Arts + Policy

Arts + Policy


The art of family reunification

The art of family reunification

Pilot program uses art spaces for foster child meetings

THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES and the Massachusetts Cultural Council – two agencies that would appear to have little in common – have launched a pilot program with the goal of using art to make supervised meetings between foster children and family members living in separate homes more enjoyable.

The pilot grew out of conversations between the two agencies initiated by Lauren Baker, the governor’s wife. Officials from the two agencies sat down to explore whether they could help each other, and their focus eventually shifted to siblings and family members who are living in separate foster homes, and how best to keep them in touch. They zeroed in on the actual meetings themselves, which typically take place across a desk in a gray government office.

“Everybody’s lightbulb went off in their head,” said Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. “We were, quite frankly, appalled to learn that these sibling reunions very frequently take place in the DCF conference room, one just like the one we were sitting in, which was very cold and sterile and unfriendly.”

After some brainstorming, officials from the two agencies decided to explore whether these meetings could take place in more artistic settings, such as museums and theaters.

Rep. Paul Donato, who was a foster child himself and recently learned about the pilot, said it makes sense to him. “Now not only are they going to have an opportunity to commiserate with each other, but more important they’re in a setting that is not just a DCF office where they have to sit down in a chair and look at each other and start talking,” he said. “Now you’re in a setting where, whatever the setting may be, you’re more comfortable, and you’re talking about not only what is important to you as a family, but – just as important – some of the things in the surrounding area.”

The pilot launched in July, and so far there has been a lot of enthusiasm but little action, except at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or MASS MoCA, which jumped in with both feet, again at the urging of Lauren Baker.

The gigantic museum in North Adams now hosts “Sibling Saturdays,” where children in the foster system can meet in Kidspace, a child-centric gallery; receive guided tours; and make art of their own.

MASS MoCA has also hosted more than a dozen supervised visits between parents and their children who are in foster care, and there have been some powerful responses to that, according to Jodi Joseph, the director of communications.

Last week, a boy who was on a school field trip at the museum was delighted by what he saw, and returned that night for a supervised visit with his parents, whom he excitedly led around the museum, according to Joseph.

Tim Okamura. Expectant Guard. Oil on canvas, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

In another instance a mother who was pregnant went to the museum for a supervised visit with her two children, and was struck by a painting by Tim Okamura called Expectant Guard, which is part of an exhibit called “Still I Rise,” showcasing women of color through history. The painting depicts two visibly pregnant women, one with her hair in an Afro and the other in braids, holding samurai swords, wearing camo pants and looking out toward the viewer. When she saw the painting, the mother, who is a woman of color, stopped in her tracks and said, “That’s me,” according to Joseph.

Funding for the MASS MoCA program comes from a grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, according to Joseph.

According to many of the participants in the early discussions, the idea for blending art and foster care started with a conversation between Lauren Baker and Nina Fialkow, the chair of the Cultural Council and a filmmaker. Falkow won a Daytime Emmy in 1994 for her work on This Old House, and she has produced some notable documentaries about current events, including The Great Hack and The Fourth Estate.

Fialkow and her husband David are friends with the Bakers, and in the years between his unsuccessful 2010 run and his victorious 2014 campaign, Charlie Baker worked as an executive-in-residence at David Fialkow’s venture capital firm, General Catalyst.

Lauren Baker, a board member of the Wonderfund, a non-profit that helps children in the care of the Department of Children and Families, facilitated the introduction between the two state agencies and then backed off. Walker said that Baker “became our bridge,” helping to arrange a meeting in Springfield last October that convened Cultural Council staff, social workers, and the people who run local arts institutions to come up with ideas for how to serve children in state care.

There was a second meeting this past February with cultural institutions and DCF staff, and then the launch of the pilot in July. The Cultural Council plans to evaluate the pilot this winter and then again at the end of 2020.

To participate in the program, cultural institutions must have ample space and activities, flexible availability, and a point-person at the institution to coordinate with DCF social workers, according to an outline by the Cultural Council. The social workers and families would be responsible for transportation.

Jane O’Leary, director of the playwright mentoring program at the Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield, attended the meetings about the pilot program and is excited about the possibility of hosting a meeting. O’Leary uses theater as a way for youths to write through and process their trauma, and she said it is easier for them to write lines for a scene than to speak more straightforwardly about the difficulties they are experiencing.

As O’Leary envisions it, the theater campus would offer more than just a space for foster children to meet with their family members. The theater, which puts on a range of performances in addition to the youth program that O’Leary runs, would also offer foster children a theatrical experience, such as tickets to a show.

O’Leary likes the concept. “It seems very doable and kind of the first step in partnering with these families that so deserve support,” she said.

Haymarket artwork mystery solved

Haymarket artwork mystery solved

Sculptures safely stored, dinged up a bit

THE MYSTERY OF the missing public artwork at Haymarket is solved: It was dug up by a contractor, but it’s now safely stored nearby and state officials plan to contact the artist to determine what should be done with it.

Mags Harries, the sculptor, was kept in the dark for more than a week after the public art was jackhammered out of the ground, and she was pleased to learn Friday that her sculptures weren’t trashed.

