The Cambridge Arts Council and Public Art in Harvard Square
The Cambridge Arts Council (CAC) is the official arts agency for the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was created by city ordinance in 1974 and incorporated as a public non-profit organization in 1976. The mission of the CAC is to ensure that the arts remain vital for people living, working, and visiting Cambridge. The CAC strives to both stimulate public awareness of the arts, as well as preserve and celebrate the diverse culture of Cambridge through artistic initiatives. Some of the Council’s most successful projects include the One Percent for Art program, the annual Cambridge River Festival, the CAC Grant Program, Summer in the City, an exhibition program and a lively street performer program.
The CAC has also commissioned and supported a number of public art projects within Harvard Square itself. For visitors and Harvard Square enthusiasts alike, a tour of the public art within the Square is a trip not to be missed. Some of the art has been privately sponsored, but all promotes the mission of the CAC and enhances the atmosphere and culture of Harvard Square.
A majestic wrought iron chestnut tree mixes with the natural ivy of the brick wall at 56 Brattle Street in the Square. The Cambridge Center for Adult Education commissioned the tree along with the anvil and other blacksmith tools that sit in its shade. The display commemorates the site of the home of blacksmith Dexter Pratt, immortalized by Cambridge’s own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the poem, “The Village Blacksmith.” Dimitri Gerakis completed this untitled work in 1989 using many of the same tools and techniques of Pratt himself.
“Indication of harm, not proof of harm, is our call to action,” is the quotation below the inspiration mural painted by Be Sargent’s titled “Women’s Community Cancer Project Mural” which can be found at 20 Church Street. It serves as a memorial to the women activists who have died from the disease and those who continue to fight against it. The work was completed in 1998 and Sargent has continued to create works focusing on peace, hope, and respect across Cambridge, Somerville, and the United States.
Joshua Winer created in two parts the mural that now adorns the façade of the Harvard Square Theater. When the entrance to the theater was relocated in 1983 to 10 Church Street, Winer turned the brick wall into a Beaux-Arts style entrance. It is an unexpected surprise as one turn downs Church street, and it is difficult to not stop and stare at Winer's creation.
When Harvard Square’s beloved puppeteer died tragically at age 36, the Cambridge community united to build a memorial in his honor. Five years after his death, the Igor Fokin Memorial Sculpture was dedicated in his performance spot. Konstantin Simun was charged with creating the memorial and he did so by erecting a three-foot tall granite bollard, with a bronze replica of Fokin’s favorite puppet, “DooDoo,” sitting atop it. Three bronze bricks are placed below, honoring Fokin and celebrating all street performers. Fokin’s memory remains alive in the square through the memorial as well as a continued commitment to supporting local street performers.
Finally, in Winthrop Park, at the corners of JFK and Mt. Auburn Streets is a piece created by Carlos Dorrien in 1986. “Quiet Cornerstone” is a large granite sculpture with the words “Newtowne Market” partially carved onto one cornice-like side while the opposite side remains roughly hewn into which three steps have been carved. It is a striking piece that encourages one to sit and reflect. Much of Dorrien's work is meant to be placed in nature, and it is clear to see his inspiration which he often draws from architecture and the idea of archaeological ruins. His “ruin” from Newtowne is gracefully adorns the park within it now lies.
The prevalence of art within Harvard Square is a great testament to the character of the city for realizing the value of public art installations. While they are often placed in less than ideal conditions, making maintenance a difficult task, the pieces of public art on display serve only to add to the culture, creative attitude, and beauty of an already historic and important location. For more information about public art in Harvard Square and the a project of the Cambridge Arts Council please read about the Arts On The Line program.
As prepared by:
Gavin W. Kleespies, Executive Director Cambridge Historical Society.
Katie MacDonald, Intern Cambridge Historical Society.