News and Current Projects

All Year Round

The art conservation program works actively year-round to care for Cambridge's public art collection, from planning new fabrications to major repairs to annual routine tasks. Here are a few examples of recent art conservation activities:

Assessing Bernard LaCasse’s Beat the Belt Mural

Conservation Assessment of Bernard LaCasse’s Beat the Belt Mural in Cambridge
730 Memorial Drive (rear of building)
Accession #: CAC80.09
Acrylic on painted brick
Bernard LaCasse’s Beat the Belt Mural painted on a brick wall in Cambridge


The "Inner Belt" was a proposed eight-lane highway that would have run right through the neighborhood of Cambridgeport. Local residents battled the highway for 20 years before winning the fight in 1970. Bernie LaCasse's mural, completed in 1980, commemorates this moment of triumph, celebrating the power of ordinary people to make a difference. The Cambridge Arts Council’s public art archive contains files on the early history of the mural. At that time, the artist noted the important work of the steering committee and the number of people who assisted him on the project. He wrote: “I feel the process was as important as the final artwork”.

Previous Re-Painting

By 1995, the color had faded, and that year the artist repainted the mural with a grant from Stop & Shop, the building occupant at that time. The mural remained in good condition for a number of years, but some fading and flaking paint was noted in the year 2000. Since 2000, the Art Conservation Program has annually monitored the mural. During these inspections, dirt and accretions removed by a gentle detergent and water.

Current Condition

In 2003, after further flaking was noted, a freelance painting conservator was asked to assess the condition of the mural. The conservator’s report noted water damage from the leaking roof above, and water damage on the right side due to the poor condition of the flashing. There were also abrasions to the panel caused by car parking. In the ensuing years, more flaking has been noted. By 2008, severe fading was noted, and in 2013, graffiti (in the form of a letter “B”) was found spray painted at the upper right. In 2015, the art conservation program determined that an in-depth assessment was needed.

The Art Conservation Mural Assessment will be carried out on Thursday November 17, by Rika Smith McNally, the Director of Art Conservation at the Cambridge Arts Council, Liza Leto-Fulton, freelance paintings and murals conservator, and Nichole Speciale, freelance conservation technician and collections care specialist.

For the assessment, we will be considering the following questions:
  • Is the paint layer in such poor condition that it cannot be repainted?
  • Can the current flaking paint be stabilized? Can the losses be filled, and if yes, what with?
  • Are there any mitigating steps we can take to lower the amount of moisture entering the concrete block?
  • Should we attempt to repaint the mural, and if so, can we get approval from the artist?
  • What materials would be best for repainting, if that is considered? What varnish?
  • If we repaint, how long can we expect this iteration of the mural to last?
  • Are the Hubway Bicycle racks protecting or hindering the preservation of the mural?
  • Have there been other projects like this elsewhere in the United States, in which a second repainting was successful?

The final report with recommendations and budget estimates is expected by early February 2017.

Inman Square Gets its Color Back!

USArt prepares to de-install the mural

In an art conservation project scheduled for this winter and spring, artist Lisa Houck's much loved mural The Bluefish is Good Tonight in Inman Square has been temporarily removed for repainting. Dating to 1987, the original color had faded and turned "chalky." In this image, the team from USArt prepares for de-installation.

Director of Art Conservation Rika Smith McNally and Conservation Technician Rory Beerits apply an enzyme rinse to one of the panels of

In the artist's studio, Rika McNally, Director of the Art Conservation Program, and conservation technician Rory Beerits wash one of the five panels. The white, powder-like "chalking" is the result of excessive deterioration of the original paint medium. The artist and her assistants will be using a new and improved paint system, and the art conservators will apply a 2-layer protective coating that includes an ultraviolet light inhibitor. Follow the artist's blog on the project:

The Best Garage Windows in Town

Artist Edwin Andrews replaces broken Plexiglas components of his sculpture,

Over the past few years, some of the brightly colored Plexiglas windows in Dot Matrix, an art installation by artist Ed Andrews, were broken. Ed recently came to Cambridge, and working with conservation technician Rory Beerits, replaced the missing panels.

Conservation Technician, Case Randall, cleaning the colored plexiglass components of the sculpture entitled Dot Matrix by artist Ed Andrews.

The art installation, which is composed of a series of Plexiglas panels integrated into an aluminum grid held in place by steel cables, is checked and washed annually.

Cloe up photograph of art installation titled Dot Matrix by artist Ed Andrews, located at Pearl Street Garage.

Stop by during the day or evening to see what locals have described as "like a church," "sublime," and "sometimes [it's] the favorite part of my day!"

Midas Touch

Master Gilder and Restorer Paul Riedl applies size to the

The Igor Fokin Memorial, made by artist Konstantin Simun in 2001, celebrates the life of the famed puppeteer who delighted crowds of onlookers in the early 1990's. The little sculpture of "Doo Doo" the puppet charms passersby today and marks a favorite area for Cambridge street performers to entertain the public. From years of touching and exposure to weather, the small bronze was in need of regilding, and this was carried out by Paul Riedl, master gilder. Here Paul applies a yellow colored sealant layer before the gold leaf.

The Fokin Memorial, by artist Konstantin Simun, before and after regilding in October 2014.

The memorial before and after regilding. блестящие!

Group photo featuring Puppetman Blue, Paul Riedl, Konstantin Simun, Benjamin the Juggling Clown, Olesya Koenig, Mrs. Elfant, Peter Panic, and Rika Smith McNally, in front of the Fokin Memorial during regilding.

The regilding drew a crowd of old friends, street performers, and members of the Russian community. From Left to Right: Puppet Man Blue, Paul Riedl, Konstantin Simun, Benjamin the Juggling Clown (a.k.a. Benjamin Elfant), Olesya Koenig of the From Russia With Art Gallery, Mrs. Elfant, Peter Panic, and Rika Smith McNally.

Mosaic Repair

Director of Art Conservation Rika Smith McNally installs new grout during the repair of the mosaic by artist Heidi Whitman entitled

Artist Heidi Whitman's sidewalk mosaic Brain Terrain was damaged along one side from snow removal equipment during this past winter's snow storms. Conservators and technicians used tesserae reserved from the original fabrication to carry out repairs.

Fountain Mechanics

Conservation Technician Rory Beerits works with Engineer George Bossarte to make mechanical repairs to

After 14 years of continuous use, the water pump and valves of Drawn Water, an art installation at the Cambridge Water Treatment Facility by artist team Mags Harries and Lajos Héder, required replacement. The original golden ball inside the Plexiglas water column, which reacts to the use of the drinking fountain outside by dancing with the bubbling water, was damaged from wear. After repairing the fountain works, a new golden ball was placed inside the column.