For years, the artwork titled Asaroton had been part of the streetscape in the area a couple blocks from City Hall that is host to a pushcart market for discounted fruit, vegetables, and fish on Fridays and Saturdays. The work consists of pieces of bronze sculptures in the shape of the detritus of the time and place – a piece of lettuce, the plastic rings of a six-pack, a comb. Harries said the work, which was first installed in 1976, was inspired by Roman mosaics depicting the scraps of food that would be tossed on the ground during a feast.

The installation had been removed in the early 1990s to make way for the Big Dig, and then a new version was installed in roughly the same location in 2006 once the highway tunnel project had been substantially completed. Harries has already made new sculptures for the third installation of the public artwork, which is being done with the support of a hotel developer constructing a six-story Canopy by Hilton on one of the last remaining parcels left over from the Big Dig.

Separate from that hotel project, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation paid contractor A.R. Belli $3.6 million to fix up the sidewalks across the street from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The contract called for the construction crew to “R&S,” or remove and stack, the bronze pieces, and that’s what A.R. Belli did.

“Normally if you have something on a job that’s of historical significance, there’s a lot more detail as far as handling them and everything. This was just a note to remove them and stack them,” said Bill Keaveney, general manager of the construction firm, who said he is now curious about the significance of the pieces. “We’ll keep them until told what to do with them.”

Plans in a contract provided by MassDOT direct workers to “R&S” or remove and stack the bronze artwork.

The crew used jackhammers and saws to pry the bronze pieces from the hardtop, and they are currently stored in buckets toward the back of a storage container cluttered with other stuff. The container is sitting on a sidewalk less than a block away from where the pieces were removed.

The work crew removed nearly all of the bronze sculptures in one spot on Hanover Street, but at the installation’s second location on Blackstone Street, the bronze pieces are still in the ground.

A couple of the dug-up pieces were “dinged up,” said Keaveney. “I think there was a couple that got twisted a little bit. You have to understand these were embedded in a hardscape product, so it’s not like you’re just taking them up with tweezers. We did the best we could.”

According to the hotel developer, the artwork was removed on September 26, and Keaveney said that timeline sounded pretty accurate, but he said the work took place over a number of days.

Earlier this week MassDOT acknowledged that a contractor had removed the artwork as part of the sidewalk upgrade, but officials wouldn’t say who had been hired to do the work or where the pieces wound up. MassDOT provided the name of the contractor on Thursday.

“MassDOT has asked: ‘Do we have them? Where are they? Are they in your lockbox? Can you send us a photo?’” Keaveney said. “We’ve actually written back to them asking for direction on where they want them to go because at this point we’d just as soon pass them off to somebody else.”

The disappearance of the artwork surprised the artist and dismayed passersby who appreciated the bronze sculptures of discarded food scraps and trash.

“It’s sad. It was a piece of history,” said Emily Robertson, who used to work in the area.

“It’s not a place where you normally see artwork,” said Amanda Quinlan, who lives nearby in the North End. “It’s really disappointing.”

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said Harries will be contacted to determine what should be done with the artwork. “No one’s called me,” Harries said Friday. “They do have an obligation to contact me.”

State agency offers $500,000 in place-making funds

State agency offers $500,000 in place-making funds

MassDevelopment matching crowd-sourced money

MASSDEVELOPMENT IS OFFERING a total of $500,000 in matching grant money over the next 3 ½ months to municipalities and nonprofits seeking to launch creative place-making projects across the state.

The money is part of a nearly four-year effort by the authority to revitalize downtowns and commercial districts by combining state and crowd-sourced funds. MassDevelopment is accepting applications in this latest round through January 15 and approving them on a rolling basis.

The initiative, called Commonwealth Places, has provided funding for the second Beyond Walls festival in Lynn, the POW! WOW! public arts festival in Worcester, and the PROVA! venue in Brockton. In all, 67 projects have received a total of $4.1 million in funding – $1.8 million from MassDevelopment and $2.3 million from local, crowd-funded donations via the website Patronicity.

“Projects must demonstrate that they will activate a new or underused space that is open to and accessible by the public,” the MassDevelopment website says. “It is important that these projects have established public awareness and local momentum. The project should be located in a downtown or commercial area and enhance the public realm at the pedestrian scale.”

The MassDevelopment website provides a sampling of possible projects, including streetscape improvements, pocket parks, pop-up parks and retail establishments, farmers’ markets, bike paths, and community theatre rehabs.

To be eligible for MassDevelopment funds, the project must require a minimum of $10,000, with three-quarters of the money going for capital costs. Preference is given to projects that leverage additional funding. Participants must be backed by a municipality or a nonprofit and must reach the crowdfunding goal in 60 days. No more than $10,000, or 35 percent of the funds raised, whichever is less, can come from an individual donor.

The program has no geographic restrictions, but the MassDevelopment website indicates preference is given to projects that help low-income populations. Projects in communities with a median household income equal to or less than the state median household income can qualify for matching grants up to $50,000.  The topping out point is $25,000 in communities where the median household income is between 100 percent and 120 percent of the state median. Communities with median household income anywhere above 100 percent of the state level can qualify for matching grants of up to $50,000 if the project has a “direct and significant impact on low-income populations,” according to the website.

