A Reflection from MAPC’s First Artist-in-Residence

July 26, 2017. Boston, MA.
MAPC staff photos day 2.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
© 2017 Marilyn Humphries

In 2017, MAPC hired Carolyn Lewenberg as our first artist-in-residence. The goal of the MAPC Artist-in-Residence Program is to bring arts, culture, and creativity into the agency’s multidisciplinary planning work with cities, towns, and other organizations. By tapping the talents and perspectives of a visiting artist, the residency aims to infuse arts, culture, and creativity into project scoping and implementation while enriching and expanding the creative practice of the visiting artist.

In early November, Carolyn’s 18-month residency came to end. Below, she reflects on her residency and outlines the projects she worked on here at MAPC.

I’m in the last week of my residency and doing a lot of reflection on where I’m at now versus where I was when I started, 18 months ago, and how this experience has shaped my practice as a public artist. Prior to my work at MAPC, my bread and butter was working as an educator and youth worker while making studio art and public art projects on the side, attempting as often as I could to integrate this into my work with young people. Having the last 18 months to work solely on public art projects has been an enormous privilege and I’m excited to leap out of the nest of MAPC into freelancing with some fresh new skills and approaches. It’s exciting and honestly a bit overwhelming.

Over the last 18 months I’ve gotten to work with 10 different planners at the agency in a variety of departments: Land Use, Public Health, Environment, Government Affairs, and Strategic Initiatives. I was also involved in project development conversations with Municipal Collaboration, Transportation, Clean Energy, and Data Services. The following is a list of the projects I completed during my tenure and the awesome teams I worked with:

Artist-in-Residence Carolyn Lewenberg writes "Albion Arts Launch" in chalk on the sidewalk
Women look through viewfinders while an MAPC planner holds a suvey at a public event in Everett.
Large photos of various trail amenities can be seen through a giant gold frame.
8.3 Ripple Effect
Annis Sengupta puts hand decorated leaves onto a tree made of branches.
Four women stand in front of a wall with the words "arts and culture discussion series #2: Arts and green infrastructure"
Artist-in-Residence Carolyn Lewenberg stands at a table with drawing supplies. Behind her, five drawings hang on a clothesline.
Shoeshine Cart Sole of Rockland

It was an honor to work on these dynamic projects with such highly motivated, passionate, and gifted individuals as the first Artist-in-Residence at MAPC. Many of these projects grew out of the conversations I had in the first couple months of my residency, when I met with directors from all the dynamic practice areas at MAPC about how they imagined arts and culture could be woven into their work. I was inspired by the depth and breadth of their focus areas, and the opportunity to not just to imagine possibilities together, but to put the ideas in action was very exciting.

Art by Carolyn Lewenberg displayed in the MAPC lobby
Art by Carolyn Lewenberg displayed in the MAPC lobby

The Arts and Culture Team

During this same period of getting to know MAPC, Arts and Culture Manager Jenn Erickson, Senior Arts and Culture Planner Annis Sengupta, and I explored our values and our reasons for coming into this work and began to develop a foundation of team values that would drive our work together. The intentionality in the space that Jenn created for these conversations was grounding and instructive of future conversations we would have with different communities that would drive the different projects forward.

Jenn provided guidance throughout my entire residency to help me learn the culture at MAPC and how to be effective in working within this context, encouraging me to be reflective about my work, to pursue projects that would be meaningful, and to develop skills to scope out projects. Jenn’s in-depth understanding of MAPC allowed me to leverage momentum of existing projects with other departments, build on relationships with different municipalities, and find allies within the agency who have passion for art and creativity.

Annis is a team player and collaborative leader, who demonstrated patience and brilliant insights into the complexities of arts and culture planning work. Annis’ willingness to bounce around ideas with me was major in shaping the direction of projects. Her ability to translate our work into presentations, graphic materials and written reports was amazing.


At MAPC, all time is accounted for. The chart below shows how my time shook out.

While accounting for time spent in a creative process was a huge challenge, having this information helped me process my experience and capture some important takeaways. These include:

  • Project development and planning time has taken about 13 percent percent of my time. This is really hard to account for and be compensated for as a freelancer.
  • Staff meetings accounted for nine percent of my time. This time can also be overlooked in project development, but being intentional at the outset that a collaborative spirit will drive the work is key.
  • We gave a lot of presentations and workshops! I was encouraged to carve out time for reflection. This reflective practice was a key part of presentations and workshops.

Prior to this experience I hadn’t really considered how different it would be to have an artistic practice based out of a government planning agency as opposed to a studio environment, as studio space was not a resource that MAPC offered. Instead of my studio-based practice of playing with materials, exploring a site, having conversations with people who have personal connections with a place and allowing an inclusive process to emerge, at MAPC the experimentation and play happened through collaborative conversations with planners whose perspectives were supported by research and data.

A wood wall has colorful wooden decorations and a box that says "Look Inside! Sign the guest book and take or leave info about community events"

From there I would connect with community, once the general vision for the project was articulated. Driven by a creative problem solving framework, the artistic process was highly structured and articulated in advance of community engagement. I struggled to navigate this structure in a way that would allow for flexibility once community engagement began and I learned what community members and resources would support the work and offer new directions that made sense for the process, product, and site.

What's Next?

As I reflect, I also think about people outside MAPC I had the privilege to work with: the teens in Everett with neon orange shirts applying polyurethane to the waterdrop sculpture, people sharing their collages at creative placemaking workshops, and guests from Providence talking about public health at the discussion series. I’ve met so many community members, leaders and youth who shape our region. It’s been a rich residency and I am grateful for the experience.

Follow Carolyn's future activities on her website: