Boston Common is going to become more colorful this spring, and not just because of the blooming plant life and (fingers crossed) melting snow. The Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) has commissioned “Pathways to Freedom,” a public art installation created by artist Julia Vogl , inspired by the story and spirit of Passover. The installation will feature thousands of perspectives on immigration, freedom, and family history, from people in Greater Boston. In doing so, Vogl and JArts hope not only to offer a way for those of all faiths to celebrate Passover, but also emphasize simple yet potent themes: unity, diversity, and community.
“By putting it [on] the Common, it’s not necessarily just for one community, it’s for all communities,” Vogl explained in a recent phone interview. “It’s not in a gallery somewhere or in the paid entrance of a museum. It’s open to all, and I think that’s where you generally get a lot more expression of interest and honest conversation, when there’s no barriers over who gets to see it.”
The piece will consist of thousands of “buttons” that will surround the Common’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, each with unique, multicolored designs created by Vogl and generated by peoples’ thoughts on freedom and their family backgrounds.
A straightforward idea, but Vogl’s process in collecting people's’ perspectives, and creating individual designs from each of them, is where things get elaborate. From now through April 8, Vogl will travel around the Boston area setting up “Encounters,” where she will have a stand that people can approach and answer a set of four multiple-choice questions, ranging from “When did you/your family come to the Boston area?” to “If freedom were a food, it would be symbolized as . . . ”
The end result will be a button featuring designs made by Vogl based on people’s answers, individually tailored to each participant. Along with a button for each participant to take home, Vogl will also create a copy that will be used in the Common installation. The buttons will be pasted onto the walkway circling the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Vogl describes herself as an artist dedicated to putting “the ‘public’ back into ‘public art.’ ” She hopes to engage directly with community members — not only to contribute to a positive activity, but generate real conversation and reflection within Boston and beyond. “What’s great about the project is that 2,000 people will walk away with a button that will foster conversations elsewhere,” Vogl said. “But additionally to that, I hope that the piece will be a catalyst, initially for conversation but then for action to continue this dialogue about things we take for granted and advocating for the pride of immigrants and that narrative in American history.”
Herself a first-generation American, Vogl thinks that a piece meant to emphasize unity through diversity, and one that asks people head-on to consider the idea of freedom, couldn’t come at a more relevant time. It’s meant for Passover, yes, but the project’s core message reaches beyond a single holiday.
“The recent election of our president and the political antagonization of immigrants has really made ‘immigration’ a dirty word, and I think that we really need to confront that and where does that fit in terms of an American narrative, and where it fits in terms of a Boston narrative,” she said.
“Boston’s a really old city, people have come here for generations from different parts of the world, and I think more than ever it’s a time that we should engage in that conversation and not take that for granted.”
“Pathways to Freedom” will be on display from April 25 through May 2. To find out where you can encounter Vogl and contribute your thoughts to the project, visit JArt’s website for a full schedule: www.jartsboston.org/pathways/Robert Steiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org