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It’s a position a lot of Boston artists and art lovers have long been hoping for: curator for programming and installation of public art along the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Well, the conservancy that administers the mile and a half of parks above I-93 has hired Lucas Cowan to fill those shoes. Most recently he’s been working for the Maryland State Arts Council as the director of public art programs, but before that he was the senior curator of exhibits for Chicago’s highly regarded Millennium Park in Chicago.
Chicago is widely held up as the poster child for U.S. cities that have succeeded in embracing and promoting public art programs. That attractive, lively park is dominated by Anish Kapoor’s mammoth, metallic sculpture, "Cloud Gate," which is sometimes referred to as “The Bean.”
Standing in front of artist Shinique Smith’s new public mural in Dewey Square, Jesse Brackenbury, the Greenway’s executive director, laughed when asked if he thought this hire will bring Boston one step closer to attaining Chicago-like status for its public art.
“The bean, or 'Cloud Gate,' cost $23 million … so we’re not doing that tomorrow,” he said. “But Millennium’s creativity and thinking that has gone into the exhibitions they’ve done, yes, we’re delighted to have that kind of expertise.”
Cowan, the Greenway’s new curator, was checking out the mural, too, and said, “I’m looking for challenging things and bringing new innovation. So we’ll see what we come up with.”
News of this appointment comes on the heels of last week’s announcement of another high-profile arts hire with Chicago connections. In a statement Mayor Martin Walsh said, “Boston’s public art scene is taking two giant steps with the appointments of Julie Burros as our city’s first cabinet level arts chief in more than 20 years and Lucas Cowan as the Greenway’s public art curator. These two great talents were both instrumental in Chicago’s cultural development and will make fantastic contributions in elevating the Boston public art experience.”
Boston has long been criticized for its lack of engaging contemporary public art, although more works have been cropping up around town including, “Swing Time,” the responsive, LED-powered swings in a park behind the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
“He's an accomplished contemporary public art curator AND administrator," wrote Nick Capasso, director of the Fitchburg Art Museum and a member of the committee that chose Cowan. "He's worked in a municipal park environment, and he understands the workings and intersections of the nonprofit, the private sector, and government. Plus (and this was very important to me), he is sincere, earnest, and exhibits constantly positive energy.”
But does Capasso think this is a step toward Boston reaching the kind of contemporary public art stature that Chicago has attained?
"This is a big step in the right direction," he said. "I have long felt that the Greenway — as one of America's foremost 21st-century urban parks — represents the greatest hope for contemporary public art in Boston. That's why I've been so supportive. Lucas's arrival also coincides with a great deal of positive change for the arts in Boston: Mayor Walsh and his priorities (after 16 years of cultural disaster …), new philanthropic investment in public art, and several new independent public art initiatives: the D lot at the Convention Center, the revival of the UrbanArts Institute under new director (and artist) Kate Gilbert, etc. Lots of momentum in the right direction!”