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Community art mural depicts life in Kendall Square

Susan Saccoccia
Susan Saccoccia
Community art mural depicts life in Kendall Square
The “Walls of Unity” Mural in Kendall Square, a public art project led by the Community Art Center in Cambridge. photo: Susan Saccoccia

Kendall Square in Cambridge is the hub of a booming innovation economy with a concentration of science and technology businesses sprouting alongside the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Surrounding Kendall Square are densely populated neighborhoods—Area Four (now known as the Port), East Cambridge, and Wellington Harrington. Some 35,750 residents live within a mile of Kendall Square, which draws 62,000 employees and 11,200 students.

A new mural, a large-scale work of public art, reminds the thousands of people who come and go each day through the Kendall Square MBTA Station on Main Street that there is life in this neighborhood beyond the high-rise businesses and MIT libraries, labs and dorms.

Extending about half the length of a city block—400 feet—along a hyperactive stretch of Main Street, with the MBTA station at its midpoint, the mural offers a whimsical, exuberant backdrop to the stream of fast-walking, texting pedestrians as well as skateboarders, bicyclists, bus passengers.

Framed overhead by construction scaffolding, the mural has two tiers—a row of black and white drawings that express their makers’ dreams and hopes; and below them, at eye level with passersby, a series of images painted in a bold earthen palette that evoke journeys, myths and memories. The entire mural is visible from across the street.

Entitled “Walls of Unity,” the mural is a project of Creative Current, a multi-year initiative sponsored by MIT to build artistic and professional skills in local youth and to create connections between residents and the MIT community. Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern took part in the unveiling of the mural on June 19th, a celebration co-hosted by MIT and open to all.

Civic art

The creation of the mural was planned and led as a civic art-making project by the Community Art Center (www.communityartcenter.org), located a half mile away, across from Washington Elms, a public housing complex. Founded eight decades ago, the Center provides neighborhood youth with year-round creative programming.

Artist-in-Residence Salvador Jiménez-Flores mentored the Center’s team of six youth apprentices, each an artist, as together they envisioned, designed and executed the community art project. Over nine months, the apprentices engaged hundreds of residents and corporate employees as well MIT students and staff in creating images for the mural. 

“Walls of Unity” is the second mural created by the Center, which conducts the project as an annual program of Creative Current.

“Young people in the community gain experience and develop artistic and professional skills that can help them pursue creative careers,” says Sarah Eusden Gallop, co-director of MIT’s Office of Government and Community Relations and chair of the Kendall Square Association, a business group advancing the area as a global innovation hub.

Creative Current activities also include sessions that bring local youth together with professionals from area companies to discuss their career paths and the creative skills that count in the innovation economy.

Although many families in Kendall Square’s adjoining neighborhoods have far lower income and education levels than the technology workers and students, a good portion of this diverse community shares the experience of being from another country. According to the 2010 U.S. Decennial Census, 38 percent of the households in these neighborhoods speak a language other than English at home. So do many of the people working in Kendall Square’s research and commercial ventures and studying and teaching at MIT.

As the apprentices led printmaking workshops with people from these varied constituencies, they found that the theme they chose for the mural—creating unity among people—inspired enthusiastic participation.

Apprentice Sasha Williams, 19, a North Cambridge native who is starting at McGill University in September, said, “People from different communities and walks of life pulled together. All were equally invested in creating this mural.”

An apprentice this year, William Gallop, 20, of Roxbury, looks forward to taking on the role of assistant teacher for the 2019 mural project. “As a visual artist, I usually work by myself. During this project, I learned how to better articulate ideas as a member of a team. We set up workshops with MIT students, elementary schools, and after school programs and explored what it means to be part of a family and community. Together, we created a work of art that is on display in a place visited by people from all over the world.”

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