Rose Kennedy Greenway "Public Art Plan"

Rose Kennedy Greenway-Dewey Square, Summer St, Boston, MA, 02110, USA

Project Partners: 

Massachusetts Department of Transportation, The Field Guide for Parks and Creative Placemaking

What started this project: 

The oft-repeated caricature of Boston as a “small city” bristles some, who point to the metropolitan region’s centers of learning, technology, science, health care, and finance. Others take pride in this provinciality, celebrating the extended roots of many families and a sense of local familiarity. Irrespective of one’s perspective, the “Big Dig,” as the largest highway construction project in American history is called, one that buried an elevated highway through downtown marks a moment when Boston “grew up.”17 Its construction has spurred growth and optimism along the Boston Harbor and the South Boston Waterfront, with new mixed-use developments, parks, and institutions developed in the gaps of what used to be a large highway. The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a new, signature park, was built on top of the new tunnel that carries thousands of cars daily. Over a mile long, this linear park comprises gardens, promenades, plazas, and other landscaped amenities. After building the new highway network, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority turned the management of the park, via a long-term lease agreement, over to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a new private nonprofit dedicated to managing, maintaining, and supporting the park.18 The state legislature confirmed an initial 50 percent-50 percent funding model; the Conservancy now raises more than one private dollar as a match to every public dollar. The Greenway has been termed the “People’s Park.” As one of downtown’s largest parks, one that complements Boston Common on downtown’s eastern edge, and as a vestige of the region’s most complicated construction project, nearly every Bostonian encounters the green space in some way. The park adjoins the diverse neighborhoods of Chinatown, Financial District, Waterfront, and North End, connecting them to one another and to the rest of the city. The Greenway, despite its immediate impact on contiguous neighborhoods, operates at the scale of the city and the region; it is a true signature park in the nation’s most populated corridor.


The goal of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Public Art Plan was to build a sense of civic ownership for the park. After a decade of complicated, invasive, and disturbing construction, Bostonians were exhausted and, in some cases, skeptical of the massive project. Additionally, the park was a novel thing dropped into an existing urban fabric, and therefore many residents questioned whether it was developed with them in mind. The leadership of the Greenway quickly realized that it wasn’t enough to say, “Look at a what a great new park we have.” They would also have to find ways to connect this new urban asset with the diverse communities that surrounded it. One of the Greenway Conservancy’s first steps was to develop partnerships with city officials, museums, local nonprofits, and community groups. These partnerships were valuable in building connections to local stakeholders, in helping to bring programming to the park, and in encouraging new funding streams. Many of these culturally based partnerships helped to support pop-up art installations. These installations proved to be the most successful way, thus far, of attracting the community to the Greenway. This potency gave the Conservancy its initial idea about a more comprehensive arts-based strategy that could support community development work and build a long-term vision for the Rose Kennedy Greenway.


The Conservancy decided to undertake a Public Art Planning Process, led by arts professionals, that included feedback from a broad cross-section of stakeholders. The resulting Public Art Master Plan for the Rose Kennedy Greenway “bring[s] innovative and contemporary art to Boston through free, temporary exhibitions, engaging people in meaningful experiences, interactions, and dialogue with art and each other.” The plan had a five-year horizon and emphasized temporary and popup installations rather than permanent and fixed works. The Public Art Planning Process not only was intended to define what kind of cultural expression should be reflected in the park but also was structured as a process to engage the local community and build constituencies to support the park. For example, a Chinatown neighborhood group was excited about the opportunity to display works that reflected Chinese heritage and culture. Local arts institutions were enthusiastic about the opportunity to develop programming in the public realm that could reach a much broader audience.


The Public Art Plan became a successful touchstone for how Boston relates to the Rose Kennedy Greenway and how it thinks about culture in the public realm. The Conservancy’s leaders created a flexible process that allowed them to adapt and learn as they experimented with projects and ideas. Because their group was a nonpublic group (albeit with public support), they had the flexibility to experiment and to do so knowing that they had the backing of the community. By having a clear plan and keeping it flexible, the Conservancy increased its capacity to raise money and was still able to test novel ideas and approaches. The first fruits of this strategy were murals on the 80-by-100-foot wall of a building that abutted the park’s Dewey Square. The first such mural, supported as part of a collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), featured the Brazilian brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, often known as Os Gemeos (“the twins”) and their depiction of a “giant” child clothed in materials of eccentric patterns and textures, including a T-shirt wrapped around his head. The success of the mural program, filling a long-standing void of public art in Boston, led to confidence in the Greenway’s art strategy and eventually to the blockbuster installation of Janet Echelman’s As If It Were Already Here, a rope and knot sculpture hanging 600 feet in the air, suspended between six skyscrapers that border the Greenway. The $2 million installation involved a collaboration between many parties: the Conservancy, the artist, local community groups, building owners, designers, fabricators, and programmers. These early wins helped the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy advance and adapt its strategic plan. First, its leaders recognized the value of working very closely with the maintenance and operations staff to understand the technical challenges of temporary programming and art. This is not a sculpture park with a means to care for public art. By respecting the physical challenges of such work first, they can keep taking risks and experimenting.