Public Art as Context: A curriculum taught and developed at St Marks Community Education Program in Dorchester that uses Boston’s public art as a context to encourage civic efficacy, city exploration, and improved English speaking and reading skills amongst adult immigrants.

This class was made possible by a generous grant from First Literacy.

Welcome to the live class page for the Public Art as Context course

Class materials and photos from this course are published here so that current students can catch up on lessons in the event that they miss class. Fellow educators who stumble on this page, please feel free to copy and implement any reading comprehension materials or elements of curriculum design! However, out of respect for the students, I ask that you not use images of them without permission.

September 27, 2017: First Class Materials

Reading Passage: Make​ ​Way​ ​for​ ​Ducklings​, ​by​ ​Nancy​ ​Schön

Photo Credit:

If​ ​you’re​ ​wondering​ ​what​ ​to​ ​do​ ​in​ ​Boston​ ​with​ ​kids,​ ​the​ ​​Make​ ​Way​ ​for​ ​Duckling​ ​​statues​ ​appeal​ ​to everyone​ ​familiar​ ​with​ ​Robert​ ​McCloskey’s​ ​classic​ ​children’s​ ​book​ ​about​ ​the​ ​duck​ ​family​ ​that makes​ ​its​ ​home​ ​in​ ​​Boston’s​ ​Public​ ​Garden​.

In​ ​Robert​ ​McCloskey’s​ ​1941​ ​beloved​ ​classic​ ​that​ ​has​ ​the​ ​same​ ​name​ ​as​ ​the​ ​sculpture,​ ​​Make Way​ ​for​ ​Ducklings​,​ ​Mr.​ ​and​ ​Mrs.​ ​Mallard​ ​come​ ​to​ ​Boston​ ​when​ ​searching​ ​for​ ​the​ ​perfect​ ​home for​ ​their​ ​soon-to-be​ ​family.​ ​​ ​They​ ​find​ ​the​ ​Public​ ​Garden,​ ​and​ ​decide​ ​to​ ​spend​ ​the​ ​night​ ​on​ ​the little​ ​island​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Lagoon​ ​and​ ​make​ ​the​ ​garden​ ​their​ ​home.

4 Charles St, Boston, MA 02116

The​ ​famous​ ​bronze​ ​ducks​ ​created​ ​by​ ​Nancy​ ​Schön​ ​located​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Public​ ​Garden​ ​near​ ​the corner​ ​of​ ​Beacon​ ​Street​ ​and​ ​Charles​ ​Street.​ ​​ ​In​ ​1991,​ ​​Barbara​ ​Bush​​ ​gave​ ​a​ ​duplicate​ ​of​ ​this sculpture​ ​to​ ​​Raisa​ ​Gorbachev​​ ​in​ ​Russia,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​work​ ​is​ ​still​ ​displayed​ ​today​ ​in​ ​Moscow.

Visiting​ ​Mrs.​ ​Mallard​ ​and​ ​her​ ​8​ ​ducklings​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​​top​ ​Boston​ ​kids​ ​activities​​ ​for​ ​the​ ​under-8 set,​ ​but​ ​visitors​ ​of​ ​all​ ​ages​ ​love​ ​the​ ​statues.​ ​The​ ​Ducks​ ​never​ ​need​ ​professional​ ​polishing because​ ​children​ ​sit​ ​on​ ​them​ ​so​ ​often,​ ​and​ ​they​ ​are​ ​often​ ​decorated​ ​with​ ​costumes​ ​for​ ​holiday occasions.

Text roughly adapted from

Reading Comprehension Questions:

What kind of public art is Make Way for Ducklings in Boston’s Public Garden?

a) A children’s book

b) A mural

c) A sculpture

d) A memorial

What was Make Way for Ducklings inspired by?

a) A children’s book

b) A book for adults

c) A scientist who studied ducks

d) The Chinese community nearby that loves to eat duck

Where else in the world is there an identical Make Way for Ducklings in Boston? _______________

What is the material used to make the ducks?

a) Silver

b) Bronze

c) Gold

d) Copper

Why do the ducks not need professional polishing?

a) Children polish the ducks themselves with a cloth

b) The ducks are made of a material that does not need to be polished

c) The ducks are replaced every month

d) It is common for children to sit on the ducks and this keeps them polished

Students receive their art supplies

October 4, 2017: Second Class Materials

Reading Passage: “Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment,” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The famous American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens spent over ten years creating this bronze, bas- relief monument. It is one of his best works. It shows the “Massachusetts 54th Regiment,” the first volunteer regiment of African-American soldiers that fought in the Civil War. The soldiers were led by white colonel Robert Shaw, the son of famous Bostonians who were against slavery.

