Pathways Aerial

Boston, MA

Contact Name
Laura Mandel
Project Dates
March 18 - May 1, 2018
Event, Cultural Heritage
Inspired by the universal themes of the Passover Exodus story, Pathways to Freedom was a public art installation on Boston Common in Spring 2018. Created by internationally-acclaimed social sculptor Julia Vogl, the project engaged a broad multi-cultural audience from across the area in a community-wide dialogue around freedom and immigration. 1,800 people in 27 locations across the Greater Boston area answered four questions about their own stories of freedom, creating uniquely patterned pins. These pins were translated into a 6,000 sq ft ground covering installation on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, viewed by an estimated 25,000 Boston residents and tourists. Audio stories of 44 participants complemented the project, and can be heard here:
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:
JArts uses the arts to bring people and communities together across geographic and cultural barriers.
Our lead goal of Pathways to Freedom was to delve into the particular story of freedom and immigration as told through the Jewish holiday of Passover, and highlight it as an example of the universal experience that is understood by people across Boston - an area comprised of people who have come here from many places.
We aimed to create a program model that was designed to engage community groups and individuals to come together for a common experience. By commissioning an artist who was not only able to create a beautiful and engaging end product, but one whose process is rooted in community engagement and "data" collection enabled us to reach deeply into the community and bring about a common conversation about and appreciation of freedom.
We sought to engage 1,500+ people across geographies, languages, and socio-economic levels in an important timely dialogue, and reveal its relevance to all. Artist Julia Vogl was able to reach 1,800 diverse community members because the project was mobile - bringing a cart with all the materials to the 27 different community encounter hosts/neighborhoods. Additionally, the four questions that were core to the project were translated into 7 different languages as to lower as many barriers as possible.
We aimed to create a project that had a beautiful, well crafted and high visibility end result, and that was equally rooted in community engagement and dialogue.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The goals of this project were consistent. Recognizing early on that community participation was central to the project's success, what grew was our focus on community outreach. Our success in reaching such diverse groups, and enthusiasm from them, led us to engage with far more individuals than we originally anticipated. JArts intends to continue working with the theme of freedom on a public art project annually. In spring 2019 we will be creating a project around Passover and National Poetry Month, featuring a Jewish freedom themed poem on MBTA poster and social media campaigns, all to be supplemented by a community toolkit to continue to enable our community partners to engage.
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):
Artist Julia Vogl imagined and implemented the entire project. JArts staff developed and produced the project in partnership with JArts leadership, fundraised to make the project possible, and developed all relevant partnerships. JArts leadership, inclusive of our board and Art Think Tank, leaders helped make community connections, raise funds, and support the artist with all needs. Boston Building Wraps printed the material for the final product, installed it, worked with local partners to ensure a smooth process. 32 community partners included arts institutions, community groups, cultural groups, development companies, small businesses, and local government. These partners hosted events and helped promote the project to their own communities. Boston Parks Dept was a critical partner in the siting and installation of the final piece. Boston Arts Commission leaders were critical advocates to getting the piece sited. City officials, in addition to Boston City Hall hosting an encounter, helped facilitate connections in various neighborhoods. Boston Properties was a main sponsor and host of the project. Art Week was a major promotional partner, taking place during ArtWeek. Media partners, including WGBH and WBUR as well as others, played roles as sponsors, covering the project throughout the process and bringing awareness throughout our community.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Public art not only beautifies our region - it provides much needed space for community dialogue and engagement. Throughout the project, community partners and participants told us what a unique, special, and opportunity this was. The project relied on the participation support of people from across sectors – parks, developers, young and established cultural organizations, media, and more – and brought them all together to work towards a common goal. By bringing 25,000 people into this conversation, we were able to show the strength and vibrancy of the entire Greater Boston area in a meaningful way. This success was noted by area politicians, developers, businesses, and community organizations.
While Boston has started to become more of a public art city, there are few/no opportunities of this caliber for such geographically diverse audiences to all participate in a project like this that are on a large scale and that encourage diverse community involvement.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
This project was motivated by a desire to put Jewish culture, and its intrinsic universal values, in a public space. This drew us specifically to Boston Common, not only the iconic and highest traffic part of Boston, but also a space that has represented freedom for hundreds of years. The concept for the piece was inspired by a combination of the Cow Parade model, Play Me I’m Yours street pianos, and the 2010 Sukkah City international design competition project.
We commissioned Julia Vogl because of her track record of creating projects similar in concept across the world, using community input and social "data" to bring communities together. Her "Home" project in Peckham, London and Tysons Tiles" project in Tysons Corner, VA were guiding examples of works that brought community voices together to discuss important regional issues - and to highlight them in ways that allowed all to take pride in the pieces.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
2 years out: Created a list of goals that informed a call to artists.
1.5 years out: Engaged artist Julia Vogl and began to brainstorm installation possibilties.
1 year out: Brought Julia to Boston for 3 days to understand the community and to determine the final location for the project.
6 months out: organized community groups to participate and met with the Boston Arts Commission and Parks Dept to secure the final location.
2 months out: Julia met with all community groups for “encounters” in which they participated in the project.
3 weeks out: Final piece was created.
3 days out: Final piece was installed. *the piece was scheduled to be on display for 1.5 weeks. Due to popular demand and letters to the Parks Dept, the project was extended for an additional 1.5 weeks.
Following the project: We debriefed with all community partners.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Siting of the piece posed critical challenges with the city and site stake holders, causing us to work with the artist on plans B and C just months before the project. Since we had many limitations on where the vinyl material could be placed, we ended up moving the final site just a month before the project.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Venue/siting made the project almost impossible. Between a lack of clarity on process and jurisdiction with the city and key partners/stakeholders, it was difficult to understand what was possible where. While the Boston Arts Commission approved the project, it did not ensure that the Parks Dept was able to site the piece given technical spec issues.

