Create Public Art For New Cambridge School Complex

9/21/20203 years ago

caution sign The information on this page may be outdated as it was published 3 years ago.

$650,000 Commission. Apply by Dec. 4

Aerial view of Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex, Cambridge.

The City of Cambridge is seeking artists to create a major public artwork outside the city’s new Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex, as part of a reconstruction of the educational and community hub at 197 Vassal Lane. We invite you to submit your qualifications—images of past work and biographical information—to be considered for the commission. See details below. (No proposals at this time.) 

Update: The deadline has been extended to Dec. 4, 2020, at noon.

The City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is seeking qualifications from artists interested in creating a site-responsive outdoor public artwork for what will be the newly constructed Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex, located at 197 Vassal Lane in northwest Cambridge.

The city seeks artists with public art experience, which we know can come in various forms. Recognizing that working in the public realm is multi-faceted, we welcome applicants within a broad range of artistic backgrounds, and we encourage artist-led interdisciplinary teams.

The $650,000 commission must cover all artist’s costs from design through final implementation and installation, including but not limited to artist fee, travel, community meetings and engagement, fabrication, insurance, engineering and other consultants, transportation, installation, and coordination with city staff.

At this stage, we are not asking for proposals, but rather only qualifications in the form of materials that represent an artist’s past work. From this Request for Qualifications (RFQ), four finalists will be selected by an Art Jury. Each finalist will be invited and paid $3,000 to submit concept proposals that are based on site parameters and developed in consultation with city staff and members of the community. Final selection of one artist or team will be made by a Site Committee of stakeholders based on community feedback, proposal presentations, and interviews with the finalists.

NOTE: In normal circumstances, we require site visits and an in-person community meeting before finalists develop proposals. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, plans for site visits may be altered. Meetings with community members and city staff, which will be required before proposal development begins, may need to be virtual.

Cambridge is a city of approximately 113,000 people, with approximately 7000 students in the school district. There are twelve elementary schools, five upper schools, and three high school programs. The Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools (197 Vassal Lane) serve preschool through eighth grade students and draw from across all city neighborhoods.

The architect for the Tobin Montessori/Vassal Lane Upper Schools project is Perkins-Eastman. Preliminary schematic concepts feature guiding themes of climate change and sustainability; trees; water; early childhood and play (a significant population of students will be very young children); community wellness; natural materials that relate to the site’s former role in the brickmaking industry, its proximity to Fresh Pond, and the Montessori educational philosophy.

The net-zero-emissions design will include new facilities for the Tobin Montessori elementary school and the Vassal Lane Upper School, in addition to the Special Start (the city’s preschool program serving children with disabilities), preschool, and afterschool programs, serving approximately 975 students in total. In addition to the buildings, significant open space will contain various programmatic areas for recreation and open play, incorporating the existing Reverend P.H. Callanan Playground, an important space for the surrounding community. The landscape design will also include multi-use paths through the site that connect with adjacent neighborhoods. As with all the city schools, outdoor space is open to the community when school is not in session.

The city seeks qualifications from artists who would be able to develop a concept that responds specifically to the multi-faceted aspects of the site, both its physical attributes and its educational and community purposes.

More information about the Tobin Montessori/Vassal Lane Upper Schools project can be found on the city website:

The Site:
In the mid-nineteenth century, the area of Boston changed from a mercantile seaport to an industrial metropolis. Open land in the northwest area of Cambridge, a city across the Charles River from Boston, was desirable for many industries, including brickmaking, ice harvesting (at Fresh Pond, a glacial kettle pond), tanneries, cattle yards, rail yards, and carriage factories. Railroads opened to support the industries. Immigrants working in these industries settled in the area and created neighborhoods over generations.

The neighborhood around the Tobin Montessori/Vassal Lane Upper School project site retains features of these early industries. Fresh Pond Reservation is nearby, and residential neighborhoods surround the site on three sides with single and multifamily residential structures, both along Vassal Lane to the south and Concord Avenue to the north. Concord Avenue feeds into a major thoroughfare for commuters entering or leaving the city to western suburbs, and many large residential developments are sprouting up around that thoroughfare. Residents occupying these developments can connect to the Boston metropolitan area subway system through the nearby Alewife subway station, from which riders can travel to downtown Boston in seven stops. The eastern edge of the school site faces the backyards of houses on Alpine Street. The western edge faces commercial properties bordering Fresh Pond Parkway.

The Tobin Montessori/Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex (approximately nine acres) is on the site of the former Cofran clay pit, land that was transferred to the city in the 1930s and used as a dump. The current school building for the Tobin school was built in 1971. The field that once was a dump and then the Reverend P.H Callanan playground remains an important recreational open space for the community.

Artist Selection Process:
• Artists/teams submit qualifications in the form of images of previous work and biographical information online through Slideroom, an online platform (see below).

• An Art Jury will select 4 finalists.

• DEPENDENT ON COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS: Finalists visit Cambridge for a site visit, meeting with City staff, and community meeting.

• Finalists develop proposals. Each finalist or team will be paid $3,000 for their proposal.

• Community feedback: Proposals will be made available to the public for feedback. FORMAT WILL BE DEPENDENT ON COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS.

• Finalists present proposals to the Site Committee, which will select one artist/team to be awarded the $650,000 commission. COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS MAY REQUIRE VIDEO PRESENTATIONS IN LIEU OF IN-PERSON PRESENTATIONS AND OTHER MODIFICATIONS OF SELECTION PROCESS.

• Dec. 4, 2020, noon EST: Electronic Submissions due on (Note: The deadline has been extended from Oct. 26 to Dec. 4.)
• February 2021: Four Finalists selected (Note: This has been moved from Late 2020)
• Winter - Late Spring 2021: Finalists’ Proposal development (Note: This has been moved from December 2020-March 2021
• Spring-Summer 2021: Selection of one artist/team for commission (Note: This has been moved from April-May 2021)
• 2024-2025: Artwork Installation

How to submit your qualifications
Please contact us with any questions whatsoever about this project or any part of the submission process. We are here to help! Submit images of past work and biographical information at

If you are not in our artist registry,registration is free and easy: upload digital files of work samples and complete the form for artist’s information. Once you are in our registry you will be considered for the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools project as well as for future public art commissions administered by the City of Cambridge.

If you are already in the registry,we recommend that you update your images and information. If you would like to submit updates, please email Hilary Zelson, Public Art Administrator, to access your profile: For technical support using Slideroom, please e-mail

For other questions, please contact Hilary Zelson, at or 617-349-4388.