Apple Tree And Oaks Get New Life Via Art Project At Cambridge School

12/16/20212 years ago

caution sign The information on this page may be outdated as it was published 2 years ago.

Note To Reporters: High resolution versions of all the photos can be downloaded for publication at the bottom of the project page. And Cambridge Arts is happy to provide contacts for interviews with any of the people featured in this press release.  IKD's proposed public art for Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex.
IKD's proposed public art for Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex.

Apple Tree And Pin Oaks Get New Life
Through Art Project At Cambridge School

A beloved apple tree will sprout new life through the process of tree grafting and mature pin oaks will be transformed into interactive sculptures as part of a public art project from the firm IKD that is planned for the City of Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex.

“The project is inspired by the apple tree—beloved for many years as a place to congregate, play and create memories—that was removed as part of the reconstruction of the school,” IKD said. “By using cuttings that were taken from the tree just before removal, the project seeks to literally regrow a new tree from the old tree, educating and engaging students through the collective process of nurturing the tree from infancy to adolescence to maturity.”

IKD ( of Boston and San Francisco—led by Cambridge resident Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura—was chosen by the City of Cambridge to create this major outdoor public artwork as part of the reconstruction of the educational and community hub at 197 Vassal Lane. The artwork speaks to how we care for the natural world that is part of our city and Cambridge’s effort to involve our community in growing the City’s tree canopy. The public art project runs in concert with the City’s plan to plant 374 additional new trees at the school complex, including maples, birches, hickories, junipers, tupelos, oaks and elms.

The project boldly expands the definition of public art and landscape architecture as a living engagement with the environment by those who inhabit and use it. The decision to select IKD’s project ties the artists’ vision to our ongoing responsibility as a community to demonstrate a healing relationship with the trees and the land on which this place of active learning and play is situated.

IKD’s project was selected from four finalist proposals. “This proposal was the most ambitious, taking into account change over time, and is heuristic, giving students the chance to learn about ecology as well as the opportunity to be involved in nurturing its growth,” said Public Art Selection Committee member Alan Ricks, Founding Principal and Chief Design Officer of MASS Design Group.

Cuttings being taken from the apple tree at Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex, summer 2021.

Cuttings being taken from the apple tree at Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex, summer 2021.

IKD will grow a new apple tree from the old tree in collaboration with Sean Halloran, Plant Propagator at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, and Jerry Mendenhall, Greenhouse Manager and Plant Propagator at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. IKD will create learning opportunities for students through a collective process of nurturing many grafted apple tree buds to foster an understanding of the importance of our relationship with trees and the cycle of life.

While the apple tree grows, it will be protected by interactive sculptures of curling beams for visitors to climb and sit on, made from pin oak trees also removed during the school construction.

“I'm thrilled that the selection committee chose IKD’s project,” said former Cambridge Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, who submitted feedback for the selection committee. “IKD’s use of wood salvaged from the mature pin oaks and grafts from a beloved apple tree on the school site as the basis for a piece that memorializes specific trees and celebrates nature's resilience really resonated with me both as a school neighbor and a tree lover.”

When the apple tree reaches full maturity, the new tree will stand on its own without the pin oak sculptures, continuing the legacy of community, nature, play, and participation. The project will also create additional components to tell the story of the project over time.

IKD says the project “blurs traditional divisions and established norms of public art by being an ever-changing temporal work that is equal parts botany, science, art, cultural experiment and 100 percent joy.”

First successful bud graft at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum from the apple tree at Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex,

First successful bud graft at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum from the apple tree at Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex,

The $650,000 project is funded via the City’s Percent-for-Art Ordinance, which requires that 1 percent of the construction costs on municipal capital investment projects—in this case, the more than $200 million school—be designated for use in developing site-responsive public artwork. The public art commission for IKD includes design fee, engineering, fabrication, partner collaborations, installation, and community engagement. The project will be installed in the park and playground behind the school by 2025. Partnerships with the school community, local organizations and other members of the community will be central to the project.

IKD’s design will be advanced in consultation with project architects and landscape designers Perkins Eastman and Traverse Landscape Architects, as well as city departments. The project is being overseen by Cambridge's City Manager's Office, the Department of Public Works, Cambridge Public Schools, and Cambridge Arts.

IKD has been pursuing a “mass timber initiative” since 2013, aligned with an international movement to promote the use of wood as the primary load-bearing construction material in ever bigger buildings. Public art projects include their 2015 “Outside In,” a bench made of log cutoffs surrounding a tree at the Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, and “Conversation Plinth,” a series of temporary wooden ramps and platforms outside the main public library of Columbus, Indiana, in 2017, which was supported by a U.S. Forest Service “Wood Innovations Grant.”

IKD curated the exhibitions “Urban Timber: From Seed to City” at the Boston Society of Architects BSA Space gallery in 2014 and “Timber City” at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2016 and 2017. They are working with the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in Vermont on another mass timber exhibition, which is planned to open in early 2022.