Despite the restrictions, a number of organizations in relatively well-to-do communities have won matching funds. A group in Newton earlier this year received a $7,500 matching grant from the agency for a program to stamp the words of 10 poems on to city sidewalks. Groups in Cambridge got $25,000 for a mural project in Central Square and $30,000 for math learning installations at a city park. A Somerville group got $50,000 to refurbish the Bow Market Plaza in Union Square and a group in Dedham won a $50,000 matching grant to turn the auditorium of a former elementary school into a performance space.

Matching grants have been awarded to a number of lower-income communities, including Lynn, Salem, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Pittsfield.

Haymarket art hauled off with no warning

Haymarket art hauled off with no warning

Artist’s bronze ‘garbage’ sculptures removed amid roadwork

WITH NO NOTICE to the artist, a groundbreaking work of public art was ripped out of the ground in Boston’s Haymarket last Thursday and carted off.

The art consists of bronze depictions of some of the castoff scraps from the city’s long-running pushcart marketplace – green beans, lettuce, newspapers.  A contractor working on crosswalks for the state Department of Transportation tore up the roadway, including the bronze artwork, and hauled it off.

“I don’t know where it’s gone,” said Mags Harries, the sculptor.

Officials at the Department of Transportation, which is having work done on the sidewalks and crosswalks to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, acknowledged on Wednesday that the art was removed but didn’t say where it was taken.

Harries originally installed her sculpture in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration.  It’s titled Asaroton, and it references a style of Roman mosaic that depicts the detritus from feasts on tile floors. Harries said that Boston powerbrokers were aghast four decades ago when her sculpture of garbage was selected, but Harries said it was not meant to be disparaging, but rather a tribute to the market, and a snapshot of the era as seen through what is discarded.

“What happened to my art?” asked Mark Jaquith, a Cambridge resident who works nearby the installation and noticed Tuesday that it had been torn up. “I thought it was one of the awesomest things. Where else are you going to get a memorial to garbage that’s actually historically significant?”

A bronze glove is one of the few remaining bits of public art remaining in a street-crossing that was torn up and replaced by MassDOT. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

Haymarket is open for business on Fridays and Saturdays. Nestled between City Hall and the North End, it is a free-wheeling, cash-operated, open-air market with bargain-basement prices on fruit, vegetables, and fish.

“I loved the Haymarket. I went there every Saturday – got my rotten fruit,” said Harries, who said her sculpture was the city’s “first site-specific” sculpture.

About a decade and a half after the sculpture was first installed, it had to be removed to make room for construction of the Big Dig highway tunnel project. For about 10 years, the sculptures were displayed at the Museum of Science. Harries now owns those old pieces of bronze from the first installation, she said.

In 2006, after the new highway tunnel opened, new bronze sculptures were embedded in the cement around the Haymarket site, but Harries said it was a “shoddy job,” and the pieces took more wear and tear than she had hoped.

Harries said she had known for some time that the sculptures would eventually be removed again for roadwork, but she expected to be notified when it happened.

“There were a few pieces I wanted to keep,” she said.

Working with the developer of a Haymarket hotel, Harries plans to install new replacements next fall, and she said the new location will be an upgrade. The new sculptures are finished and in storage.

The new Haymarket hotel is a six-story Canopy by Hilton that will provide some amenities – water, power, and trash-service – to the pushcart vendors, according to Yvette Tetreault of CV Properties, one of the developers. The site of the hotel is one of the last parcels left over from the Big Dig, and Tetreault said construction should begin in a couple weeks with the hotel expected to open in the spring of 2021.

Until last Thursday, Sept. 26, the bronze statutes were located in two locations, on Blackstone Street and on nearby Hanover Street, according to Tetreault. Someone working for MassDOT ripped up nearly all of the installation on Hanover, but the artwork on Blackstone is still there.

MassDOT didn’t say who it hired to do the work, but officials said they knew the artist had already recast the artwork. State officials said the artwork embedded in the sidewalk is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the new artwork will be installed next to a crosswalk on Blackstone Street.

Jon Calleva, owner of JPC Masonry, said he is a subcontractor doing work reinstalling bricks on a sidewalk nearby but he was not involved in removing the artwork.

Neither Harries nor Tetreault know where the chunks of art-embedded street were taken. “It would be great to find out,” said Harries. Apart from the sculptures’ artistic value, “the scrap value of the bronze is huge,” Harries said.

As the aphorism goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Although she is not happy about how the artwork was ripped up without any notice to her, Harries said she put it in the street for a reason.

“It’s very hard with public art because you put it out there, and it gets the abuse. And I chose to put it in the street,” said Harries. “I think it’s important to think about history as burnishing over time. And I really had wanted the piece to get more abstracted over time and be worn away by car tires and people’s feet. It’s really a commentary on how we perceive history, but also a celebration of the place.”

 

Barr donates $500,000 to MassDevelopment

Barr donates $500,000 to MassDevelopment

Money goes for arts initiatives in Gateway Cities

THE BARR FOUNDATION on Tuesday donated $500,000 to MassDevelopment to augment the state agency’s arts-based programming in Gateway Cities.

The money will be funneled into two pots. One pot of $285,000 will fund grants of $20,000 to $40,000 for projects that serve to promote local arts and infrastructure in districts within 16 Gateway Cities targeted by MassDevelopment.

