When the billboard in John Eliot Square came down, Dayenne Walters thought it was the end of the public art project she’d spearheaded.
‘This beauty is in our hands’: How Roxbury artists are fostering hope with the help of a billboard
After all, she’d founded Billboard Hope in 2021 to bring Joy and beauty to the Roxbury neighborhood through rotating installations of local artists’ works on the billboard above the rounded brick building in the square.
Instead, the loss of the primary billboard has opened up new pathways for displaying work by local artists across the city.
“We approached it, the project, in an effort to give more to the square, and I think we did that,” Walters said. “I think we inspired a lot of people, and those people have joined me to continue to look for areas within John Eliot Square, but also to work with moving the project beyond that area into other parts of Boston, like Mattapan and Dorchester, where we can have the same sort of effect on Neighborhoods and neighborhood artists, who are also activists and who are concerned with the health of their neighborhoods.”
Initially, Billboard Hope moved to a billboard in Nubian Square. But Walters said she felt it didn’t deliver the same mission, since the billboard wasn’t really visible unless you were driving down Harrison Avenue or Warren Street.
“I wanted to have a place where the work could be contemplated, sort of like an outdoor gallery,” she said.
Instead, the works of art ended up being put up on digital billboards throughout Boston — from the Fenway to downtown Boston.
The change was better, Walters said, but still it didn’t quite fit with her hopes for the project. Since the billboards were on a loop, passersby would have to look up at the right time to catch the work of art — or already know it was there to look and wait for it.
On Sept. 10, Billboard Hope Unveiled its latest home — the wall of the building at 1 Elmwood St., which is near the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury. Works by three local artists will be displayed on a banner there over the next five-and-a-half months. The works, all done for the theme of “Art 4 Healing,” will be changed every six weeks.
The first work on display is a Triptych by Dorchester artist Lucilda Dassardo-Cooper, titled “Transcending Time.”
“Her work is beautiful. … It really talks about how connecting to ancient philosophies and understanding the roots of culture and spirituality can be a way to heal by understanding just how grounded in history we are as a people,” Walters said.
Walters said the project is partnering with neighborhood developers, Scott Webster and Sean Webster, of Copper Civic, to showcase the work of local artists of color at the Elmwood building.
But the start of the display at the location marks just the beginning of Billboard Hope’s 2022-2023 year of popup installations in Neighborhoods around the city.
Starting in February, Walters said she expects the project will partner with a billboard company to select locations in Dorchester and Mattapan that are close to the ground and near foot traffic, for art to be rotated on a four-week schedule.
The project already has the funding it needs and support from a few agencies; all it needs is the artists, she said.
One of the locations she can’t wait for, that she’s still searching for, is a billboard next to a gas station, which she noted is its own kind of place of contemplation.
She said she wants someone who is waiting, filling up their tank, to be able to spot a work of art that will give their day a dose of beauty.
“I love the idea of sharing this Joy and sharing this beauty with more people,” Walters said.
As the Billboard Hope project evolves and grows, Walters said she is looking forward to having members of the community respond to the work that is being displayed, share their own ideas for healing, and let the project know how it is fitting into the neighborhood.
All input, she said, will be welcome and useful.
“Even though it’s not on a billboard, I see billboards sort of like a description or an adjective for the promotion of hope,” Walters said. “And so I think we’re going to keep that the same no matter where we are, because I think promoting hope is something that we’re about. And that the artists that are joining us are about themselves.”
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