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Artists take over Roxbury billboard

Project aims to highlight local talent, bring joy to neighborhood

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Artists take over Roxbury billboard
The billboard in Roxbury’s John Eliot Square (top left) will soon feature the work of local artists, including (clockwise from top right) Carlos W. Byron, Hakim Raquib PHOTOS: Carlos W. Byron and Ngoc-Tran Vu PHOTO: Virginia Sutherland

Thanks to artist and Roxbury resident Dayenne Walters, the billboard at the corner of Centre Street and Roxbury Street in Roxbury’s John Eliot Square is getting a whole new look. Beginning in March and running for a whole year, the newly branded project “Billboard Hope” will use the platform to showcase works by local artists.

Walters has lived around the corner from the Square for 30 years, and has spent most of them woefully disappointed in the condition of the billboard. “I feel like it’s such a community of historical buildings and parks and then you have this billboard that doesn’t connect to the community at all,” she says. “We deserve better than that.”

Billboard Hope will launch by March 29 with photographer Hakim Raquib. Raquib began his career immersed in sociology and the political activism of the 1960s. When he became interested in photography, it was through technical studies at MIT and work with the Roxbury Photographer’s Training Program that he came into his creative practice. Now Raquib uses the power of his lens, aided by painting and printmaking techniques, to probe the world around us.

Walters says, “It’s important for people to know that there are so many working artists in this community. I can throw a stone and hit four just from my front door.” In addition to publicizing the local talent, Walters wanted to create something hopeful for the neighborhood. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, public art has been a crucial way for Bostonians to stay inspired and engaged in the art world.

Interest in the project has been strong. Ngoc-Tran Vu, a Vietnamese-American artist who utilizes painting, photography, sculpture and social organizing in her practice, and Carlos W. Byron, an illustrator, painter and calligrapher currently working in photography, are confirmed for May and June, respectively. Walters has been in touch with many other local creators and encourages interested parties to reach out to her at billboardhope2021@gmail.com. The open call for artists runs through the end of April. In total, 13 artists will be featured. The theme for featured work is “hope and Inspiration for the future,” but the pieces don’t have to be created solely for the project.

Sponsorship opportunities for Billboard Hope are also available, and interested donors can reach out to the same email. The project’s Facebook page features information about the artists, their upcoming projects and events related to Billboard Hope. Walters hopes the summer will bring safe opportunities for socially distanced gatherings in the Square and more eyes on the artists’ work.

Ultimately, Walters hopes this will bring joy to the neighborhood. It has been a long year of quarantine, and she’s ready to celebrate the vibrant social arts community in Roxbury. “Art is the one thing that all of this can’t take away from you,” says Walters. “It’s lifeblood for community. Not everybody can create, but everyone can be energized by creation.”

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