Shaw and his soldiers are famous for attacking a fort called Fort Wagner. Many of the troops, including Shaw, were killed by their enemies in this attack. One of the soldiers who survived the attack, William H. Carney, received a Medal of Honor in because of his bravery.

139 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02111

In the bas-relief, an angel accompanies the men as they march down Beacon Street on May 28, 1863. They were leaving Boston and heading south. She holds an olive branch, which symbolizes peace, and poppies, which symbolize death. Through this imagery, Saint-Gaudens is showing that the soldiers died, but their effort would later help them win the war. Other features of the relief are realistic, not symbolic. For example, each soldier’s face is different, each face has a different expression. Saint-Gaudens’ respect for the soldiers is shown through his effort to show them as individuals, not simply as a group of soldiers. In 1982, the names of the African-American soldiers who died were added to the back of the memorial.

Reading Comprehension Questions:

What kind of public art work is this passage about?

a) a sculpture

b) a building

c) a mural

d) a monument

What was different and special about the group of soldiers in the monument?

a) they were Chinese

b) they were African-American

c) they were not realistic

d) they were symbolic

What does the word “regiment” mean? It means:

a) bas-relief

b) artists

c) soldiers

d) forts

How long did the artist spend making the public art work?

a) 1 year

b) 5 years

c) 10 years

d) More than 10 years

What do the poppies represent?

a) love

b) peace

c) life

d) death

Site for finding art in Boston:

Image credit: Boston Art Commission

October 11, 2017: Fourth Class Materials

Reading Passage: Chinatown Gate, designed by Jung/Brannen Associates

Photo credit:

Village gates and arches are common in Chinese architecture and have been embraced by Chinese-American communities across the United States. The entrance to Boston’s Chinatown, with its twin green roofs, began with a gift of materials from Taiwan in 1976.

John F Fitzgerald Surface Rd, Boston, MA 02111

Taiwan supported construction of Chinatown gates across the U.S. during that decade, says Wing-kai To, a professor of Chinese-American history and vice president of the Chinese Historical Society of New England. The gates were also a way to symbolize the neighborhood’s joy and strength, and a way to protect the buildings inside.

If you’re looking through the gate into Boston’s Chinatown, the Chinese characters say, “All under heaven for the common good of the people,” one of the classical Chinese verses appropriated by the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, sometimes called “the George Washington of China.” Sun Yat-sen helped overthrow the last Chinese dynasty, and in the 1910s, he founded the Chinese republic. The text on the other side of the gate promotes the Confucian moral values of “propriety, righteousness, integrity, uprightness.”

Reading Comprehension Questions:

What was the first step in the process of building the gate?

a) There was a donation from the City of Boston

b) The Chinese-American community raised money to make the bridge

c) Taiwan donated materials for the bridge

d) China donated materials for the bridge

What kind of public art is the Chinatown Gate?

a) Sculpture

b) Memorial

c) Mural

d) Architecture

Does the arch say the same thing on both sides?

a) Yes

b) No

Are these arches common in other cities in the United States?

a) Yes

b) No

Where is the arch located in Boston?

a) Chinatown

b) Dorchester

c) Downtown Boston

d) Roxbury

Public Art Presentation: Advice and Suggestions

Suggestions for going to the art

  1. Pick the art you want to observe and present to the class.
  2. You can look to see what is near you on the map here:
  3. You can also get inspired with pictures of popular public art works in Boston here:
  4. Try to visit the artwork while there is still light outside so you can see the art.
  5. If you use Uber to get there, send Chiara a copy of your receipt by text (send a screenshot) or by email (forward the email) so that she can pay you back for your trip.
  6. If you have a partner, try to go to see the art at the same time as your partner.
  7. When you are in front of the artwork, draw the artwork with the art supplies given to you in this class.
  8. When you are in front of the artwork, take a picture of it.

