Self-Guided Tour Of Public Art In Central Square, Cambridgeport, Riverside
Take yourself on a self-guided bike tour of Cambridge public art in Central Square, Cambridgeport and Riverside. The ride is about 3.5 miles long, forming a triangle beginning and ending at the Central Square branch library. The directions below replicate a free bike tour Cambridge Arts led on July 26, 2022.
Cambridge Arts was established in 1974, making it one of the oldest and most dynamic arts agencies in the country. As the MBTA was adding public art along the Red Line extending out through Cambridge, the city approved a Percent for Art Ordinance in 1979 that stipulates that 1 percent of the construction costs on municipal capital building projects be used to commission public artwork. All these years later, it seems that Amherst
is the only other community in the Commonwealth with a percent for art ordinance, after they approved their bylaw in 2020. (Boston has a percent per art program under a directive from former Mayor Marty Walsh, that has been maintained so far by his successors, but no ordinance enforcing this.) The result of Cambridge’s commitment to art is more than 280 works of contemporary public art all across the city. (See our full map
BEGIN THE TOUR
Begin outside Central Square branch library at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza at 237 Franklin St. The library and abutting Green Street parking garage feature several public artworks.
Sculptures and a Video Projection by John Powell
on Franklin Street and along the Cambridge Housing Authority’s abutting Frank J. Manning Apartments.
Powell, who died in February 2020 at age 73, created this tribute to the Civil Rights Movement via images and protest signs, from Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth to Martin Luther King Jr. (“Free at last”). The artwork includes a video projected each evening from Manning Apartments onto the façade of the Green Street Garage (viewable from the passageway between the plaza and Green Street). That video highlights Cambridge connections to the Civil Rights movement, lifting up, in particular, longtime Cambridge residents and civil rights advocates Bob and Janet Moses.
Powell also created “Dana Park Quotes,” 2007, eight cut-out metal discs attached high on park lampposts. They flutter in the wind and feature quotations from writers and poets who lived in or visited Cambridgeport, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Powell also enlivened bridges with custom light displays in Boston, Cambridge, Lawrence, and on the Memorial Bridge connecting Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine.
Mosaics by Lilli Ann Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, who died in 2011 at age 86, was a prolific artist who created public artworks at Cambridge’s Central Square branch library, Edward Alden Park, and the Haggerty School. She also created public pieces for the MBTA’s Park Street station in Boston, the plaza at the Villa Victoria community housing in Boston, and the Tadpole Playground on Boston Common.
At the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza entrance to the Central Square branch library, you’ll find Rosenberg’s mosaic “Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.” Created in 1985, it honors King, who preached at nearby First Baptist Church when he was a student at Boston University. The mural depicts a towering mountain, flowing stream, and blazing sun—a visual translation of one of King's most powerful quotes: "I just want to do God's will and he has allowed me to go up to the mountain. I see the promised land.”
Around the corner of the building on Pearl Street is Rosenberg’s 1984 mosaic “Celebrating the Marshland,” a tribute to the Charles River marshes that occupied this neighborhood before they were filled in.
Clay pieces in the marsh mosaic were made by residents of Manning Apartments. Rosenberg believed in making art for the neighborhood—especially children, whom she thought deserved beautiful spaces and could understand the art. So she was known for enlisting community members—especially children—in the creation of her artworks.
Cambridge Arts is currently restoring Rosenberg’s 20 mosaic murals from 1979 at Cambridge’s Millers River Apartments
as part of the renovation and expansion of the 19-story-tall Cambridge Housing Authority complex at 15 Lambert St.
Inside the Central Square branch library:
• Kehinde Wiley is perhaps best known for his official portrait of former President Barack Obama.
His 2020 print “Sharrod Hosten Study III,” on temporary loan to the library, is on view in the children’s room.
• H.A. Ray, creator of “Curious George,”
drew an ostrich, that’s on view on the stairway up to the children’s room.
• Linda Lichtman’s 1980 stained glass
can be seen in the windows of the first floor reading room, facing onto King Plaza. Lichtman was a prolific artist who also developed artwork for the North Cambridge Senior Center and for Maud Morgan Arts as part of the Baldwin Community at 20 Sacramento St.
• David Judelson’s 1979 ceramic tile
s are embedded in the ground at the Pearl Street entrance to the library and in the floor at the checkout desk. He recorded library transactions via impressions in clay of books, library cards, date stamps, names of kids and librarians, footprints and a projector reel.
