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Art Breathes Life

Grove Hall art program fosters street art projects

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Art Breathes Life
The “Breathe Life” mural at 324 Blue Hill Ave. is by Rob Gibbs, who goes by the artist name Problak. (Photo: Gabriel Ortiz)

Ed Gaskin, executive director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, is actively fostering public art projects as a way to promote economic development in the area. As a result of more than $70,000 in grant funding, Grove Hall is regularly producing murals, walking tours, streetlight banners and creative paint projects.

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“I was surprised by the PaintBox program,” says Gaskin. “Cars were literally stopping on Blue Hill Avenue to tell the artists how much they liked the project.” Run by the Boston Art Commission, the PaintBox program works with the Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Sparc! ArtMobile program to paint utility boxes, transforming them from purely functional items to works of art. Grove Hall boasts utility boxes painted with portraits of Prince, Michelle Obama and Muhammad Ali.

Muralists, too, are being commissioned to enrich the visual culture of the neighborhood. Rob Gibbs, who goes by artist name “Problak,” painted “Breathe Life,” an enormous portrait of a black toddler blowing sparks into a fantasy landscape. “My mural is a blend of Afrofuturism, hip-hop and graffiti,” says Gibbs. A Roxbury native and current Dorchester resident, Gibbs wanted to create a positive depiction of his home. “It’s a reflection of the people that live here,” he says.

“Breathe Life,” located at 324 Blue Hill Avenue, certainly is a stunning reflection of the Boston spirit. New Englanders are known for their fortitude, and the little boy in the mural blows into his toy house with all the verve that Bostonians bring to everything, even their art.

The Blue Hill Avenue CVS a few blocks away hosts a rotating window display of local artists as an additional part of the Grove Hall artistic development.

Earlier this year, Gaskin organized a 90-minute guided architecture tour in Grove Hall for Boston Art Week. It was Greater Grove Hall Main Streets’ first time participating. In 2018, he hopes to offer an art tour and a black history tour as well. His group is also working on a fundraising effort for an app that points out historical sites throughout the neighborhood and provides facts about them.

Though economic development through increased tourism is the primary motive for the artwork, Gaskin says improving quality of life for residents is essential as well. The arts program supports local artists of color by providing them with a platform that reaches a much broader audience than museum walls or gallery shows.

Gibbs hopes the street art will show both visitors and locals how much Grove Hall has to offer. “They say a picture’s worth a thousand words,” he says. “I just want to leave the book open.”

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