The other pot, filled with the remaining $215,000, will be used to develop a citywide strategy for promoting the local arts and culture infrastructure as an instrument of economic development in New Bedford. The expectation is that the New Bedford strategy, which will include the development of policies on public art, festivals, and events, could eventually be shared with other Gateway Cities.

Three years ago New Bedford began setting aside $100,000 a year in a city arts, culture, and tourism fund. The city subsequently hired Margo Saulnier as its arts and culture strategist, developed a strategic arts and culture plan, and began implementing that plan with the help of Saulnier and a 27-member group of community leaders that call themselves the Creative Consortium.

Saulnier said New Bedford is well along in developing and implementing its arts and culture plan, but needs help in maintaining momentum. “We have begun that process,” she said. “There’s this whole issue of sustainability – how we sustain what we’ve already started.”

The Barr money will be used to make Saulnier a full-time employee. The funding will also be used to hire Dena Haden, an artist who is the program manager for the Co+Creative Center, a mixed-use development in New Bedford featuring apartments, offices, and co-working spaces for artists. The grant money will also be used to hire a consultant, according to the press release announcing the grant.

The Barr grant money will support projects in districts targeted for development by MassDevelopment. The so-called transformative development districts are located in Chelsea, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Lawrence, Springfield, Brockton, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lynn, New Bedford, Fall River, Peabody, Pittsfield, Revere, and two sections of Worcester.

MassDevelopment employs fellows in the districts who seek to promote economic development, with arts one avenue for doing so. MassDevelopment also provides funding for collaborative workspaces and matching grants for crowd-sourced initiatives to revitalize empty or underused public spaces. In 2016, Barr provided $1.96 million to help MassDevelopment promote arts-related collaborative workspaces.

Barr has also given a grant to CommonWealth to spur more coverage of arts policy.

Industry sets stage for film tax credit fight

Industry sets stage for film tax credit fight

Sunset for program looms on horizon

THE STATE’S CONTROVERSIAL film tax credit is due to expire on December 31, 2022, and that would mean curtains for several job-creating local businesses that have sprung up around the celluloid gravy train.

The film tax credit debate should be interesting. It’s a maxim on Beacon Hill that it’s easier to block legislation from passing than it is to win passage of a new law. Defenders of the tax credit have so far been successful in warding off attempts by the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker to rein in its cost, but eliminating the sunset means having to go on the offensive and get new legislation passed.

The campaign to eliminate the sunset provision has some backers who are big figures in the Bay State film business but whose names and faces never grace a marquee or movie poster.

Gary Crossen sketched out a couple possible scenarios for his New England Studios company, the only movie studio built for that purpose in the six-state region. The company only employs eight people directly but usually brings in about 400 workers per project.

“If the film tax credits were to go away, we’d be closed within a year,” Crossen said last week during a panel talk put on by the pro-tax-credit lobby.

On the other hand, Crossen, who has pumped about $35 million into the studio complex located at Fort Devens, a former US Army base roughly 30 miles northwest of Boston, said he owns land nearby that would be “ideal for another couple of studios,” costing between $20 and $25 million. To make that investment, Crossen would need to know how the story ends with the tax credit. If no action is taken, the credit will fade to black in about three-a-half years, but state lawmakers could push back that sunset date or even extend the tax credit indefinitely.

Last week’s event in a State House meeting room seemed far from the glitz and glamor of a movie or television production. The panel was moderated by C. Logan Robertson, a certified public accountant and the senior audit manager of Kevin P. Martin & Associates, a local firm.

Begun in 2006, the program offers qualifying producers of films 25 percent of whatever they spend in Massachusetts. The tax credits can be converted to cash by selling them back to the state at 90 percent of the face value or selling them to a company with a big tax liability in Massachusetts that wants to reduce its tax bill.

Robertson, the accountant who moderated last Thursday’s discussion, said this was a necessary feature to get the program off the ground.

“Not all tax credits are transferable,” Robertson said. “When the film industry started in Massachusetts, in order to lure in outside production companies, we had to make it transferable because Universal or Paramount, they don’t have income that’s taxable in Massachusetts. So if you didn’t make it a transferable credit, what are they going to do with this credit?”

The film tax credit has been controversial from the get-go, seen by many as rewarding well-off, out-of-state producers and actors at the expense of other state taxpayers. But the Massachusetts Production Coalition has pushed back against that narrative, touting how the law has helped all sorts of local businesses and union members.

The Massachusetts Production Coalition touts a total of 114 co-sponsors, a majority of the 200-seat Legislature, for bills filed by Rep. Tackey Chan and Sen. Michael Moore that would do away with the end-date. But majority support only goes so far on Beacon Hill. There was a public hearing on the bills in June, but decisions about whether and when, and in what form to pass the bills are made within the cloistered power structures of the House and Senate.

The film industry wants to avoid waiting for a cliff-hanger right ahead of the 2022 deadline to give investors and producers some financial certainty, but there’s no guarantee that the bills even reach the floor.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is among the groups that hopes the film tax credit is in its final seasons, believing the funding could be better spent on “other priorities.”

“We are opposed to the film tax credit. We’ve had long-standing opposition,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed group. “Most of the money goes to firms outside of Massachusetts.”

The battle over the future of the tax credit that the local film industry sees as its lifeblood is taking place way off-set, and like many big debates in state government, mostly out of view of the public.

