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Revolving Museum’s Poetry Mobile comes to Downtown Crossing

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

On Aug. 19 and 20, an unusual vehicle will make its way through Downtown Crossing. The refurbished 1952 Ford pickup and trailer, painted a whimsical black and red color scheme, is the “Poetry Mobile,” the latest guerilla art installation by the Revolving Museum.

This is no ordinary delivery truck. The mobile, a project spearheaded by the Revolving Museum’s founder Jerry Beck, features 300 poems on the vehicle, a basketball hoop for impromptu games, an interior gallery space, artmaking opportunities — and at the Boston opening, a fashion show. It will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the corner of Summer and Washington Streets.

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The Revolving Museum is a nonprofit, nomadic cultural organization that fosters public art, education, events and dialogue in communities around the East Coast, with a specific emphasis on youth creators. All community members will be encouraged to engage with the Poetry Mobile in any way they choose during its two-day stay. After Boston, the mobile will head to Worcester and other New England area communities before coming back to South Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood Oct. 19 and 20. 

“I love poetry and I started recognizing that there wasn’t enough poetry in public spaces,” says Beck. “I’m very excited that the museum is doing something using the written word to pull the community together to build a dialogue that can be productive, cathartic and meaningful.”

Pulitzer Prize-winners like Rae Armantrout and poet laureates like Alice B. Fogel contributed some of the poems on the vehicle, but the key authors are the young people Beck worked with on the project. Since the inception of the Revolving Museum 35 years ago, encouraging youth artists in underserved communities has been Beck’s primary goal.

High school writers Nasih Thomas and Jada Poland will be sharing their work with the public for the first time on the mobile.

Thomas has been writing since fifth grade and shares his work through the Instagram account @fr33ly_spoken, but the personal nature of his writing has led him to keep much of it close to him until now. “We are going to be the upcoming push for our generation. It’s good for elders and people younger to know what we think as we step up to the plate,” says Thomas.

Poland began toying with words just a year ago. “I’ve never seen myself as a poet, at least not until I got involved in this project,” she says. “The fact that it’s getting to all of these people is incredible.” Poland also shares her work online via the Instagram account @anon_writer_unboxed. Both young writers have 10 poems included, exploring familial ties and the search for identity among other themes.

Thomas and Poland may be among the latest teens impacted by the Revolving Museum, but the original teen artists benefited from the organization almost 35 years ago. Beck recalls an 8-year-old Jose Gonzalez and his sister Becky (now Becky Cruz-Crosson), two of the first youth participants in Boston. They were participating in a program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that allowed young people from neighborhoods of color to make a project with the Institute of Contemporary Art in their neighborhoods. But the students had bigger plans.

“After going through the ICA, he [Jose] said, ‘How come there’s no black people here?’ to the curator,” recalls Beck. “In the next six months they hired an African American director of education.” Not only did Gonzalez make waves in the ICA’s early infrastructure, he secured the museum space for the student show.

After this victory, Gonzalez became the first youth adviser to the museum in 1988. Today, decades later, Gonzalez and Cruz-Crosson are both on the board of the Revolving Museum helping other young people make change through art, just as they did. They will both be at the opening celebration of the Poetry Mobile in Boston.

Beck has continued to create opportunities for students of color. “In terms of multicultural students, we’re about 65 to 75 percent. That’s represented on the art mobile,” he says. “If it’s not representing the entire diversity, then we’re not seeing the best art.”

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