IKD is working with the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield on a multi-floor renovation of their natural history galleries and public space. Past IKD projects include work for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Edison and Newman Room at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, The Trustees of Reservations’ Boston headquarters, Boston Public Library Rare Books Library, Heritage Museums & Gardens Educational Pavilion in Sandwich, the Arms and Armor Gallery at the Worcester Art Museum, and the Nature Lab and Fleet Library at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.

Follow IKD’s updates about the project on Instagram.

IKD Founding Partners Tomomi Itakura (left) and Yugon Kim.

IKD Founding Partners Tomomi Itakura (left) and Yugon Kim.

Selection Process

In fall 2020, the City of Cambridge put out a call for artists to create public art for the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex and received 316 applications to Cambridge Arts Public Artist Registry.

As part of anti-racism efforts, in seeking public artists for the Tobin project, Cambridge Arts researched and added nearly 400 new contacts to our Public Artist Registry outreach mailing list. This significantly expanded outreach to communities of color, as well as organizations working with women and artists with disabilities, locally and nationally. Cambridge Arts is dedicated to continuing this work in partnership with the City and will continue to strengthen this resource for future commission opportunities.

An art jury—comprised of Kai Alexis Smith, David De Celis, Jessica Martinez and Caitlin Gilman—met on Jan. 21 and 28, 2021. They selected four finalists:
• Daily tous les jours of Montreal
• Gregory Gómez of Newtonville and Rodrigo Nava of Putney, Vermont
• IKD, founded by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, of Boston and San Francisco
• The Urban Conga of Brooklyn, New York

Each finalist was paid $3,000 to design concept proposals based on site parameters and developed in consultation with City staff and community members.

A virtual meeting for the public to provide feedback on the proposals was held on Oct. 12, 2021.

IKD was chosen Oct. 26 by the 20-member selection committee of stakeholders (list of members below) based on community feedback, proposal presentations, evaluation criteria (see below), and interviews with the finalists.

Criteria used to make the selection included artistic excellence; responsiveness to the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools site; inviting to participation by the schools’ community; designed to be inclusive of all audiences; offering a sustained visitor experience; responsive to the schools’ multicultural community; and budget and maintenance feasibility. (See full criteria description below.)

Rendering of plans for Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex.

Rendering of plans for Cambridge’s Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex.

Tobin Montessori/Vassal Lane Upper Schools Project Public Art Selection Committee:
• Alan Ricks (resident; parent; Principal, MASS Design Group)
• Amy Stein (resident; former Tobin parent; educator)
• Andrea Zuniga (Director of Visual & Performing Arts, Cambridge Public Schools)
• Brendon Roy (TMVL Construction Project Manager, City)
• Caitlin Gilman (TMVL Project Architect, Perkins Eastman)
• Daniel Coplon-Newfield (Head of School, Vassal Lane Upper School)
• David Valecillos (Public Art Commission; resident; Director of Design, North Shore Community Development Coalition)
• Jaime Frost (Principal, Tobin Montessori School)
• Jodie Siegel (resident/abutter; former CPS parent; business owner)
• John Nardone (Deputy Commissioner, Department of Public Works)
• Kai Alexis Smith (TMVL Art Juror; Public Art Commission; resident; MIT Architecture & Planning Librarian)
• Kris Bradner (TMVL Project Landscape Architect, Traverse Landscape Architects)
• Kristala Pouncy-Smart (Theatre Teacher, Vassal Lane Upper School)
• Leah Gadd (resident; Tobin parent; Associate Dean, School of the Museum of Fine Arts)
• Melissa Peters (Director of Community Planning, Community Development Department)
• Obi Carrion (Family Liaison, Vassal Lane Upper School)
• Shelly C. Lowe (resident; Tobin parent; Executive Director, Harvard University Native American Program)
• Vedad Konjic (Director of Facilities, Cambridge Public Schools)
• Yolande Goode (Preschool Manager, Department of Human Services Programs)
• Zakkiyya Witherspoon (Family Liaison, Tobin Montessori School)

Evaluation criteria:
• Artistic excellence: Offers an unusual perspective through a high level of artistic excellence.
• Responsive to the TMVL Site: Harmonious with the educational vision and architectural and landscape design themes of the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper Schools complex.
• Invites Participation by the TMVL Community: Invites engagement in design and/or implementation process from members of the community.
• Designed to be inclusive of all audiences: Accessible to a broad range of learning styles and abilities. Has a capacity to attract and speak to anyone, regardless of background, experience, education, or age.
• Offers a sustained visitor experience: Offers a place to linger, gather, participate, or interact and sustains an active visitor experience whether from a single visit or daily encounters.
• Responsive to TMVL's Multicultural Community: Sensitivity to the multicultural richness of the Cambridge community which the TMVL is designed to serve.
• Budget and maintenance feasibility: Appropriate to budget and municipal maintenance capability.