Historically, the Senate has been more skeptical of the film tax credit and more eager to rein it in, while the program has enjoyed more robust support in the House, where it is championed by Majority Leader Ron Mariano.

“During every budget cycle, the House has fought to retain the Mass. film tax credit, and so it’s something that we’re definitely interested in taking a look at,” said Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat and the House chairwoman of the economic development committee. “Hopefully our Senate counterparts will come to see that this is really an economic-development program that has provided substantial opportunities for blue-collar workers, for white-collar workers, for students.”

Similar to the proponents of other industries favored by the state, such as biotech, the film tax credit’s backers focus on the benefits of the program, rather than the cost. Six business people on the State House panel explained how the tax credit has been integral to their success, and described how uncertainty about its future is leading to troubling jitters.

“I get phone calls from our loan officers every time there’s discussion in the newspapers about adjustment to the tax credit,” said Andrew Boles, owner of Above the Line, a North Reading company that rents out equipment for films.

Craig Murphy, who owns Cambridge Repro-Graphics in Somerville, which produces pieces of scenery, is thinking of buying a building in Malden or Everett for an expansion. He said the film industry accounts for about a third of his business and referred to the sunset of the tax credit as “doomsday.”

Alison Guercio Tocci, owner of the Bull Run Restaurant, a Shirley establishment that predates the founding of the United States by about 50 years, likened the possibility of the tax credit sunsetting to the investment-sapping concerns that preceded the closure of the Army base at Devens. The old tavern doesn’t just make money catering for the production companies; it is also booked for wrap parties and is patronized by crew members, Tocci said.

In addition to the raw dollars created by the film tax credit, there’s the less quantifiable luster that towns and cities can gain by having a popular movie or series filmed there.

Before Castle Rock in 2017, the last major scripted series filmed in Massachusetts was Against the Law, filmed in the early 1990s, according to Chris O’Donnell, business manager for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 481, who said there are now even more major series being filmed in the state. Series productions – which are hardly confined to cable and broadcast television with the advent of streaming services – provide a steadier supply of work for local crew members than movies, O’Donnell said.

Gary Crossen, of New England Studios, spoke about the Bay State’s film industry while Brian Drewes and Andrew Boles looked on. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

It’s been widely acknowledged that the US is enjoying a golden-age revival of television, with more quality programs to watch than ever. There is less agreement about the dollar value of the tax credit program fueling the Massachusetts role in it.

A 2013 report from the Department of Revenue found that $44 million in film tax credits in 2011 netted the state $38.7 million in economic activity. Parsing the data, the Pioneer Institute argued in April that the film tax credit is “a very ineffective way to generate economic growth or create jobs.” According to the think tank, the average net cost to the state for each of the 3,000 Massachusetts jobs produced in the first six years of the program was $109,000.

Tax credit boosters look askance at the reports. “I’m very critical of DOR’s numbers to begin with,” said Ferrante, who contended that the reports don’t account for permitting fees to local government, renovations to parks and buildings, and the total spending created by film productions.

Preliminary figures provided by the Department of Revenue for 2018 indicate a total of $16.2 million awarded for that year, a steep drop-off from earlier years. But industry players said the film industry in Massachusetts has grown in recent years, and suggested that initial number is likely more an indication of accounting vagaries than of the actual popularity of the program. The preliminary numbers for 2016 indicated $61.7 million in tax credits had been issued, but later that figure was revised upward to $88.9 million.

The preliminary 2018 numbers indicated 140 projects received tax credits, most of them for shooting commercials for such corporations as Liberty Mutual, Men’s Warehouse, New Balance, Adidas, Pepsi, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

WGBH received $2.5 million, or 15 percent of the state’s total outlay, for its TV productions in Massachusetts, including Nova season 44 (a $462,545 tax credit), American Experience season 29 ($312,701), and Antiques Roadshow season 21 ($225,942).

The biggest recipients were movies and TV series, including Proud Mary, starring Taraji Henson ($3.2 million); My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad ($2.4 million); Ghost Light ($714.759) ; and Wicked Tuna Season 4 ($503,819).

With hundreds of decent-paying jobs created, the film tax credit has been a family-friendly hit, as far as boosters are concerned. Its future falls more in the category of a suspense thriller.

 

Orr statue now front and center at TD Garden

Orr statue now front and center at TD Garden

Monument of Bruins great moved to The Hub

THE STATUE OF BRUINS GREAT Bobby Orr has a new home right in the middle of the new entrance to TD Garden dubbed The Hub.

It’s a prominent spot for the sculpture of the defenseman depicted in mid-celebratory-dive after scoring the goal that clinched the Stanley Cup in 1970.

The statue was moved on Sunday just in time for the Bruins’ first pre-season game Monday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, according to a spokeswoman for TD Garden. Before the game, fans in black and gold posed for photos around the statue.

Weighing 600 pounds, the bronze statue was first installed outside the TD Garden in 2010. It was the creation of sculptor Harry Weber, according to an old write-up from the team, which reported that the Bruins had financed the artwork.

The statue has been moved a couple times over the past decade. According to the old write-up, it was first installed outside the West Walkway. Most recently, however, the statue was located in a little park on the other side of the arena. The old base of the statue was still in the park on Monday evening.