Advice for your in-class presentation

Make sure you talk to the class about:

  1. Where the artwork was — tell the class the location of the art
  2. What kind of public art this is — tell the class whether this is a mural, a monument, architecture, a sculpture, graffiti, or something else.
  3. What you thought about the art when you first saw it — did you like it or did you dislike it? Did you think it was interesting?
  4. What was your favorite part about the art?
  5. How do you think the artwork could have been better — if you were the artist, would you have done anything differently?
  6. Did you think it improved the neighborhood or the building it was nearby?

Make sure you share with the class the picture you drew of the art.

Make sure you share with the class a photo you took of the art.

If you have questions or anything happens while you are looking at the art or preparing your presentation, you can text or call Chiara.

October 18, 2017: Fifth Class Materials

Reading Passage: Community​ ​Activists​ ​Are​ ​Bringing​ ​a​ ​Huge​ ​Mural​ ​to​ ​Fields​ ​Corner​ ​in Dorchester

Photo credit: Ngoc-Tran Vu

Ngoc-Tran​ ​Vu​ ​​ ​just​ ​completed​ ​a​ ​permanent​ ​​mural​​ ​in​ ​her​ ​hometown. The​ ​29-year-old​ ​artist​ ​came​ ​to​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States​ ​as​ ​a​ ​four​ ​year​ ​old,​ ​and grew​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Vietnamese​ ​immigrant​ ​community​ ​in​ ​Fields​ ​Corner​ ​in Dorchester.​ ​She​ ​left​ ​the​ ​city​ ​for​ ​college​ ​and​ ​graduate​ ​school​ ​in​ ​New​ ​York and​ ​Rhode​ ​Island,​ ​but​ ​later​ ​came​ ​back.

“I​ ​was​ ​seeing​ ​a​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​art​ ​in​ ​Dorchester,”​ ​Tran​ ​explains.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​very aware​ ​of​ ​the​ ​long​ ​history​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Vietnamese​ ​community​ ​in​ ​the​ ​area,​ ​and felt​ ​that​ ​those​ ​two​ ​areas​ ​of​ ​interest​ ​could​ ​be​ ​combined.​ ​“I​ ​started thinking​ ​about​ ​the​ ​changing​ ​in​ ​the​ ​​landscape​,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​do​ ​we​ ​hang​ ​on to​ ​the​ ​histories​ ​and​ ​stories,​ ​and​ ​that’s​ ​when​ ​I​ ​really​ ​saw​ ​this​ ​important need​ ​for​ ​art.”

Luckily,​ ​she​ ​met​ ​Tam​ ​Le,​ ​35,​ ​who​ ​could​ ​provide​ ​the​ ​​canvas​​ ​she​ ​needed.

Le​ ​runs​ ​the​ ​Pho​ ​Hoa​ ​Restaurant​ ​with​ ​his​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​also​ ​had​ ​a​ ​passion for​ ​art​ ​and​ ​an​ ​interest​ ​in​ ​finding​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to​ ​give​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​community.​ ​He​ ​offered​ ​her​ ​the​ ​wall​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Pho​ ​Hoa​ ​building for​ ​an​ ​art​ ​project.​ ​From​ ​there,​ ​Tran​ ​applied​ ​for​ ​and​ ​received​ ​a​ ​grant​ ​from​ ​the​ ​New​ ​England​ ​Foundation​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Arts and​ ​hired​ ​an​ ​assistant,​ ​Kathy​ ​Le.

