an invaluable resource for park visitors.

What was the final product of your BSA Foundation grant-funded program?  

During the 2016 season, Art Ambassadors were stationed in two locations on The Greenway and provided information about all eight artworks exhibited throughout the parks. They focused on our major exhibition of the season: Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, installed around the Rings Fountain May–October. On several occasions they used the portable Uni DRAW cart to encourage visitors to engage with the artwork and the park environment through sketching. Art Ambassadors were also stationed at the interactive Truth Booth in the North End Park, April 13–15, where they encouraged visitors to share their personal truths in this video booth.

How did you deliver your program to your target audience?

Art Ambassadors were key to deepening the viewers’ experiences with the art. Twenty volunteer Art Ambassadors engaged 1,819 visitors in conversations from May 26–October 18. Schedules varied weekly depending on factors such as weather and special events, but typically pairs staffed 2–4 hour shifts, three days a week. Ambassadors reflected the diversity of Greenway visitors, from college students to professionals and retirees. Their experience spanned education, art, architecture, communications, law, and finance. Twenty five percent of Ambassadors were Asian and forty percent were fluent in a second language, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, Italian, French, Armenian, and Russian. 

Image courtesy of Amy De Genaro.

Evaluate how well your program met your intended goals.

The exhibition of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was a rare opportunity to exhibit an artist whose work is normally only seen in museum settings and bring his ideas to a broad public with the help of our trained volunteer Art Ambassadors. An estimated 1.5 million people viewed the installation, and we observed a significant increase in numbers of Asian visitors. The scale, beauty, and masterful detail of the work captivated passersby and drew them in. Art Ambassadors often started conversations with “What’s your zodiac sign?”, then moved into deeper issues raised by the work, such as repatriation and authenticity.

Additional developements

By happy coincidence, three major works by Ai Weiwei were on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Harvard Art Museums concurrent with our own exhibition, offering what the Boston Globe described as “a rare chance for Bostonians to take in the sweep of this important artist’s work—a blend of conceptual art and social activism that has tackled subjects from human rights and urban growth to the nature of authenticity.” Ai’s “Forever” (2003) and “Snake Ceiling” (2009) were presented as part of Megacities Asia at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) from April 3-July 17, and his video installation, “258 Fake” (2011) was recently acquired by the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge and went on view in February.

Art Ambassadors encouraged visitors who seemed especially interested in Ai to delve deeper into his work by visiting these exhibitions, and we also provided information about the MFA exhibition on our website. Likewise, the MFA provided information on and directions to Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads at the Megacities Asia exhibit. We also did a free public tour of public art on and off The Greenway with MFA curator Al Minor, attended by about 35 people.

Our Art Ambassadors had a fantastic season interacting with Greenway visitors and were instrumental in making the installation the success noted by the Bay State Banner:

"Boston lives and breathes around the artwork. Children play in the fountain and do cartwheels on the grass. Food trucks serve hungry teens and families browse the local food and craft stands around the square. … Zodiac takes art from behind the expensive ticket price and the velvet rope, and makes it a part of life."

To learn more about how the BSA Foundation is making an impact in communities, please come to BSA Space for a one hour “tour” of BSA Foundation programs. On the tour, board members and volunteers will tell stories about how Foundation programs, and the power of design, are positively changing the lives of real people. Foundation Conversations are held on the second Wednesday of every month. Events are free, but seats are limited. Check for upcoming dates and to reserve your seat.