The plaza that is now home to the Orr statue is on the footprint of the old Boston Garden, where Orr played, and there is inlay in the floor showing where the old faceoff circles were located in the stadium that was demolished in 1998.

Orr is hardly the only sports figure to be commemorated in statue form. Two Celtics greats, who also called the old Garden home, Bill Russell, a center and coach, and Red Auerbach, the longtime coach, each have statues a few blocks away, near City Hall. According to the city’s arts and culture department, there are no plans to move the statues of Russell and Auerbach.

The statue depicts Orr right after he scored the finals-winning goal over the St. Louis Blues. Earlier this year, the Blues defeated the Bruins in the finals to clinch the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Trying to add some her to history

Trying to add some her to history

Bill would create statewide women’s rights trail

HISTORY HAS ALWAYS  BEEN a big draw in Massachusetts, but the focus has overwhelmingly been on men.

The Granary Burying Ground on Boston’s Freedom Trail features the graves of John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and other luminaries of the American Revolution-era. Tales of Boston Tea party leaders and the Kennedy political dynasty tend to consume the time and money of most tourists.

But now a pair of state legislators are arguing that it’s time to draw attention to women who shaped the state’s history. Reps. Hannah Kane, a Shrewsbury Republican, and Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston, are pushing a bill that would create a statewide women’s rights history trail, with a specific focus on the suffrage movement. The plan is to include monuments or landmarks that already exist, along with additional ones proposed by municipalities. The bill won initial approval unanimously in the House on Wednesday.

Kane and Dykema think a trail (not a physical path but markers on physical and digital maps) would draw attention to women who have long been overlooked in history books, provide some variety for student tour groups, and give a shot in the arm to the state’s tourism industry. But making the trail a reality won’t be easy. The bill provides no funding and leaves options open for municipalities to recommend properties and monuments to be listed on the trail. It asks the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism and the state secretary of transportation to make it happen, and leaves the execution open ended.

Kane and Dykema say there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Several organizations are already cataloging important monuments or landmarks and the lawmakers say the state trail can piggyback on and add to those efforts.

The legislation does mandate four stops on the trail – the home in Adams where Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the suffrage movement, was born; the Orchard House in Concord, the former home of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott; the location of Brinley Hall in Worcester, where a women’s rights convention was held in 1850; and the Northampton memorial to Sojourner Truth, the African-American abolitionist and civil rights activist.

Representatives Carolyn Dykema and Hannah Kane prior to the passing of the Women’s Rights History Trail in the House.

Kane’s interest in the suffrage movement took off when she read the book Patriots in Petticoats: Heroines of the American Revolution, which underscored for her that many women don’t get the credit they deserve for shaping the nation’s history.  “This one woman, Deborah Sampson, was declared a spinster at 21, sewed herself a uniform, disguised herself as a man, and fought in the war,” Kane said. “It’s like saying, there’s nothing stopping a woman from what you want to do.”

There is a statue of Sampson outside the public library in Sharon, her husband’s hometown. She was originally from Plympton and joined a Continental Army unit from Middleborough.

All too often, Kane said, the role of women is overlooked. She cited the Smithsonian Institution’s Art Inventories Catalog, which indicates there are 5,200 public statues nationwide depicting historical figures. Fewer than 400, or eight percent, are of women.

Aside from the inadequate attention to female historical figures, Kane and Dykema say there are practical reasons for a trail. In an attempt to boost local economies, the lawmakers are advocating for vacation itineraries to be created with listings for lodging, farms, restaurants, and attractions near stops on the trail. The bill also authorizes the posting of signs along roadways to alert people to stops on the trail.

“We don’t want to lose the economic impact of the trail,” Dykema said. “This is an opportunity for Massachusetts to really bring people all across the state to celebrate women but also to support our local businesses.”

Kane said there’s also an important educational component. “In Shrewsbury in third grade they learn about the town’s history,” she said. “This could be a chance for a classroom field trip to a site.”

A lot of activity is already going on in connection with sites and monuments commemorating the contributions of women to history. The Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, for example, offers a series of self-guided and guided walks through different parts of Boston, focusing in each area on women such as Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, Amelia Earhart, Chew Shee Chin, Julia O’Connor, Clementine Langone, and Melnea Cass.

Michelle Jenney, president of the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, said she has offered to help with the statewide trail. She stressed that educational programming is important to making any trail successful. “It can’t just be markers on houses,” she said.

A National Votes for Women Trail is being developed through the nonprofit National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the Syracuse-based William G. Pomeroy Foundation. The trail will consist of markers honoring distinguished historical figures who were active in winning the right to vote for women. Massachusetts is one of five states that will get funding for five markers for the national trail.

Left to right: Mary Louise Baldwin, Sojourner Truth, and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin.

Locally, the Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition of Massachusetts is preparing for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020 and trying to narrow the list of Massachusetts candidates for the national trail down to five. Fredie Kay, president of the coalition, said whatever sites are chosen for Massachusetts will have white and purple trim “suffrage colors, so they can be identifiable through the country as women’s suffrage centennial sites.”

Last month, the coalition hosted an event on Boston Common highlighting the work of three black suffragists with ties to the Bay State – Cambridge education pioneer Maria Louise Baldwin, civil rights leader Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, and Sojourner Truth.