1370 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02122

The​ ​mural​ ​project​ ​came​ ​across​ ​some​ ​hiccups​ ​along​ ​the​ ​way,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​finally​ ​resulted​ ​in​ ​a​ ​work​ ​of​ ​art​ ​that​ ​shows Vietnamese​ ​traditions​ ​and​ ​the​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​Vietnamese​ ​people​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Boston​ ​of​ ​2017.​ ​It’s​ ​called​ ​​Community​ ​in​ ​Action:​ ​A Mural​ ​for​ ​Vietnamese​ ​Folks​ ​in​ ​Fields​ ​Corner​.​ ​The​ ​mural​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a​ ​​permanent​ ​addition​​ ​to​ ​the​ ​building,​ ​with multiple​ ​layers​ ​of​ ​a​ ​treatment​ ​designed​ ​to​ ​help​ ​it​ ​withstand​ ​Boston’s​ ​relentless​ ​winters.​ ​The​ ​artist​ ​and​ ​the​ ​restaurant owners​ ​are​ ​having​ ​a​ ​neighborhood​ ​party​ ​to​ ​celebrate​ ​the​​ ​installation​​ ​of​ ​their​ ​work​ ​this​ ​week.

“The​ ​three​ ​major​ ​​themes​​ ​that​ ​we​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​showcase​ ​and​ ​explore​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mural​ ​is​ ​the​ ​theme​ ​of​ ​Vietnamese​ ​presence in​ ​Boston,​ ​the​ ​second​ ​is​ ​unity,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​third​ ​is​ ​growth​ ​and​ ​a​ ​brighter​ ​future,”​ ​Tran​ ​explains.​ ​So​ ​that​ ​meant​ ​trees​ ​to symbolize​​ ​growth,​ ​and​ ​figures​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Vietnamese​ ​zodiac,​ ​including​ ​a​ ​dragon​ ​and​ ​koi​ ​fish.

Text roughly adapted from ​the​ ​original​ ​news​ ​article​ ​by​ ​Lisa​ ​Weidenfeld​ ​in​ ​Boston​ ​Magazine,​ ​published​ ​on​ ​​ ​09/28/20

Reading Comprehension Questions:

Why​ ​did​ ​Ngoc-Tran​ ​Vu​ ​leave​ ​Dorchester?

a) She​ ​left​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​how​ ​to​ ​paint​ ​murals.

b) She​ ​left​ ​to​ ​work​ ​somewhere​ ​else.

c) She​ ​left​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​college​ ​and​ ​graduate​ ​school.

d) She​ ​left​ ​because​ ​she​ ​did​ ​not​ ​like​ ​Fields​ ​Corner.

What​ ​is​ ​Tam​ ​Le’s​ ​job?

a) He​ ​works​ ​as​ ​an​ ​artist.

b) He​ ​works​ ​for​ ​the​ ​New​ ​England​ ​Foundation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Arts.

c) He​ ​runs​ ​a​ ​school​.

d) He​ ​runs​ ​a​ ​restaurant.

What​ ​did​ ​Ngoc-Tran​ ​Vu​ ​say​ ​she​ ​thought​ ​Dorchester​ ​needed?

a) She​ ​thought​ ​Dorchester​ ​needed​ ​more​ ​art.

b) She​ ​thought​ ​Dorchester​ ​needed​ ​more​ ​parties​ ​to​ ​celebrate​ ​Vietnamese​ ​traditions.

c) She​ ​thought​ ​Dorchester​ ​needed​ ​more​ ​restaurants.

d) She​ ​thought​ ​Dorchester​ ​needed​ ​better​ ​murals than the ones it had.

The​ ​author​ ​of​ ​the​ ​article​ ​says​ ​that​ ​“the​ ​mural​ ​project​ ​came​ ​across​ ​some​ ​hiccups​ ​along the​ ​way.”​ ​What​ ​does​ ​she​ ​mean?

a) She​ ​means​ ​that​ ​the​ ​artist,​ ​Ngoc-Tran​ ​Vu,​ ​was​ ​coughing​ ​and​ ​having​ ​hiccups​ ​while painting​ ​the​ ​mural.

b) She​ ​means​ ​that​ ​there​ ​were​ ​serious​ ​problems​ ​that​ ​happened​ ​before​ ​the​ ​mural was​ ​completed.

c) She​ ​means​ ​that​ ​there​ ​were​ ​small​ ​problems​ ​that​ ​happened​ ​before​ ​the​ ​mural​ ​was completed.

d) She​ ​means​ ​that​ ​the​ ​artist,​ ​Ngoc-Tran​ ​Vu,​ ​found​ ​some​ ​hiccups​ ​on​ ​the​ ​street​ ​as she​ ​was​ ​painting​ ​the​ ​mural.

