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About a Pear: Boston and the Business of Public Art

Posted by Devin Cole  February 23, 2012 03:55 PM

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Clapp Pear.JPG

Laura Baring-Gould, John McColgan and the Clapp Pear

Arts and Culture dynamically contribute to Boston’s business community. The New England Foundation for the Arts, NEFA, recently released its 2011 annual report, New England’s Creative Economy: Nonprofit sector impact. ‘In 2009, the spending of these 18,026 organizations amounted to nearly $3.7 billion, and they provided jobs for over 53,000 people.’ This sector has grown substantially since 2002, and these organizations have a track record for being a steady reliable industry, not susceptible to the ups and downs of the market economy.

NEFA’s study also demonstrates that direct spending results in significant indirect and induced impact on the region’s economy. ‘Nearly every dollar spent becomes sales to suppliers and income to employees. These businesses and employees, in turn, spend that money to buy goods and services to meet their own needs.’ Therefore, the $3.7 billion of art and culture spending has an indirect impact of $2.2 billion and an induced impact of $2.5 billion, providing a total of $8.4 billion in the New England economy. Within the workforce, the 53, 270 individuals employed by art and culture industries result in an additional 12,960 jobs as an indirect impact and an additional 17,000 jobs as an induced impact for a total of 83,330 jobs.

The last and perhaps the most important impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organization is ‘more than economic.’ The NEFA study highlights ‘visitor attraction impact’ where those who come to an art museum, historic site or cultural festival spend money on food, lodging, shopping, etc. in the local economy. These nonprofits also help ‘attract new residents and new businesses’ by providing key dollars and vitality to a community. The Fenway district in Boston exemplifies this where key cultural institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, are accompanied by teaching institutions like The Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts that jointly bring visitors and students to Boston, provide key jobs across economic spectrums and greatly add to the vitality of Boston. This pattern is repeated across New England where museums, historic organizations, art and performance centers, gallery districts, artist’s housing, art schools and community centers contribute to the human capital of the region. The impact of this on the economy is significant and far reaching.

An interesting case study of the economic impact of art is told through a 17-year effort to bring public art to Edward Everett Square, in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. Organized in 1995 by historian and archivist John McColgan with a network of dedicated residents, civic associations and historic organizations, the group advocated for public art to celebrate the historic legacy of the community. Recognizing the importance of urban planning and design, the community successfully enjoined the city of Boston to provide $2.2 million in public works capital funding to redesign and renovate Edward Everett Square, transforming traffic and pedestrian safety, green space and creating a pedestrian plaza for public art.

In 2003, Somerville Artist Laura Baring-Gould was commissioned to create the artwork with the important goal of celebrating history and place within a diverse community. Baring-Gould seized upon the area’s history as a 300 acre pear orchard, where a hybrid pear was first cultivated by the Clapp family. Clapp’s Favorite pear was renowned for it tough skin, but sweet and juicy fruit -- an apt metaphor, Baring-Gould felt, for the tenacity and good will of the community. The artist added ten additional smaller sized artworks to the design to celebrate modern aspects of Dorchester history, and led a community initiative to inscribe bricks with quotes and dedications celebrating contemporary Dorchester stories. In 2007, the 12 foot tall Clapp pear sculpture was installed in Edward Everett Square, along with the ten additional artworks. In addition, comprehensive text panels describing the project and area’s history were installed in 2011. Each event was magnificently celebrated by the community, local business, city and state officials.

When asked if the project met its stated goals John McColgan replied, ‘The Edward Everett Square art project has achieved the community vision, conceived in 1995, to reclaim this place as one of historical significance expressed through public art. The vision has now evolved and focuses more intensely on Edward Everett Square as an important cultural asset - one that may be used to promote awareness of art, culture and history, and to celebrate personal, community and national connections to Dorchester and Edward Everett Square.’ Laura Baring-Gould adds, ‘public art, when done well, can be a great addition to a community. Not only does the artwork create a landmark, but it contributes to a sense of importance and well being. All great cities have great art- several residents told me how much they feel the neighborhood has improved with the artworks that benefit us all.’

Coming up with the concept is perhaps the biggest challenge of the project, but in truth, the success of the project hinged upon the cooperation of all the players, and upon all the pieces falling into place. Project Artist Laura Baring-Gould worked closely with the community while John Mc Colgan organized civic involvement of many neighborhood associations. The City of Boston provided financial support, as well as tangible support from the Parks Department, Department of Public Works, Boston Art Commission and the Public Improvement Commission. Local businesses also supported the project as did many local elected officials at all levels of government. Private firms were contracted for the design of the project and labor was contracted from local companies and donated by the Bricklayers & Allied Craftsmen Union Local 3 Training Center. Finally, Corporate Sponsorship was committed by Waste Management Corporation for maintenance.

In other words, it was a true community effort, brought to bear with support from stakeholders throughout the neighborhood and city.

As a result of the Clapp Pear project and the Edward Everett Square renovation, the community has experienced tangible results such as increased property values, a changed sense of place and a renewed identity as diverse community which shares a common sense of history and experience. This artwork illustrates the role art can have in improving civic space, community pride and the overall experience of a neighborhood/important Boston gateway. The Clapp Pear made a place into a Place with history. It was the stimulus that mobilized $3 million of indirect and induced spending in Dorchester whose trickle down and ripple effects will continue to impact the future of the local businesses, and the people who live there, for many years to come.

Donna Dodson graduated cum laude from Wellesley College in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts. Since 2000, Dodson has been honored with solo shows nationwide for her wood sculptures. Dodson enjoys public speaking, and has been a guest speaker in conferences, panels and forums at museums and universities in North America.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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