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Amid transition, Dot Art beautifies Ashmont Station

Posted by Cara Bayles  December 10, 2010 12:17 PM

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(By Cara Bayles,

Dot Art founder Leslie McWeeney (second from right) speaks with MBTA general manager Richard Davey (second from left) and other T officials, as her students show off 17 portraits that run along the Ashmont platform during an unveiling on Wednesday.

Passengers awaiting their train on the out-going platform at Ashmont will now see 17 people leaning against the fence outside the station, peering in through the glass.

They are life-sized self portraits painted by a group of teenagers who enrolled in a seven-week-long summer program offered by the Dorchester Community Center for Visual Arts, or Dot Art. The art represents a new public initiative for the organization as it focuses on crafting its own strategic plan.

During a ceremony this week, MBTA general manager Richard Davey congratulated the young artists, whose work joins 90 pieces of public art in Greater Boston's public transportation system.

"Some of you have asked how long these pieces can stay up in the station," Davey said of the portraits, which are painted on tyvek, and can withstand the elements. "My answer is, as long as I'm general manager. And I plan on being general manager for a very long time."

(En route to the unveiling, Davey halted a fare evader at Park Street.)

The Dot Art summer classes are a 12-year-old program, which pays students (through a partnership with the city's Boston Youth Fund) to study various mediums for six hours a day.

"I needed a summer job," aid Gina Lee, "And it was great to get paid for something that I love to do anyway." The high school senior commutes downtown from Ashmont to the Boston Latin School, and will see her painting every day.

Dot Art's founder Leslie McWeeney was responsible for the installation. She reached out to MBTA officials about displaying the work during the summer, in the hopes that the students would have something to work towards.

"I believe teenagers need to be able to have some power in their community," she said, after the ceremony. "It makes a huge difference to them."

Lisa Clark-Morgan said the program had a tremendous effect on her 15-year-old son Dante, who still talks about the group's field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"It's a wonderful program," Clark-Morgan said. "A neighbor of ours recommended it and said Leslie's a bit of a disciplinarian. But kids need it at that age."

McWeeney, a petite woman who is shorter than most of her students but still manages to exude a commanding presence over them, has been working with young people in Dorchester for more than 20 years.

Just outside Ashmont station sits the Peabody Square Christmas tree, which is decorated with dove ornaments this year. McWeeney says Dot Art students have been crafting ornaments for the tree since the late 1990s.

But the portraits and the tree decoration are some of the few projects coordinated by Dot Art this year, as the organization scales back its current programming to address its future.

Dot Art, in its twelfth year, is in somewhat of a transition. McWeeney stepped down from the position of executive director at the end of the summer. She has stayed on as a volunteer, helping run the organization's programming as its members run a strategic planning process.

"We felt this was just a natural time to look at the leadership going forward," said Dot Art board chair Victoria Goldberg. "Leslie has done a tremendous job. She carried it for a very long time, but I think that like any organization, we need to look at our succession planning."

Goldberg says the organization is seeking community input as it tries to envision ways to become more financially self-sustaining. Two meetings have already been held (a third one is scheduled for January 8 at 10 a.m. in the All Saints Ashmont Episcopal Church), and Goldberg hopes to wrap up the process and return to focus on programming by the spring.

"The foundation environment is changing when it comes to grants, and we need to look at how we generate revenues, to be sustainable as an organization," she said. "Part of this, quite frankly is just the environment for arts in non-profit right now. We need to take a look at how we fund ourselves."

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