By Michael Coughlin Jr.
Now + There, an organization that curates public art in sites across the city, has produced an artistic gem at 115 Constitution Road in Charlestown with the first year of its pilot program called Lot Lab.
Lot Lab is a three-year pilot program that transforms vacant lots into “vibrant, creative, and experimental gathering spaces” and offers site-specific contemporary art pieces, per the organization’s website.
The inaugural version of this program was developed in partnership with the National Park Service in an underused parking lot just steps from the gate to the Charlestown Navy Yard.
“It all came together and opened this past June, and we really transformed this lot that used to have a little chain around it,” said Kate Gilbert, Executive Director of Now + There.
Along with the National Park Service partnership, Gilbert explained that they also worked with the community, holding listening sessions over Zoom to ensure the site aligned with what those in the community were looking for.
“Our larger goal and vision for Lot Lab is that we can return a lot of this finding — whether it’s the data of how many people said we appreciate this experience and we now see Charlestown differently because of the art — we can return that all over to the different community groups that have been partnering with us as well as the National Park Service so that they can make something more permanent,” said Gilbert.
As Gilbert mentioned, Lot Lab opened in June and offers several different works of art for residents and those passing by to view and contemplate, free of charge and open 24/7.
Moreover, the first edition of Lot Lab has a theme of mending, and women created all the artwork.
One of these works of art is a ground mural titled “Knotical Waves,” created by Boston-based artist Massiel Grullon. Grullon’s piece loops around the lot using the shapes of knot-making with green and blue colors taken from the Boston Harbor.
“Literally, every time I’m there, I see some kid start walking on it and then running around in circles and going through all the loops,” said Gilbert with a laugh. “It just slows people down on that path across,” she added.
Another piece of art offered through Lot Lab is called “Signaling” and is done in conjunction with Kyle Browne, an artist and educator from Chelsea. This work rotates flags on a flag pole every month created by youth in Charlestown.
Gilbert also mentioned that Now + There has worked with Charlestown Boys & Girls Club and Turn It Around to help make this work a reality.
“They’re making little flags that represent who they are as Charlestown youth and the future that they want to see,” said Gilbert.
The penultimate artistic element of the site is a ground piece with several planters that spell out seven qualities of women, called “Women’s Qualities,” created by internationally-known artist Ghada Amer.
Some examples of these womanly qualities spelled out by the planters include resilient, nurturing, and more. Additionally, each word corresponds to an indigenous or native plant.
Moreover, Gilbert explained that these seven qualities Amer uses come from a poll conducted shortly after the Me Too Movement.
The final piece, which Gilbert indicated “Is definitely worth checking out,” is called “Stay” and was created by Sam Fields, an artist from Brockton, alongside a team of female-identifying artists.
Gilbert described the piece as a big wall tapestry that splices together hundreds of feet of nautical rope to create a wave pattern, with stays commonly used in sailing.
“You have to see it. It’s just spectacular,” said Gilbert. This piece has even more significance for Now + There. In 2019, Fields was a member of the organization’s Accelerator Program, which supports local artists in learning how to make public art.
“To be able to commission Sam, to do a large-scale project like this after successfully doing the program, was really fun,” said Gilbert.
In addition to the remarkable art pieces on display, Lot Lab has also offered several events for those interested since it opened earlier this summer. Some of these events included a curator tour, a family day, a yoga class, and more.
Also, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Lot Lab has public art ambassadors at the site to help people understand the artwork.
While a lot of Lot Lab’s events have come and gone, do not fear, as there are plans for another event this weekend called Decoding the Colonial | NAPJ on Saturday, September 9, from 5 to 7 p.m.
As part of this event, local interdisciplinary artists Lani Asunción and Joanna Tam will be doing site-specific performances.
Since its inception in June, Lot Lab has seemed to get a ton of foot traffic as the site sees hundreds of people on any given day, according to Gilbert.
Though Gilbert indicated that it might be a little early to tell the entire sentiment of the community about Lot Lab, she mentioned that people like it.
“What we’re hearing is surprise because we came in without a whole lot of fanfare — people were just like, oh wow, I didn’t know this was here,” said Gilbert.
“A person across the street has come over multiple times and keeps thanking us. She’s like, this was an eyesore… so the sentiment has been thank you for paying attention to an unloved space,” she added.
If you are interested in seeing some of these works in person, you will have to get to the site soon, as the first rendition of Lot Lab only runs through October 31, after which the current pieces will be uninstalled.
However, if you cannot make it out to the site before this year’s rendition of Lot Lab ends, the site will have new works of art next year as part of the three-year pilot program.
To learn more about Lot Lab, you can visit https://www.nowandthere.org/lotlab.
“What I would hope people understand or appreciate is that this is free contemporary art. That it really is a very accessible way to understand art and to even participate in it,” said Gilbert.
“I think sometimes we get intimidated by art… but this is a great way to get to know it. Especially on a Wednesday or Saturday — talk to someone about, like, why is a bunch of plants art, you know, and have those conversations,” she added.