Did​ ​the​ ​artist​ ​work​ ​alone​ ​on​ ​the​ ​project?

a) Yes.

b) No.

Public Art Presentations: Speaking Practice

A student presents her observations of the sculptures outside of the Boston Public Library
A student shares information about the artist with the class
A student shares information on the “Knotted Gun” in New York City

October 25, 2017: Sixth Class Materials

Reading Comprehension: Boston Irish Famine Memorial needs to be restored

The memorial features bronze depictions of a starving Irish family in Ireland and an Irish family restored to health after arrival in America. It is a well-intentioned remembrance of the loss of life from starvation and disease of 1 million Irish during the mid-19th century. The two statues are not in good condition anymore, however. The memorial deserves better than its current fate as a magnet for vagrants and pigeons.

24 School St, Boston, MA 02108

In 1998, the land for the memorial and park around it was leased to Thomas Flatley, a developer who emigrated here from Ireland. Several of the city’s business leaders of Irish descent helped create the memorial with Flatney in the park area. But after Flatley died, the group did not keep the memorial clean or the park in the best condition. Now, there are often many pigeons and homeless people in the park.

People want to help, especially because the park and memorial are located along the Freedom Trail. There are goals to turn the park into a “welcoming and vibrant space’’ alive with Irish music and dance. The Irish International Immigrant Center, which provides advocacy and legal help to today’s Irish immigrants, could pitch in to help.

It would great if the City of Boston and the mayor could dedicate time and money to help keep the park and memorial clean and useful for the city’s residents.

Text loosely adapted from original article by Lawrence Harmon, Globe Columnist, published November 09, 2013 in the Boston Globe

Reading Comprehension Questions:

Where is the memorial located?

a) Along Fields Corner in Dorchester

b) Along the Freedom Trail in Downtown Boston

c) In South Boston where most of Boston’s Irish immigrants live

d) In Thomas Flatney’s backyard

What historical event does the memorial remind people of?

a) The day that Thomas Flatney died

b) The time when memorials in Boston were kept clean

c) The Irish famine

d) The Irish immigrant population today

What does the Irish international Immigrant Center provide?

a) Legal help for immigrants

b) Healthcare help for immigrants

c) Housing advice for immigrants

d) Employment advice for immigrants

Are there many immigrants from Ireland in Boston today?

a) Yes

b) No

c) The article does not say

When could the period of starvation, disease, and loss of life have occurred, according to the article?

a) 1950

b) 1900

c) 1850

d) 1800

After discussing the Vietnamese hat shown in the Fields Corner mural during the last class, the students brought me one to wear while teaching!

November 1, 2017: 7th Class Materials

Reading Comprehension: The Boston Women’s Memorial, by Meredith Bergmann

Photo Credit: City of Boston Women’s Advancement

The City dedicated the Boston Women’s Memorial on October 25, 2003. The sculptures at the Commonwealth Avenue Mall honor:

  • Abigail Adams
  • Lucy Stone, and
  • Phillis Wheatley.
256 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02116

Abigail Adams was born in Weymouth, Mass. She was the wife of the second president of the United States, and the mother of the sixth.

Lucy was born in Brookfield, Mass., and was one of the first women in Massachusetts to graduate college. She’s known as an abolitionist and a respected orator. She started the Woman’s Journal, the most important women’s publication of its era that advocated for the right of women to be able to vote.

Phillis was born in West Africa and sold as a slave from the ship “Phillis” in colonial Boston. She became a literary prodigy. Her 1773 volume “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was the first book published by an African writer in America.

Artist Meredith Bergmann’s vision displays a new way of thinking about public art. Unlike larger than life statues, these invite people to interact with them.

Instead of standing on her pedestal, each woman is using it. The memorial also uses traditional symbols of sculptures in new and original ways.