The three are being considered for inclusion on the Massachusetts leg of the national trail. Truth has a statue commemorating her work in the village of Florence in Northampton. Baldwin, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was the principal and later the master of the Agassiz School in Cambridge, where she pioneered a number of innovative teaching approaches. She was the first to add a nurse to the school staff. The Agassiz was renamed after her in 2004.

St. Pierre Ruffin was a journalist, civil rights leader, and suffragist. She was the editor of Woman’s Era, a publication for African-American women. Her Charles Street home in Boston is a site on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.

Dorchester resident Marydith Tuitt, a member of the local Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition, likes the idea of a statewide trail, and says there are plenty of candidates. One possibility is Elizabeth Freeman, the first African-American slave to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts in 1780. The landmark case is a major reason why slavery ended in Massachusetts in 1783. Freeman lived in Stockbridge and is buried in a cemetery there.

“I think it would be an awesome thing,” Tuitt said of the statewide trail. “It would bring more knowledge that women are not just here to be wives and mothers and helped form this country from beginning to now.”

The Hub: An impressive front door to Garden, N. Station

The Hub: An impressive front door to Garden, N. Station

Semi-public space provides a link to city’s sports past

NOT LONG AGO, attending a game at TD Garden or taking a train out of North Station meant you would need to come and go through a nondescript side door. There was no real front entrance, and little besides the sheer size of the two facilities to distinguish the sports arena and transit center from their surroundings.

“It was very plain,” said Joe Aiello, northeast field coordinator for the Rail Passenger Association. “Here’s a big concrete wall. Here’s a walkway. Just go and get on your train. There was nothing pleasing about it. It felt very sterile.”

No longer. There are big changes afoot at North Station, where a once drab but historic empty lot is giving way to a new high-end cultural hub, complete with a music hall, cinema, and a grand portal connecting bustling Causeway Street to the commuter rail platform and the arena, home to big concerts and big games.

It’s the final puzzle piece of a decades-long transformation of a part of the city that has never been quite right since the old Boston Garden was demolished in 1998. As gleaming towers rose in other parts of the city, the lot in front of the West End train terminal remained empty. But now the area has filled in and a covered plaza with big signs for the arena and railway station serves as the new front door. Dubbed The Hub by developers, that 60-foot-wide, 100-foot-tall area offers a space that can be used for farmers markets, art fairs, and other events, according to documents on file with the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

The plaza, which sits on the footprint of the old Garden, also gives a nod to its celebrated past, with inlay in the floor marking the exact spot of a faceoff circle on the long-gone rink and the free throw line on the old parquet, according to Delaware North, which owns the stadium and whose chairman Jeremy Jacobs is owner of the Boston Bruins.

While the massive construction project was designed by the international architecture firm Gensler, the idea to put the old markings in the new floor came from the developers – a joint venture between Delaware North and Boston Properties.

“The spirit of the old Garden is being resurrected in this new space,” said Ted Landsmark, a member of the board of the Boston Planning and Development Agency who previously helmed the Boston Architectural College and now runs a public policy institute at Northeastern University.

The yellow brick used on much of the façade of the new development is an homage to the look of the old arena.

A mural near the TD Garden depicts the look of the old Boston Garden, complete with the old elevated Green Line track. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

“I am not a trained architectural critic, but after decades of shuffling into North Station through the side doors, I can tell you it sure is nice to feel welcomed at an iconic new front door,” said Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts. “It’s a big improvement. For those of us who remember the elevated Green Line on Causeway and the Penalty Box pub, it’s amazing to think of the transformation Causeway Street has undergone in the last two decades.”

Andy Monat, a board member of the advocacy group TransitMatters who regularly passes through North Station between his home in Melrose and work in East Cambridge, said he is looking forward to the area becoming more lively on nights when there is no game or concert.

“We spent the ’50s and ’60s destroying all of the West End, which was a dense walkable neighborhood, and putting up these frankly really depressing towers and parks that had nothing to draw people to them,” Monat said. “As there are more people there and it stops feeling like just a commute point and more like part of the city, I think it will be a nicer experience.”

The Hub will be a new semi-public space in Boston, but subject to some particular rules. A sign at the plaza informs those who plan to engage in “Non-Commercial Expressive Activity for ballot access, political, religious, or education speech purposes” may do so, but they must fill out a registration, provide 24-hour notice about the activity, and wear a personal identification badge “providing name, address, phone number and organization, if any.” Panhandling, begging, spitting, and lying down or sitting on the floor are specifically prohibited, according to the sign.

The grand entrance and plaza is only one feature of the development. A 440-unit, 38-story residential tower is expected to open this fall though construction will continue into next year, and the Boston Business Journal reported that CitizenM, a 272-room Dutch hotel opened in the $1.2 billion redevelopment earlier this year. An office tower, with Verizon as an anchor tenant, is still under construction and is expected to be complete in 2021. Rapid7, a technology security company, is the anchor tenant for another portion of the development dubbed Uptown at The Hub.

The biggest park nearby the new development is a little square overlooking Interstate 93 and the Zakim Bridge, with a statue of Bruins great Bobby Orr. While references to basketball and hockey permeate the new development, it will create new nightlife opportunities for those who don’t know an alley-oop from a hat trick.

