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

Artist in Residence Carolyn Lewenberg

Last year, 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 - from 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, but circumstances didn’t allow for projects to move beyond ideation. 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.
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Shoeshine Cart Sole of Rockland
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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 got to meet 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 excited about the different possibilities of how we could collaborate. I couldn’t believe the opportunities I had, not just to  dream along with them, but to make an actual project happen. I was so excited!

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 team values that would drive our Arts & Culture work together. The intentionality that created the foundation for my work at MAPC felt meaningful and it was an honor to feel heard and respected by colleagues that I really admire. With their support and guidance, I articulated a framework that would help me select my own projects to work on. These would resemble the Arts and Culture team values that were developed later in the year. I would like to share my gratitude for Jenn and Annis whose skills and talents allowed me to place my contributions into a larger context.

Jenn provided incredible guidance throughout my entire residency: learning the culture at MAPC and guiding me in navigating how to be effective in working within this context, setting the stage and being a great co-presenter on creative placemaking workshops and conference panels, encouraging me to be reflective about my work, giving me freedom to pursue projects that would be meaningful to me, helping me to develop skills on how to scope out projects and understand the value of my work. 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 people who have passion for art and creativity.

Annis is an incredible team player and collaborative leader, who demonstrated vast patience and brilliant insights into the complexities of arts and culture planning work. Annis’ help in bouncing around ideas was also major in shaping the direction of projects. She seemed to effortlessly create incredible presentations that we have presented together, amazing graphic and written materials that described our projects. I don’t know what I would have done without her encouragement and guidance as challenges arose.

My Time AT MAPC

At MAPC, all time is accounted for, and Systems Optimization Specialist Andrei Paladi helped me visualize the time I spent on various projects. The chart to the right shows how my time shook out.

While accounting for time spent in a creative process was a daunting task and often left me feeling less than awesome, having this information is quite informative. It’s certainly helps 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 at MAPC. This is really hard to account for and be compensated for as a freelancer, so as I launch forward into this next phase, I continue to seek best practices on how to build this into projects.
  • We gave a lot of presentations and workshops! Carving out time for reflection was something that I had more time for and encouragement to do. This reflective practice was a key part of presentations and workshops.
  • Staff meetings accounted for nine percent of my time. This underscores the collaborative spirit that drives the work at MAPC and emphasis on communication and teamwork. My facilitation skills and ability to create presentations and documents that describe projects certainly got a lot of finessing, which will serve me well going forward.

Prior to this experience I hadn’t really thought too much about the difference between being an artist based out of a studio environment, and an artist based out of a government planning agency, as studio space was not a resource that MAPC offered. Instead of my former practice of playing with materials or exploring a site until a project emerged, at MAPC the experimentation and play happened in people’s minds and projects emerged as a sort of problem solving exercise, and articulated in a written form.

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"

We needed to plan for how the work would be made and how much time it would likely take. I realized that having all this information articulated positioned me to hand off the fabrication to another person, which expanded my capacity to take on more projects. I learned project management skills that I will carry forward.

What's Next?

As I peer over the nest of MAPC and think about the direction and style of my flight, I’d like to thank of all the people here at MAPC who offered their collaborative spirit and strengthened my practice. As I reflect, I also think about so many people outside MAPC I had the privilege to work with: I think of 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 gotten to meet so many community members, leaders and youth who shape our region. It’s been such a rich residency and I count my lucky stars that I was able to have this experience.

My creative direction will include more Creative Placemaking projects, Green Infrastructure projects, and Spirit of Place commissions. Specific Upcoming Projects include:

  • Organizing the Boston Harbor Artist in Residency program and Upstream/Downstream Arts and Culture Cruise. Visit bostonharbornow.org/recreation for more info!
  • Contracting with MAPC on future projects. These include:
    • Climate Perspectives focus groups and participatory art installation with new Artist-in-Residence Hortense Gerardo and public health planners
    • The final phase of a creative placemaking project in Rockland
    • A prospective green infrastructure project with municipalities along the Malden River

Follow Carolyn's future activities on her website: https://carolynl.net