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Meet the Boston Art Commission: Robert Freeman

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Arts and Culture

We talked to one of the newest members of the Boston Art Commission, Robert Freeman, about his personal experiences as an artist and his vision for public art in Boston.

Congratulations on your new role as a member of the Boston Art Commission! What about being a Commissioner are you excited for the most?

First, I am on a journey to locate the public art projects that grace our city. I live in Jamaica Plain where murals abound and surprise our citizens and visitors who pass through our neighborhoods. What an honor to be appointed by the Museum of Fine Arts to continue to promote the tradition of public art throughout Boston. Often through performances, murals, digital displays, sculpture or environmental art, public art can educate, inform, delight, and surprise the viewer with their messages of strength and beauty while elevating a sense of pride for its residents. All of the great cities around the world are known for their public art.

Robert Freeman's swearing-in as a new member of the Boston Art Commission.

You're an artist yourself. Can you tell us a little about your work?

My paintings have mostly dealt with the African-American experience. Whether it is celebrating our music, our elegant dress, or our relationships to one another, the narrative has been to promote our sophisticated beauty. I spent my childhood in West Africa where I grew up with images of Africans on money, and African members of parliament governing their own future. I participated in African ceremonies that heighten the senses and brought wonderment to my soul. These are the elements that I try to bring back to life as I approach a canvas.

We hear you're having an exhibit at City Hall. Tell us more!

During the 1940s and 1950s, African-Americans were not permitted to enter white society such as social groups and clubs, so African-Americans formed their own groups. The paintings in City Hall show the Black middle class which few artists have attempted to illustrate. Perhaps James Van De Zee, a photographer in the '40s is one example of the few artists whose work incorporated the Black middle class. My paintings are an attempt to celebrate our resourcefulness, resilience and elegance.

Painting by Robert Freeman on display at Boston City Hall.

What is the value of public art in Boston?

I think public art gives the element of surprise and inspiration to our pedestrian lives and uplifts the human spirit when encountered. It can change the vision of our neighborhoods which in turn changes the vision of our city and it’s citizens.

What are your hopes for the future of public art in Boston?

I hope that public art will blossom throughout our city elevating our citizens, young and old. I firmly believe as the famous potter Brother Thomas believes, “Art can save our world.”

Robert Freeman's exhibit 'Black Tie' is on display in the 5th floor Mayor's Gallery at Boston City Hall through February 28, 2020. Learn more about the City Hall galleries.