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Boston Arts Academy Public Art Projects

Two new long-term public art projects and the resiting of an existing artwork by Wen-ti Tsen will complement the construction of the new Boston Arts Academy building in Fenway.

The City commissioned MASARY Studios for interior artwork at the new building. Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead were commissioned for exterior artwork.


The interior artwork, "Memory/Diffusion" by MASARY, has been installed. The exterior artwork, "The Creative" by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead is in the fabrication phase.

Project details

Project Context

Boston Arts Academy is Boston’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts. It provides a diverse student body access to a college-preparatory arts and academic education. 

The total project budget is:

  • $375,000 for the interior site, and
  • $250,000 for the exterior site, including fabrication and installation.

These projects are funded through the City’s Percent for Art program. They complement the City’s $125 million construction of a new building for Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway neighborhood. The state-of-the-art facility at 174 Ipswich Street will include:

  • dedicated rehearsal and performance spaces
  • gallery space
  • studios for music, visual arts, and fashion design
  • academic classrooms, and
  • recreation areas, kitchens, and student commons.

Exterior rendering of new Boston Arts Academy building
Exterior rendering of new Boston Arts Academy building

Project Site

The interior project site is a monumental stairway. It runs from the first to second floor in the center of the building, near the front entrance. The exterior project site is at the corner of Ipswich Street and Van Ness Street, on the public sidewalk.

The school is located in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. This area is part of the Fenway Cultural District. There are many cultural and educational institutions within walking distance, including:

  • Berklee School of Music
  • New England Conservatory
  • Massachusetts College of Art + Design
  • School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts
  • Emerson College
  • Fenway Park
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and
  • Frederick Law Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace of parks.

Interior rendering of new Boston Arts Academy building
Interior rendering of new Boston Arts Academy building

Commissioning Process

The City released a Call for Artists for both projects in October 2019. Several artists were invited to interview with an Artist Selection Committee. The Committee was comprised of:

  • representatives from the Boston Art Commission
  • local arts professionals representing the neighborhood, and
  • professional and student end-users of the project site. 

The Artist Selection Committee selected:

  • MASARY Studios for the interior artwork, and 
  • Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead for exterior artwork. 

The Boston Art Commission voted to approve both artists for the commissions.

Design Phase

The artists were encouraged to consider Boston Arts Academy’s four shared values in their artwork:

  1. Community with social responsibility
  2. Diversity with respect
  3. Passion with balance
  4. Vision with integrity

The projects were also required to include a robust educational component in their processes. 

Existing artworks

There are also several existing artworks at the site:

  • “Dream Catching” by Wen-Ti Tsen is a sculpture that had been previously installed on the façade of the old Boston Arts Academy building. The design consists of a series of bronze-plate cultural figures and mirror-finished, stainless steel plates. The original installation was completed in 2004. The project included a four-month residency working with students of the school. The artwork has been resited in an internal stairwell in the new building. It is visible from the school’s primary entrance and from the commons area around the monumental stairway.
  • "Teammates" and "Carl Yastrzemski" by Antonio Tobias Mendez, and "Ted Williams" by Franc Talarico are across Ipswich Street. They are visible from the school's entrance.

"Dream Catching" by Wen-Ti Tsen
"Dream Catching" by Wen-Ti Tsen.

'Memory/Diffusion'

MASARY Studio’s multimedia artwork, "Memory/Diffusion", will be installed in the main atrium of the school. As a part of the everyday landscape for an arts school, the creative team behind "Memory/Diffusionquestioned how an artwork could evolve over the years and mirror the vibrancy and diversity of activity in the school. Through research, inventive technologies, and a keen interest in the concepts of memory developed by French philosopher Henri Bergson, MASARY set out to answer these questions and offer new speculation through this contemporary artwork.

"Memory/Diffusion" is anchored by a 20-foot dynamic LED screen. It has both a custom lighting design and a real-time visual system. The artwork uses camera input to perceive the environment in front of it. The piece constantly absorbs what moves in front of it using:

  • state-of-the-art machine learning techniques
  • custom software, and
  • real-time graphics.

It then composites and renders these stored image “memories” as a reminder and reflection on what came before.

Final design of Memory/Diffusion by MASARY.
Final design of "Memory/Diffusion" by MASARY.

'The Creative'

"The Creative" by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead is a free standing, stainless steel sculpture. It will be installed in front of Boston Arts Academy. The sculpture is a depiction of a young woman with her eyes closed and head tilted upward in an imagining gaze. The “head” is composed of dozens of laser-cut stainless-steel shapes. They are held apart to create a skin of perforated stainless steel. Each 5/16” thick plane is welded together in a stacking fashion by small rods that create a 1” distance between sheets. The effect is that of an ever-shifting nature as you move around the piece. You go from perceiving the appearance of clearly defined topographic planes to seeming almost invisible when looking straight-on from front or back. 

At night it will be lighted from by colored LEDs. The 8’ tall work will stand on an 8” plinth. It will be lighted from below by eight surrounding fixtures recessed into the top of the pedestal. The porous skin design and reflective, shiny nature of stainless-steel allows light to bounce around the interior. In the center of the head, there will be images of the various artistic disciplines taught at the school. These silhouetted shapes were designed by BAA students.

Rendering of 'The Creative' by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead
Rendering of 'The Creative' by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead.

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