ArcLight Cinemas is slated to open its first movie theater in the Northeast at North Station. The California company owns Los Angeles’s historic Dome cinema on Sunset Boulevard, which is used for major film premiers. ArcLight boast that it presents “films the way filmmakers intended moviegoers to experience them” with a top-end sound system, a black-box theater to eliminate distractions, a full bar, and no commercials. There will be 14 screens, and the theater is expected to open later this year.

Big Night Live, a music hall backed by Big Night Entertainment and Live Nation is also expected to open this fall. The venue will accommodate 1,500 people, and the space will be decorated with oversized red chandeliers, wood walls, “pod seating,” and VIP tables with bottle service. The promoters hope to attract artists from a wide range of musical styles, and they are selling tickets for shows starting in early November for the ska band The Interrupters. Another show on the calendar is a performance by the old school hip hop duo of Mos Def, or Yasiin Bey, and Talib Kweli known as Black Star.

The yellow brick of a new North Station development and the sign for an old bar both harken to the historical nature of the neighborhood, which was the home court and home ice to some of the most storied Boston Bruins and Celtics teams. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

The music venue will be right down the street from the Converse headquarters, where the shoe company opened a recording studio called Rubber Tracks. It’s easy to imagine some creative synergy between the incoming venues and others working nearby.

Within Big Night Live, Studio B will be an event space with wood rafters, large windows and enough space to accommodate 440 guests, according to a spokesperson.

Elsewhere in the new development, patrons can drink and dine at Guy Fieri’s Tequila Cocina, a 185-seat restaurant with more than 100 tequilas available; Hub Hall, one place with 18 different eating options; or Banners Kitchen & Tap, a multilevel sports bar. The Star Market located right off the covered plaza will be 60,000 square-feet making it the city’s largest grocery store in an area that has lacked an affordable supermarket. The construction project also includes “in-arena enhancements” and improvements to the locker rooms and backstage areas of the TD Garden.

Around 50,000 commuters pass through North Station every day, and the TD Garden, home to the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins, draws 3.5 million guests per year, according to the developers. A tunnel connecting the commuter rail to the Green and Orange line platforms – providing a new sheltered walkway for transit riders – opened in January, about three years after the groundbreaking on the massive development project. Starting in 2021, the North Station area will benefit from a new stream of transit commuters as the Green Line Extension is slated to start service at that time.

While it will usher in a new era for the neighborhood, permitting for the Hub on Causeway traces back to the administration of the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The Boston Redevelopment Authority approved the first iteration of the project on December 19, 2013, less than a month before Mayor Marty Walsh took office.

June 11, 2019

Mass Cultural Council weathers Boston Herald storm

Lawmakers boost agency’s funding with minimal restrictions

STATE BUDGET-WRITERS put a gloss of stringency on their handling of the Massachusetts Cultural Council budget, but ultimately imposed few real restrictions on how the council conducts itself aside from new reporting requirements that accompany a hefty raise.

The biggest change would be a $2 million increase in the state’s appropriation for the quasi-independent arts agency, along with new directives from lawmakers for the council to tighten up its spending policies.

Heading into the months-long budget process, the cultural council absorbed blow after blow from The Boston Herald. Armed with ledgers showing staff travel to out-of-state conferences, the tabloid accused the council of profligate spending.

After those stories and editorials, the House in its budget approved $16.7 million for the council along with restrictive legislation on spending that the council’s executive director, Anita Walker, said would prevent the council from funding even in-state travel. The Senate took a softer approach on spending restrictions, and upped the agency’s budget to $18 million. The final budget filed last weekend added $100,000 to the Senate appropriation level and hewed more closely to the Senate’s proposal on spending restrictions.

Under the final budget, the council would need to devote 75 percent of its funding toward grants and subsidies, which is around what the council already spends on that under its existing appropriation, according to a legislative aide.

In the $43.1 billion budget bill that lawmakers sent to Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, there are no significant restrictions that would require the council to change how it operates beyond new reporting procedures, according to Carmen Plazas, a spokesperson for the council.

“Once again our cultural community made a strong and unified case for the public value of the arts, humanities, and sciences,” said Walker in a press release celebrating the 12 percent increase in the council’s state appropriation. “We are grateful to the Legislature for recognizing the power of culture to build prosperity and elevate the quality of life in the communities they represent.”

The budget bill directs the council’s governing board to consult with the Ethics Commission and the state comptroller to adopt spending guidelines around the use of vehicles, travel costs, and meal purchases, and requires the board to pre-approve out-of-state travel. It also requires the council to share its fiscal 2020 spending plan with lawmakers and the state treasurer.

Reports in the Herald about Walker’s take-home state car – a Toyota Prius – lunches from Davio’s To Go – a moderately priced takeout place associated with a fancy restaurant – and flights to conferences around the country sparked concern among lawmakers that not enough of the council’s state appropriation was finding its way to programs in their districts.

Along with the new reporting requirements, lawmakers packed a few earmarks into the Cultural Council’s line item, directing $25,000 to go toward a mural restoration in Springfield and $10,000 for the Spanish American Center in Leominster.

One other change to the agency is the pending departure of Greg Liakos, who has long had the task of communicating the agency’s priorities and endeavors with the broader world. In late June, Liakos announced that after 15 years with the council he will resign his post as external relations director.