A link between art and exercise?

I may have thought of one.  I try to get out and move, to play, to explore, but as winter approaches it’s harder and harder to find a good reason to walk around the neighborhood.  One of my favorite things to do when I visit cities in Europe is to look up walking tours that can lead me around a city to look at public art.  I must admit that I get a little bored by official architecture and history tours, but taking my time to look at modernist architecture in Barcelona blows my socks off, and walking around Vienna to see art nouveau doorbells and tiles gave me an excuse to cover most of the city and really get a sense of where I was.

And then in Chile there are the amazing political murals. Some officially sanctioned and permanent, others painted hastily at night by mural crews who divide the tasks, swoop in and paint a quick protest mural before they’re noticed by the police.  These murals don’t tend to last very long before they’re painted over and erased.  I loved to wander the streets, look from the trains as they speed by, and climb the steep steps of Valparaiso to find the murals and see what people cared about enough to say publicly.

Art in the common space is a gift to the community.  It adds vibrance and also tells a story.  We have too many bare walls and too much gray concrete.  I know from watching my two year-old daughter that colorful things catch everyone’s attention and they work to help us linger in one spot, to start a conversation that we might not have otherwise started, and sometimes to think about things in a new way.  What better way to explore a city than to find the public art that adorns its walls, streets, benches, poles and boxes?

With this in mind, I’m considering creating a map of all of the public art in Somerville. It’s a pretty significant undertaking and it might have to happen in phase. Perhaps first the murals and switchboxes that were sanctioned by the Arts Council, then the large murals and sculptures that are hard to miss, then a third phase of adding the more temporary works or the smaller pieces.  There must be a way to open the process up so that people can add what’s in their own neighborhoods.

I think that the map could turn into a set of walking tours- routes that people could bike or walk to explore a part of the city they’ve never seen or to look in a new way at the neighborhoods that they know best.  Maybe it could also accompany the Open Studios weekend, so that visitors will know where to look for public art as they walk between the studios.  It’ll get us outside more.  It’ll help us see the city in a new way.  It’ll be a nice excuse to talk to our neighbors, and maybe it’ll help us think about which parts of the city could use more art.

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