This fall, new murals began appearing around Cambridge’s Central Square — a heart blossoming on the back of a convenience store; eyes staring out of the entrance to a parking garage; an echo of Mass. Ave. appearing high up a wall of a building along the street. So far, about a dozen have been painted, but more are planned for the spring.
The Central Square murals (centralmurals.com)- organized by and supported by Cambridge Arts and the Central Square Business Association- continue the tradition of public art in the City’s main cultural district. Central Square is a key component of the shared values that Cambridge embodies, including the unity that its large-scale artwork carries.
Central Square has always been known as a diverse, active area. In the daytime, it is a hub for commuting and hanging out on lunch breaks or a place to just relax for a few hours. At night, it is an impressive cultural district where many congregate in the various establishments such as bars, nightclubs, and restaurants to enjoy the vibrancy of the square. The artwork throughout Central Square contributes to the character of the area. Public art is available to all groups of people and can be viewed countlessly, making it a valuable addition to a notable, diverse area of Cambridge.
Beginning a New Period
The idea for a mural project came about through multiple occurrences. Central Square recently received another five year designation as a cultural district, as well as a Business Improvement District (BID) designation. The idea that Cambridge Arts could launch such a project to begin this exciting new period is greatly appealing to all parties involved.
The goal of the Central Square Mural project is to be a local, community-oriented entity that will positively impact the image of the Square. To properly involve the community, the Arts council organized a public fundraiser where anyone could donate and alongside that, was given the opportunity for a doubling of funds if the engagement were to be significant. Additionally, with the involvement of private business owners, the mural project is strengthening the relationship between local businesses and the Cambridge community. Jason Weeks, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council, discussed the relationship that this project can create, “For Central Square it’s a really cool and important thing, it brings a kind of shared set of values for how property owners and the retail outlets can all work together. When there’s no arch to connect these groups of people, things happen but don’t really connect, the bid and this project bring all these shared things to the table to see how they can help to create a brand.”
The fundraiser, through an online platform called Patronicity, gained even more engagement than expected, raising enough money to generate a match in funds from MassDevelopment. Weeks said, “The Patronicity became a really good way to both amplify the message of the program but also to get opportunity for a match. MassDevelopment has been doing great work to create that matching opportunity.” With a fundraiser like this, the public is able to feel involved on a personal level in the creation of the artwork as everybody is able to donate on any level they are comfortable with. 132 patrons contributed donations, which was more than the Arts Council anticipated, showing how important public art is to Central Square and Cambridge as a whole.
The artists were chosen based largely on locality and established connections with Cambridge. One of the artists participating in the project, Pasqualina Azzarello, exemplifies the benefits that public art can have on one’s career. Over two decades ago, Azzarello was launching her career as an artist in Massachusetts having recently graduated from college. She reached out to numerous businesses that seemed to have open walls and ultimately connected with Morris Naggar, a business owner on Norfolk Street, who gave her an opportunity to paint. She worked for free, hoping that practicing her skills on such a large scale would prove instrumental to her career. The mural lasted for nearly twenty years and since painting it, Azzarello has never not been a practicing professional artist. Now, the Arts Council has used that relationship to reach out and offer her another opportunity to paint in Cambridge. Azzarello’s story showcases what Weeks calls “a little family”, the connections that art brings can be timeless and extremely valuable to the culture of a community.
History of Public Art in Central Square
The timing of the project also falls around the ten year anniversary of Graffiti Alley or “Modica Way”, a staple of Cambridge that has drawn in many outside viewers. It is in line with the essence of the Mural Project, the Arts Council desires there to be public artwork available for viewing no matter where you are in Central Square. Weeks expressed that this wide availability of artwork, “Creates a really cool vibe above and below ground”, as even some Red Line station stops have public art on the walls.
Like in the Graffiti Alley, the artists involved in the Central Square Mural Project have creative freedom in their work. They each have come up with their own designs, working with the owners of the buildings to ensure they are on the same page, but largely creating the artwork on their own ideas. This factored into the selection of buildings and artists as the designs have to fit the available spaces and locations. It has been a lengthy process to organize the murals, but one that the Arts Council is extremely excited and passionate about.