Graffiti isn’t always the most welcome sight to see when walking through a college campus. However, Northeastern University now boasts the spray painted stencils of street artist Jean-François Perroy (better known by the pseudonym Jef Aérosol), the largest of which is on the side of Cargill Hall on Huntington Avenue.
With smaller pieces cleverly scattered throughout the campus and depicting images ranging from Northeastern students to more famous faces (Edgar Allan Poe and John Lee Hooker, for example), Aérosol is the latest collaboration with the university and its public art initiative. The French stencil artist is considered a main proponent in the first generation of street art going back to the 1980s.
“Whether it’s the Gallery 360 or the Center for the Arts, we’ve been doing art in public spaces for the public for years now,” said Clare Horn, the associate director of marketing at Northeastern.
Horn notes that the university’s formal declaration of its public art initiative began in spring 2014 when Houston-based Daniel Anguilu painted the wall behind the Curry Student Center that separates the campus from the train tacks. But, Horn notes, the informal initiative began earlier, when Shepard Fairey painted the mural in the International Village dormitory entrance. Since both vibrant murals have gone up, the university has also welcomed Miles “Mac” MacGregor, a Los Angeles-based artist known as El Mac, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, who was the school’s artist in residence last fall.
“Each artist has a story. The work has to fit with the place,” said Northeastern University president Joseph E. Aoun in a Boston magazine article from June 17. “The students have reacted extremely positively. The beauty is when they work on the murals, the students stop, and then we talk.”
Northeastern chooses its artists after a period of research, and they are approved by Aoun. Horn said that this is a passion of Aoun’s and that he has been the one to focus on street art, personally suggesting Aérosol for the recent installations.
“It adds a level of vibrancy to a the campus not just as an urban university but also within the city,” said Horn. “[The art] really becomes part of the fabric of the city.”
The initiative is also allowing for more integration with the city. Horn noted how the art has changed spaces throughout campus and causes both students and visitors to stop and think.
“I feel that as an urban university, it’s important for us to be a part of the city and I feel that art is a great connector and bridge in so many ways,” said Horn. “I think our students and general public who come to our campus every day have been so responsive to the art so far.”
The City of Boston embraced the increase in public art with the appointment of Julie Burros in 2014 as Boston’s first Chief of Arts and Culture, a recently created cabinet position within city government under Mayor Martin Walsh.
As noted by Karin Goodfellow, director of the Boston Art Commission, the focus on art is presenting itself both within city government and throughout neighborhoods all through the city.
“I think when [the focus on public art] started, people were unsure,” said Goodfellow. “But now I think people are really embracing it. This is the city we want to be.”
Goodfellow also notes that partnerships between schools and the City are the key to change.“Our city and community is made up of all these university campuses,” said Goodfellow. “We need to think holistically about the environment we create for ourselves and visitors, and public art is an important way to do that.”
Goodfellow called Northeastern’s role in expanding the artists’ presence an incredible resource. “Our universities really create our urban campus,” she said.
Horn and those involved in the artist selection process are currently in the midst of planning for next year and look forward to the potential projects.
“Public art is so unique because it’s out there and it’s not enclosed,” Horn said. “It’s also important to bring art directly to the people for them to enjoy.”
This piece was originally published by The Fenway News.
Chronicling my journalistic endeavors.
All ocean conservation/biodiversity posts are my own original thoughts. All other posts are my work for other publications.