Head around the library, up Pearl Street, toward Green Street:
“Creative Freedom,” a 2019 mural by Chelsea artist Silvia López Chavez
of Chelsea, wraps around the Franklin and Pearl streets sides of the library. López Chavez says it “takes inspiration from the library’s mission and celebrates the ways in which libraries serve communities.” The 240-foot-long and 20-foot-tall mural includes books, flying birds and pages turning into paper planes. The mural is part of the Central Square Mural Project, commissioned by the Central Square Business Improvement District in partnership with the Cambridge Public Library; Cambridge Department of Traffic, Parking and Transportation; and Cambridge Arts.
López Chavez just finished a temporary mural at Fenway Park “that speaks to climate change and the danger of sea level rise in Boston.” She has painted a global warming mural in East Boston next to ICA’s Watershed, and murals at Northeastern University at the Ruggles MTBA station, the Underground at Ink Block highway underpass in Boston’s South End, along the Charles River Esplanade, and at Salem’s Punto Urban Art Museum.
Sidewalk poem by Benjamin Tolkin of Cambridge
on Pearl Street near the pedestrian entrance to the Green Street parking garage. It reads:
I used to wonder why
They didn’t build secret doorways
Into every home.
Now I realize they do;
Some of them are just harder to find.
“Dot Matrix,” 2004, stairway installation by Edwin Andrews
in Green Street parking garage at the corner of Pearl and Green streets. The project references Cambridge’s high-tech industries and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s constructed from an aluminum grid with colored plexiglass windows that serve as protective barriers in the stairwell while letting in air and light. Best seen inside stairway as the sunlight shines through
during the daytime, or after dark, when it becomes a glowing lantern.
Turn Left on Green Street:
Mural by Cedric “Vise 1” Douglas and Julia “Julz” Roth
on the Green Street Garage, 2019. The giant eyes the duo painted above the auto entrance to the garage keep watch on Central Square. Douglas has also painted murals at Northeastern University; in Lynn as part of Beyond Walls; and a 2021 mural titled “The Healing Properties of Art and Nature” at Medfield, Massachusetts, on the former Medfield State Hospital. Douglas came up through the graffiti world, found a place in murals, and also does projects and organizes exhibitions about anti-racism and civil rights.
Bike along on Green Street (following the one-way flow of traffic). Turn left (west) at light onto Western Avenue and its protected bike lane. Take fifth right onto Howard Street, then immediate left onto Callender Street to the Cambridge Community Center.
Vusumuzi Maduna’s restored “Inner City Totem I,” 1981, at the Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender St.
"People gather strength through their roots,” Maduna said, “and it is through art that we hear our ancestral voices." Maduna, who died in 2007 at age 66, was part of the Black Power arts movement of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. He was born Dennis Didley in Cambridge on Oct. 22, 1940. His mother's parents were from Barbados, and he grew up part of Cambridge’s West Indian community. As part of his pursuit of his roots, he took a new African name, said to mean “builder of a culture.” Among his first public commissions was his 1971 “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial”, a 40-foot-long wall sculpture inside Cambridge’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., School at 102 Putnam Ave. Maduna's exploration of African, Caribbean and Native American cultures also informed his art. He crafted masks and standing wood sculptures from recycled pieces of dressers, tables and other things he found on the street. His “Inner City Totem I” was restored by Cambridge Arts in 202
0, replacing rotted wooden boards that were painted to match the original; cleaning and varnishing rusted steel; and replacing worn fasteners. His related sculpture, “Inner City Totem II” is at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in The Port at 71 Cherry St.
Sidewalk Poem by Sam Cornish, the late poet laureate of Boston, in the sidewalk to the left of Cambridge Community Center entrance. It reads:
When My Grandmother Died
Continue down Callender Street, turn right (north) onto Putnam Avenue, take first left (west) onto Flagg Street, go one block then into Corporal Burns Park.
William Reimann’s granite carvings at Corporal Burns Park
on Flagg Street. The Cambridge sculptor’s 1998 carvings in posts and sidewalk tiles in the park depict birds and fish of Charles River—red-wing blackbirds, black-capped chickadee, mallard ducks. The designs were refreshed by Cambridge Arts’ Conservation and Maintenance Program from 2020 to 2022 with careful inpainting of the designs to heighten contrast. Reimann originally created the carvings by drawing and hand-cutting rubber stencils that guided the sandblasting of the designs. Reimann also carved bollards around the Porter Square MBTA station
with designs and patterns reflecting diverse Cambridge nationalities, as well as butterflies and moths on posts at Reverend Thomas J. Williams Park
at Cedar and Dudley streets.
Head back the way you came, east on Flagg Street. Take first right (south) onto Putnam Avenue, take fourth right onto Pleasant Street, going two blocks to enter into the back of the parking lot of the shopping plaza which hosts Trader Joe’s. Bike around to front of the supermarket.
