An Interactive Public Artwork “Words Matter” Travels through Boston

By Beth Treffeisen

Standing out in Dudley Square, is a large 16 by 16 foot billboard with black lettering on a white backdrop reading the time, weather, and headlines including “Pope Pledges to visit Italian Quake Victims” and “New Mass Law Promises Gender Pay Equality” that has passerby’s curious.

“A lot of people walk by and ask what is this?” said Ines Riaz, a volunteer who is going into her junior year of Rhode Island School of Design. “I explain what it is and many times they come by later and take part.”

The newest artwork by Paul Ramirez Jona’s, Public Trust, is an interactive sculpture of changing promises, where it asks participants to make a pledge and to think about the value of their words.

This temporary artwork gives voice to the community and was commissioned by Now + There, a Boston-based new arts organization.

“It’s really fulfilling,” said Riaz. “My promise was to make art forever.”

In this election season, Ramirez Jonas said promises could be very loaded. He noticed that participants, who at first may be wary, in the end, create a promise that they truly mean. They range from self-esteem, family, to something that is quite simple like cleaning the dishes.

The piece first opened in Dudley Square on August 27 and will remain for one week until September 2. From there it will travel to Kendall Center until September 9 and finally will land in Copley Square from September 10 to the 17.

For the 21 days that the piece will be traveling, artist Ramirez Jonas will continue to ask participants to consider the nature of promises and the potent speech acts that keep a society together.

People of all ages are asked to make promise that the artist records in a contract and drawing they can keep. It is then also published on the large billboard in context with promises made by politicians, scientists, economists, and weather forecasters that are all chosen daily from headline news.

“This wouldn’t work if it was a digital board,” said Ramirez Jonas who got the idea from the Fenway Park scoreboard. “The rubbing is a way to make it text, and it really is a drawing. The big board is really the sculpture that is moving.”

Twelve Boston artist-ambassadors along with addition of volunteers help to facilitate the process in all three locations.

Ramirez Jonas said they decided on the different locations because many of Boston’s neighborhoods keep to themselves and if you put the piece in one area you are excluding the others by economics, race, history, and more.

“Ideally it would be on the back of a flat truck,” said Ramirez Jonas. “The initial sketch actually had it on a flat bed truck but logistically that could never happen.”

The piece will live on with the use of social media and then later on in a book with a collection of all of the promises and an essay.

“It’s going to show a moment in time because it has the date and time,” said Kate Gilbert the director of Now + There. “This thing happened in history and books are so final and complete but they live.”

Gilbert said that part of the excitement of temporary art is that the artists can respond to the changes in real-time. Although she loves permanent artwork it takes a lot of time and money to make them happen.

She continued, “To quickly respond to how Boston is changing, temporary art is the best idea.”

Visit for hours and cancellations due to inclement weather and follow the project online on Instagram and Twitter with #PublicTrustBOS.


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