Pathways to Freedom Brightens up Boston Common Monument

May 4, 2018
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Surrounding the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the Boston Common, brightly colored disks stand out amongst the parks background, enticing passersby to stop, take pictures and wonder what they represent.

“Pathways to Freedom” is a public art installation that reflects, 1,800 conversations about freedom, and immigration in the Greater Boston area. Incorporating 44 audio recordings, the piece showcases Boston’s immigrant experience through the decorative disks.

“We have had a lot of positive reactions and lot of people surprised,” said artist Julia Vogl. “Most people are delighted by the color. It’s finally spring and warmer here and people want color. I think they find it very celebratory and are interested in learning more.”

The installation will run through May 13 and be deinstalled on Monday, May 14. Originally, the project was supposed to be taken out by May 3, but members of the community asked the City to allow the temporary structure to stay longer.

The project stemmed from when the Jewish Arts Collaborative asked Vogl to come up with a project that was accessible to all of Boston about the Jewish holiday of Passover.

At the time, Vogl was living in London, where she was involved in a lot of refugee work. Soon after, President Donald Trump was elected president and the term immigration started to take on a negative connotation.

“I am a first-generation American, and I felt very much like, wait, the American narrative was built on being proud of being made up of immigrants,” said Vogl. “So I started to wonder, what do people think of immigration today and what do they think of the word freedom?”

During Passover, Vogl said there is talk about leaving slavery, seeking freedom and starting anew. Although we use the word freedom constantly, she questioned what does it really mean to individuals today?

So, she started to engage with different communities around Boston and visited 27 different sites to talk to people.

To make it more inviting, she created a little lemonade stand, or the “encounter” where people can meet and have a brief interaction, answering questions on an iPad and make a pin.

“If nothing else, they got to walk off into the world with their pin, and they can tell their friends and strangers, ‘hey, you know this woman asked me today about freedom, when did you come to the Boston area,” said Vogl. “Then I had all this data from all these people and so this is a data visualization of all those people.”

The patterns of the disk represent the answers the participants picked in a multiple choice questionnaire that correspond with color or images.

For example, green represents a response that indicates the participants “currently feels free” and pink represents a response to “I feel free when I can spend time doing whatever I want to do and go where ever I want to go.”

“We have had a few people come back and find their pin,” said Vogl. “It’s also been very interesting to see people’s reactions who haven’t made a pin and look at the questions and see this portrait of Boston.”

Vogl decided to work with pins because they create a sense of curiosity and are pretty. They invite people to overcome a barrier between strangers and are a point of pride of people’s experiences. Also, they are a nice souvenir that people can put in their pocket or leave on their desk.

“Hopefully it will be something people hold on to,” said Vogl.

The location of the installation at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was not only for its central location but because of the meaning behind it. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument recognizes all those who combated against slavery and united the country during the Civil War.

Vogl said this project that talks about freedom, it just felt like an apt location to have it next to a monument that represents fighting against slavery for freedom. Also, the Boston Common is known historically as a place for the people.

The installation of the project wasn’t easy. With the help of TexWalk she pieced together the 5,000 square-foot project around the entire monument. Each piece is unique and had no repeats – so it was like putting together a giant puzzle.

“It was really nice for people to witness the installation and realize that art just doesn’t happen magically,” said Vogl. “It happens to be a lot of hard work.”

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