David Fichter’s mural “Sunday Afternoon on the Charles” on the Memorial Drive side of Trader Joe’s.
The title is play on the famous 1886 painting by Georges Seurat. The mural was commissioned by Trader Joes, which asked the Cambridge artist to feature Cambridge landmarks. Look for MIT, Harvard Square and the Weeks Footbridge. Fichter also depicted a number of Cambridge residents. The giant blonde girl is his daughter Olivia at age 3. The family picnicking in the center are his friends Rosi and Brian Amador, of the Latin-folk band Sol y Canto, and their twin daughters, including Alisa Amador, who won NPR Music’s 2022 Tiny Desk music contest.
Fichter has also created mosaics at Moses Youth Center
(2020), on Fletcher Maynard Academy (2018-2019); and at Community Art Center in Cambridge. He’s painted other murals across region, including “Potluck”
(1994) in the parking lot at Norfolk Street and Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridge's Central Square, and at the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge, as well as his Mystic River Mural Project along Mystic Avenue in Somerville. In April 2022, Cambridge Arts restored his mural
inside the North Cambridge Senior Center
Continue along parking lot to Micro Center and…
Bernard LaCasse's "Beat the Belt" mural, 1980,
on the back wall of Micro Center, was restored by Cambridge Arts in collaboration with the artist in 2017
“My hope is that this mural will inspire people to get angry, to get organized., to get in the way,” LaCasse has said. The 75-foot-long mural tells the story of the "Inner Belt,” an eight-lane highway that would have looped around downtown Boston, including right through the neighborhood of Cambridgeport, destroying hundreds of Cambridge buildings and displacing as many as 4,500 people. For two decades, residents fought the plan. “We don’t want a road. We want our homes,” crowds chanted at public meetings and rallies in the early 1960s. They won the fight in 1970, when Gov. Francis Sargent ordered work halted on the project. LaCasse's mural, completed in 1980, depicts a crowd of people blocking a bulldozer to commemorate this moment of triumph and celebrate the power of ordinary people to make a difference. LaCasse has said he didn’t depict actual people, but meant to symbolize residents, many of them living on Brookline Street, who feared they’d lose their homes, so they became involved in the grassroots effort. He painted them larger-than-life to suggest: “You’re really much bigger than the opposition if you organize.”
Exit the parking lot, cross Magazine Street, and continue southeast on Granite Street past the Morse School.
Sidewalk Poem by Fred Woods in front of Morse School:
Take This Walk
I’m a poem.
Speak my words
While you’re walking.
Now you are the sidewalk
Step on me—
There you go—
Now you’ve got poetry
In your sole.
Take the third left (northeast) onto Brookline Street. After one block, pass Hastings Square on your left. After another block and a half, turn left into David Nunes / Old Morse Park.
Vivian Beer’s “Thunderhead” bench, 2012, at David Nunes Park.
The Manchester, New Hampshire, artist fashioned the bench from bent and welded steel strips—evoking calligraphy of a cloud. She removed the stainless steel bench to restore it after an utility truck struck it. It also had wear from years of skateboards scraping it. More than 30 feet long, the bench was brought back in sections, which she welded together and reinstalled in December 2021. Beer told Metalsmith magazine in 2016: “You try to speak to the community, let it be something interesting, that lets people smile when they’re walking by.”
Continue northeast on Brookline Street, riding eight blocks toward Central Square and Massachusetts Avenue.
Peter Valentine’s “Cosmic Moose and Grizzly Bear’s Ville” fence
at Franklin and Brookline streets. Valentine, who dubbed Central Square “Starlight Square,” started the mural on the fence around his house in 1991. He has said it includes
magical verse to open the mind and the color purple to help people feel comfortable and relaxed. The result, he has said, is “a living energy which evokes the viewer’s divine essence from their deep cosmic self.”
Continue northeast on Brookline Street, turning left onto Green Street.
Murals on Middle East Nightclub / Sonia at corner of Brookline and Green streets:
• Art + Bio Collaborative’s 2016 mural
, on the corner of the building depicts “Nocturnal / Diurnal” geckos. The artists are an “artist- and scientist-led non-profit organization that fosters the integration of Science, Nature, and Art”—and aims to make science understandable via “one-sentence science” murals. They’re presently collaborating with Omo Moses and Math Talks from the Algebra Project, which does math education projects for children, to create a ground mural in Cambridge.
• Mural by Jamie “Vyal One” Reyes
, Los Angeles graffiti artist, on the Green Street side of Sonia.
End at the Central Square branch library at the corner of Green and Pearl streets.