American Therapy Comes to Blackstone Square Park

By Beth Treffeisen

As dogs romped around during a sunny afternoon in Blackstone Square Park, a different scene was unfolding on the other side of the black fountain. An out of the normal sight was seen as participants found themselves in the midst of an interactive art installation dubbed American Therapy.

“It’s all about what do we want to say to America,” said Julie Ann Otis the artist behind American Therapy. “But really, it is about what do we want to say to ourselves.”

Sitting in the park was a collection of booths, were participants are paired with one of the rotating artists. Each had a unique design to allow participants to choose how much eye contact they will have.

One is a confessional booth (similar to what can be found in a church), another is a podium with a chair below in front of it, and the third is two chairs on loose springs were participants can literally feel the tension between them as they hold themselves apart.

While in the various booths, “sharers” answer questions provided by the facilitating artist. Example questions include, what is your experience living in America, and what do you see happening in your own community that tells the story of America?

The “listeners” who are one of the rotating artists interprets the conversation and translates it into art.

Otis who is a poet, arms herself with a typewriter as she listens to participants speak on their thoughts on America today. By the end of the session, she creates a new poem. Another artist, Nayda A. Cuevas, is a visual artist who transforms her conversations into portraits.

The finished works are then placed on one of five 200 square-foot panels that serve as an evolving mural reflecting Bostonians, American experience.

“The pieces will grow over time and look like a quilt or tapestry as it travels over the course of the different locations,” said Otis.

American Therapy is sponsored in part through a Live Arts Boston grant from the Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation and co-presented with Atlantic Wharf, Washington Gateway Main Street, and the Fenway Alliance.

Inspiration for American Therapy first stemmed from Otis’s Election Therapy Booth that was set up at Park Street Station on the Nov. 8, Election Day last year. Otis set up a table with two chairs and armed herself with a typewriter as people walked by.

“We’ve been through a lot over the last 18 months and I used this as a chance to talk about it,” said Otis. “I did poetry on the fly as people shared their experience with me.”

During Election Therapy Booth, Otis took a picture of the poem and then gave it away but during American Therapy she’s keeping them to be placed on the large mural.

Otis said that she hopes American Therapy that travels between locations in the city will capture a diverse voice within the mural that wouldn’t be seen if it was only in one location in a non-conflicting way.

“It’s not culturally normative to hold a compassionate space for sharing,” said Otis. “There are no spaces where people can share with neutrality. This is in the context of compassionate listening and non-violent communication.”

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American Therapy will take place from 4 p.m. to sunset during weekdays and from 1 p.m. to sunset on weekends.

It will run in Blackstone Square Park, 1535 Washington St., through Oct. 1. Then will move to Atlantic Wharf, 290 Congress St., from Oct. 2 through Oct. 8. On Oct. 9 it will move to Evans Way Park, 25 Evans Way for the Fenway Alliance’s Opening Our Doors.

The newest addition will have the exhibit featured at Boston City Hall Plaza on Oct. 14 and 15 as part of Hubweek.

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