During the process of organizing community partnerships and encounters, scheduling conflicts and the like made it extremely complicated to organize the 27 encounters. We learned that it takes a full time staff person to make this happen.

While we managed to fundraise adequately for the project, we also found it difficult to bring in support for the project – partially because it was difficult to describe a project that did not yet exist, and partially because of limited funding options in the area.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
In terms of siting, building relationships with city partners in the Boston Arts Commission, local politicians, and using board contacts were critical.

Organization leaders and volunteers enabled us to connect with the many partners who were involved in the project, and we dedicated a staff person almost exclusively to the project for 3 months.

Ultimately the project was funded primarily by individual donors and existing JArts donors, in the belief that that would enable us to prove a concept for future success.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
- Start early and develop relationships with key partners and all relevant parties, and have a clear vision to share with them.
-Do your digging on WHO the partners are and what the process is.
-Engage an artist who can fully meet your goals – we wanted high caliber engagement and high-quality art, which is hard to find but was critical to the success.
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?
This project gave people a space and an outlet to discuss a timely and important conversation - to connect to one another and to be heard. It enabled a variety of civic, arts, and educational organizations to work together in a meaningful way. It brought an awareness and understanding of Jewish culture to many who knew nothing of Jewish culture, and opened the door to conversations about the cultural and historic roots of Boston. Because of this project, people across the region now better understand Jewish culture, the overall cultural makeup of the area, their own stories of freedom, and their neighbors.

Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
This project exceeded our goals in community engagement numbers, quality of interactions as gauged by anecdotal feedback, and overall viewership. We received far broader and deeper media coverage than on any prior project. The Parks Dept told us they were impressed and pleased with the feedback they received, and eager to work with us for a next project of a similar caliber in 2020. Our donors were happy to experience the end result, to hear the audio stories we captured, and have all maintained or grown their annual gifts.

The anecdotal feedback of partners exceeded our goals, proving to us that this was a unique and important opportunity in our community that served the purpose of bringing Boston area communities together for a shared experience.
How did you measure this success or progress?
- numbers of people engaged in encounters
- viewers at the site
- social media interactions showed and quantified diverse and ongoing community engagement
- extensive media coverage from WBUR, WGBH, WERS, Improper Bostonian, local papers, and other online outlets
- enthusiasm of community partners and an eagerness to continue working with us
- extension of the project due to community feedback and emails to City Hall and the Parks Dept
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
We were pleasantly surprised to find community partners who heard about the project and approached us to participate. Through the project we formed deeper relationships with an array of partners and organizations than we expected - and while we originally intended to make this a bi-annual event, we are now looking to make this an annual endeavor in some capacity.