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HarborArts waterfront murals speak to climate change

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
HarborArts waterfront murals speak to climate change
“Rise” by Silvia Lopez Chavez. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Six new murals have sprouted on the East Boston waterfront at the HarborArts outdoor gallery. Presented by Linda Cabot in collaboration with PangeaSeed Foundation and its Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans public art initiative, the murals all address different components of climate change and environmental activism.

“The Calling” by Julia “JULZ” Roth and Cedric “Vise1” Douglas. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HARBORARTS

“The Calling” by Julia “JULZ” Roth and Cedric “Vise1” Douglas. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HARBORARTS

“East Boston is a climate justice community and an environmental justice community,” says Matthew Pollock, director of HarborArts. “People living in East Boston are already experiencing the consequences of climate change. Within our community, lower-income families — often immigrant families and people of color — are disproportionately impacted by these consequences.”

As a result, local artists Silvia López Chavez, Julia “Julz” Roth, Cedric “Vise1” Douglas, Josie Morway, IMAGINE and Sophy Tuttle, along with Artists for Humanity — featuring teen leaders from East Boston — took to the shipyard walls to create dialogue about climate change.

Roth and Douglas’ mural, “The Calling,” features a child listening to a conch shell against a pale blue background. Behind him, a factory spouts black smoke. “If you ever put one of those shells up to your ear you can hear the roar of the sea,” says Roth. “So we wanted to play off that idea and say what would it be like if the ocean is talking to the child, what would it say?”

“Protect What You Love” by IMAGINE. PHOTO: CELINA

“Protect What You Love” by IMAGINE. PHOTO: CELINA

On closer inspection, viewers can see that some of the fish swimming around the child are morphing into plastic bottles and others lay belly-up, deceased from the surrounding pollution. The fish are cod and pollock, species native to the Massachusetts area. Douglas notes that cod are already at risk of extinction, and government sanctions denote only specific seasons they can be fished. 

Douglas often depicts children in his work, but says he found the next generation to be particularly poignant in regard to the environment; they are, after all, inheriting this earth. He says, “Most parents, they want their kids to have a better life than they did. We need to think about the planet in the same respect.”

The Sea Walls project was intended to be a much larger festival before COVID-19 hit. This abbreviated version will serve as a socially distanced pilot, and next year a larger effort will launch. Roth and Douglas have already been asked to come back and paint a larger wall next year.

“Fight the Rise” by Josie Morway. PHOTO CELINA COLBY

“Fight the Rise” by Josie Morway. PHOTO CELINA COLBY

The current iteration was produced in partnership with Boston Harbor Now, Ocean Havens, East Boston Main Streets, the Davis Companies, the East Boston Foundation, Artists for Humanity, the Donald McKay School, the Barr Foundation, the Friends of the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway, Montana Cans and the East Boston community.

It was important to Cabot, the sponsor and presenter, to engage young people in the art making process. She initiated the inclusion of Artists for Humanity’s youth artists from East Boston and was adamant about also including accompanying educational programming in the form of virtual panels and events.

The murals are artistically stunning, but the Sea Walls Boston team hopes they also incite tough conversations about environmental conservation. Pollock says, “We’re not simply beautifying our neighborhood. We’re painting for a purpose — to educate and empower our community to be better stewards of our oceans.”

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