In April the Institute of Contemporary Art responded to the coronavirus crisis by transforming its seasonal, harbor-side gallery outpost known as the Watershed into a hub for boxes of fresh dairy and produce. Now the museum, its catering company and partnering community organizations in East Boston are extending their food distribution program through September 3.
“What we learned in April – and what we have heard reiterated this week – is the need for healthy food in East Boston and how hard hit East Boston residents are by COVID,” ICA director Jill Medvedow said Friday.
The struggle to feed families is ongoing, and Medvedow said it highlights life-threatening disparities the largely immigrant East Boston community faces.
“Not having the nutrition that contributes to one's health, to one's ability to take care of your family, to that sense of dignity that everyone deserves,” Medvedow said, “it's part of a healthy person and a healthy community.”
For her, the true heroes are the ICA's partners who she said, “are truly soldiering through this crisis.” They include the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, East Boston Social Centers, Maverick Landing Community Services, Eastie Farm, the Orient Heights Housing Development and the Crossroads Family Center.
“I see this heroism around me,” Medvedow said, “and I feel very lucky to help facilitate this. That's my role.”
About four years ago, when Medvedow and her staff embarked on transforming the 15,000 square-foot condemned building into satellite space for the ICA, they were dedicated to building relationships with the people who live there. “I never thought then that this would be the way in which we would demonstrate that the arts and the ICA would be a resource in this Boston community,” she said, “But it is.”
The food boxes also carry on the ICA's mission to share art. Each one includes a creative project for families isolated at home. Medvedow said the museum is currently in talks with artists about commissioning new activities designed for both solace and stimulation.
“Our job is really to create encounters with powerful, wonderful, provocative, fun works of art to bring meaning between artists and artworks and audiences,” she said, “And this is, yet again, in a different way than previously imaginable.”
Initially the effort's funding was seeded with unsolicited anonymous donations. Now the ICA is funding the food distribution project and welcomes any additional support.
Medvedow said she and her staff considered trying to design something art-related and safe at the Watershed in the Boston Harbor Shipyard later this summer, but after many conversations they decided against it.
“One thing East Boston does not need is another place of convening until the numbers really start to have a dramatic shift downward, and we wanted to be part of a solution,” she explained, “And so that's what led us to think that continuing the use of the Watershed for food distribution was the right idea.”
The large-scale, site-specific sculpture by artist Firelei Baez that was slated to occupy the Watershed this year has been rescheduled for 2021.
By the end of summer the ICA's Watershed estimates it will provide more than 2,000 boxes of eggs, butter, fresh vegetables and fruit to East Boston families.