Arlington, MA

Contact Name
Adria Arch
Project Dates
Annually each July (next one is July 10 - 12, 2015)
Started as a way to raise money for Arlington's first large scale public art initiative, Chairful Where You Sit is now an annual celebration of creativity. Each year, community members are invited to find and then creatively enliven a functional chair that was destined for the trash pile. The chairs are displayed in a public venue over a weekend and are sold to raise funds and awareness for public art. Collaboration with the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum has been a fruitful addition to this grassroots funding effort that doubles as a delightful temporary public art exhibition in Arlington Center each summer.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
APA is a committee of the Town of Arlington, but we have no operating budget. We needed a way to raise money and bring awareness of the benefits of public art to a fairly conservative community. The specific goals are to create community, provide an unusual, accessible, participatory art event, and raise funds for Arlington Public Art.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The very first Chairful Where You Sit was a guerilla-type art event held for a full week on the Minuteman Bikeway that runs through Arlington. Very little publicity accompanied the exhibition, partly because we wanted to surprise people with an unexpected exhibition in an unusual place. That initial effort spawned 30 creatively-transformed chairs and raised $3000! The funds helped us to accomplish our first initiative of a digitally printed mesh vinyl banner, 25' x 80', that was hung on the side of the Arlington Boys and Girls Club. The subsequent Chairful events have been bigger but shorter in length, while attempting to engage more people and different segments of Arlington. Now the event is held in front of the Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum in Arlington Center, a very appropriate site because Dallin not only lived in Arlington, but his public sculptures are famous in Boston.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The project partners include the Arlington Board of Selectmen and the Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum, as well as grant money from the Arlington Cultural Council. The Board of Selectmen grant us permission each year for the use of public space. When we moved the exhibit from the bikepath to the park in front of the Dallin Art Museum, we engaged the Dallin Art Museum. The museum is staffed by volunteers and they need attention and funds. Chairful Where You Sit has given them a more visible profile in Arlington. Last year we held a family read aloud hour in the exhibit to bring more young families and children to see the chairs. We also asked local businesses and restaurants to donate small prizes for our annual Peoples' Choice awards.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Chairful Where You Sit has grown into a flagship,, much-anticipated annual event. Arlington residents resonated with the idea of rescuing chairs from the trash stream and reinventing them. The exhibit engages both professional artists and community members who love the idea and want to try it. In this way, we are making public art both accessible and fun. Purchasing an affordable and unique chair by a neighbor or friend has turned out to be an incredibly popular idea, and has allowed APA to raise enough funds to produce both an annual public art exhibit at a local park and a transformer box mural project for which artists are paid a stipend. We believe that the success of these Chairful events has put our group on the map and has opened up many peoples' eyes to the community-building and economic growth potential of placing art in the public realm.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Chairful Where You Sit was inspired by the temporary public art events I have seen in Somerville, MA and Stowe, VT's annual "Exposed" exhibition. I am also aware of other initiatives that are based on having artists paint the same type of chair, animal, or other mascot. Chairful is different in that it invites the public to be part of the exhibition and also to re-use a common and accessible object that might otherwise be thrown away.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Each year in the spring, a call goes out to announce the event and to solicit entries. Participants must fill out an application and send in a $10 fee. The application serves as a way to ensure that we will have a good number of entries. Publicity for the exhibit begins in June and ramps up toward the start of the exhibition. During the exhibit, volunteers help to set up and secure the chairs with chains, and they help to sell the chairs. A Peoples' Choice award turned out to be a great way to engage viewers and add to the excitement of the closing reception. Additional programming and networking with new groups happens in the months preceding the event. Both an opening reception and a closing awards ceremony are scheduled to bring more people to the exhibit, featuring musicians, speeches by town officials, and refreshments.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
When we began Chairful, the exhibit was on view 24/7 on the very public bikepath that goes through Arlington. This was a significant drain on our volunteers and it caused concern about the weather and potential vandalism. The second year, the exhibit was still on view for a full week and it was located in two sites: on the bikepath and in front of the Dallin Art Museum. This was too ambitious, and although it was very successful, we realized that we had to go back to a single site. The Dallin Museum connection was fortuitous because it gave us access to restroom facilities, water, and electricity for lighting at night. The third year of our event in 2014, we cut the exhibit to just three days and found that it was just as successful. Over the years, the event has gotten larger and much less "guerrilla", but it has also gained popularity and reached out to a wider and wider audience as more people know about it. This year we are planning an online method to both enter the exhibit and facilitate purchases of chairs.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
The main obstacle has been figuring out how not to burn out the volunteers that help to make the project happen each year.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Over the past three years of the event, I have learned ways to streamline and simplify the process. From cutting down the number of sites and days of the event, to working with the Town of Arlington to create an online submission form and credit card swipe ability, we are getting smarter about how to work more efficiently and still have a great project. I would say that time and experience were both instrumental in overcoming volunteer burn out. We aren't there yet, but it is better!
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Start small, forge relationships with town or city officials, and encourage local businesses to be involved in order to leverage the amount of money you can raise.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Chairful Where You Sit has contributed to Arlington's desire to be an arts and culture destination by helping our public art committee raise funds and awareness. Without this event, we would not have been able to complete our first public mural project, the Spy Pond Mural, featuring images by local teens. This was instrumental in putting the idea of public art on the map. The success of the project has spawned all the other projects we have accomplished including Art Rocks Menotomy, the first temporary public art exhibition in an Arlington park, and our Transformer Box Mural project (six boxes on Mass Ave were painted last summer and artists were paid for their efforts). Chairful is funky, accessible and fun - it has provided a way "in" to art for people of all ages. When you begin with a project like this, you gradually raise awareness and educate people about public art so that they are prepared for larger, more ambitious projects in the future. We have had tremendous press coverage on each event. I believe that we have changed the climate for the acceptance of public art in Arlington.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The project exceeded my dreams! The original intent was to complete funding for our Spy Pond Mural project, and I did not think that it might continue. Not only did we sell almost all of the chairs that first time in 2012, but we seemed to have tapped into a way for the general public to actively participate. They can ride on bikes or walk on the bike path and then sit on the chairs, vote for their favorite chair, and even purchase a chair to help fund other public art events.
How did you measure this success or progress?
The financial success has been measured through the sales of chairs. The first year we exhibited 35 chairs and sold 30, the second year we exhibited 65 chairs and sold 60, and the third year we exhibited over 100 chairs and sold 90.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Several of the chair artists received commissions for other artwork. A video about Chairful was created by Arlington Community Media, our local cable team. In 2013, we created a wall calendar from images of the chairs in Chairful which was sold as a fundraiser. Most unexpected is the great success in sales and public good will.