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Art, Space, Community

Art offers a way to depict and share life – the grim and the good, the dim hardships, and bright hopes. It can be decorative, interpretive, self-expressive, or created simply because it can be. For the participants in the Roxbury Youth Programs’ (RYP) summer session this year, art enabled them to put forth a range of ways of seeing and being in the places and spaces that make up their communities.

I explore more parts of my community within my art,” one 15-year-old said to explain their contribution to the exhibition. “I think knowing where your community is and being present in your community is important for your wellbeing.”


Boston Student's Art

RYP is an out-of-school youth development program offered by the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM) based at First Church in Roxbury. Since 1992, this year-round program has advanced a mission of supporting and empowering young people living in Roxbury as well as the many neighborhoods in other sections of Boston. RYP aims to make it possible for teens to acquire knowledge and use the tools that will help them create pathways to social and economic success. 

Childs artwork

Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) staff, in collaboration with student volunteer Ellie Harrison, who is studying for her master’s in museum education at Tufts University, engaged with the participants in the six-week summertime program, a project prompted by the designation earlier this year of First Church as a Boston Landmark. Constructed in 1804 as a meeting house, First Church, located in John Eliot Square, is the oldest wood-frame church in Boston. The study report written for the site (which can be accessed here), includes a research report by Aabid Allibhai, a doctoral candidate in African and African American Studies at Harvard University, titled “Race & Slavery at the First Church in Roxbury: The Colonial Period (1631-1775).” This report examines the history of racism at First Church in a narrative that tells of at least 58 Black and Indigenous men, women, and children whom white parishioners held in bondage.

The RYP summer session embarked on what it titled “The Names Project.” UUUM’s youth programs manager, Curtis Santos, said that in addition to learning the names and origins of city streets, participants learned the names of some of the people enslaved in the community during the 18th century. Some of the artwork they created was influenced by the knowledge shared with the young people. “It’s been an amazing journey to see all the artwork they created,” Santos said.

Child Artwork

The participants also visited the “Slavery in Boston” Exhibit, which opened in June at Faneuil Hall. The exhibition was about five years in the making and led by the City Archaeology Program. 

The RYP art gallery opened in August to celebrate the completion of the six-week session. In addition to visual artworks, the participants performed poetry and music. Parents and community members attended the event and honored the young people.

“They have grown so much,” said RYP Program Coordinator Nahisha Jackson. She added that the focus of the program helped with “raising awareness about themselves, their communities, their place in them, and the impact they can have there.”

As the mission of The Office of Historic Preservation continues to evolve, our team aims to increase its involvement in projects that emphasize the promotion of public history, thus elevating endeavors similar to the one at hand. Through these efforts, our goal is to broaden awareness and comprehension of the landmarking process, catering to diverse audiences, both young and old.

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