“What Do We Have in Common?” – a new park-wide art installation to mark the Friends of the Public Garden’s 50th anniversary – opened on the Boston Common on Wednesday, Sept. 22 – one year later than originally planned. But the exhibit, which aims to find a common ground for all, has now taken on even deeper resonance amid the pandemic.
“The provocative question of ‘What Do We Have in Common? ‘was amazingly conceived in the fall of 2019,” said Liz Vizza, president of the Friends of the Public Garden. “When the pandemic hit, every single person was impacted by it. While we know that some were disproportionately affected, it was still a crisis shared by everyone, and brought home how few true barriers there are between us, despite the artificial ones we create. Then, after George Floyd was killed, it was another moment of crisis, forcing us to ask ourselves, how have we allowed the concept of race to divide us?”
The centerpiece of the art installation, curated by Now + There, a Boston-based nonprofit public-arts group, and created by Brooklyn, N.Y., artist, Janet Zweig is a massive wooden cabinet, with 200 compartments, each containing an illuminated, blue marker asking a poignant question.
The first three questions, which were posed in Spanish and Vietnamese, as well as in English, during the Sept. 22 launch for the installation were: “who owns this park?”; “who owns the moon?”; and “who owns the air?.”
“Janet was immersed in understanding the role of the Common over the centuries, which brought her to this guiding question. And that role was never more vital than during Covid” said Vizza.
Between six to 10 of the remaining boxes will be opened each day from 8 to 9 a.m. daily over the course of 30 days until the installation ends on Oct. 22.
With each question posed, the illuminated signs will be placed in a wheel-barrel, which will be rolled around the park, said Vizza, who added that the program may perhaps culminate in a “gathering with flashlights.”
Twelve guides are on hand in the park each day to answer questions from guests, who are also invited to take a free book from the cabinet.
During the Sept. 22 launch for the art installation on the Common Ryan Woods, commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, said since the group’s inception, the Friends have been an invaluable ally in helping the city maintain the upkeep of the Common, as well as of the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall – a partnership formalized and extended for another 50 years when then-Mayor Martin Walsh signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in January of 2020 that strengthens the partnership between the Parks Department and the Friends at both the strategic and operational levels.
Meanwhile, Vizza hopes guests will come see the art installation for themselves while enjoying a place that has provided a place of quite respite and tranquility for so many during the pandemic.
“The Common and our other public parks became lifesavers for everyone during this difficult time, places to heal, rest, see one another safely outdoors, and to have time away from the pressures of our homes that became the center of our everything,” said Vizza.
Follow along and share your experiences with “What Do We Have in Common?” on social media at @fopg, @now_and_there, and #InCommonBOS.