On the day of the memorial’s dedication ceremony, the artist who won the right to create the memorial by submitting her idea to the public competition, began her speech to the crowd by thanking the Mayor, the Boston Women’s Commissioner, and the citizens of Boston for devoting time, money, and space to the important matter of highlighting the important impact women have made and continue to make on the City of Boston.

Text adapted from the City of Boston official page, you can continue to read more about the project, the artist, and the three women here:

You can watch a video about the memorial here:

Reading Comprehension Questions:

What was Lucy Stone best known for?

a) Her skills writing poems

b) Her skills at making memorials about women

c) He skills at public speaking

d) Her skills at marrying presidents

What two subjects did the poet write her first book about?

a) Religion and Morality

b) Religion and Slavery

c) Slavery and Women’s Rights

d) Women’s Rights and Art

Abigal Adams was the brother of one president and the daughter of another.

a) True

b) False.

How are the statues in this memorial different from those in most other memorials?

a) They invite people to interact with them

b) They are larger than life

c) They are made of bronze.

d) They are located in Boston

How did the City of Boston select the artist for the memorial?

a) One artist was not selected, the whole community participated

b) The Mayor was friends with the artist so he picked his friend

c) The president picked his daughter to be the artist

d) The artist won a competition

Public Art Presentations: Speaking Practice

Students explain to the class the history behind the monument they chose to photograph and explore.

November 8, 2017: 8th Class - Downtown Public Art Walk Field Trip

Students visit the Boston’s iconic bas-relief that they studied in their second class
Students interact with Make Way for Ducklings
Not just for kids — adults help polish the statues too!
Students loved exploring the art in the Public Garden, Commons, and Common Wealth Mall parks

November 15, 2017: 9th Class Materials

Reading Comprehension: Rainbow gas tank by Corita Kent, 1971

In 1971, Boston Gas commissioned a famous former nun to create murals for its two giant gas storage tanks along the Southeast Expressway (Route 93) in Dorchester. Corita Kent designed the rainbow to give “a sign of hope that urges you to go on.”

Kent had been a nun, artist and teacher in Los Angeles. Her screenprints were used for Roman Catholic social justice work and President Lyndon Johnson’s 1960s anti-poverty programs. She moved to Boston after Los Angeles and settled here. In her first years here, she produced prints that were among her most activist — memorializing the murdered Martin Luther King, celebrating Cesar Chavez, and protesting the Vietnam War.

Commercial Point, Victory Rd, Boston, MA 02122

After 1960, her art grew more light and sunny, more laid back and peaceful, based on loose watercolor brushwork. The rainbow gas tank is one of these paintings blown up 150 feet tall.

A controversy arose when some claimed to see the profile of Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese communist president and Vietnam War icon, in the rainbow gas tank’s blue brushstroke. Kent denies that she did this on purpose. After the controversy, a butterfly design she drew up for the second gas tank was never painted. But the rainbow stripes have remained, becoming a beloved Boston landmark.

About her design, she has said: “to me, a rainbow represents hope, uplifting, spring,” Kent told The Boston Globe in 1971. “It’s a joyous expression, joining heaven and earth together.”

Text loosely adapted from the WBUR article, “The 50 Best Works Of Public Art In Greater Boston, Ranked,” by Greg Cook.

Students: Listen to the audio from WBUR by clinking on the link below:

Reading Comprehension Questions:

What did Corita Kent say about the rumor that the face of Ho Chi Minh was on the gas tank?

a) She said she did this to protest the Vietnam war

b) She said she did not paint the face on purpose

c) She said it was not Ho Chi Minh’s face, but Mao Zedong’s

d) She said she wanted to represent the Vietnamese community in Dorchester by painting the face

Who commissioned the painting?

a) Boston Gas

b) The City of Boston

c) The Mayor of Boston

d) President Lyndon B. Johnson

What does the rainbow represent?

a) Peace

b) Happiness

c) Joy

d) Hope

What was the design that the artist planned to paint on the second gas tank?

a) It was a design of a butterfly

b) It was a design of a rainbow

c) It was a design of a bird

d) It was a design of a sunflower

According to the article, the artist contributed designs to one of the President of the United States’ programs. What did this program do?

a) It fought against homelessness

b) It fought against racism

c) It fought against war

d) It fought against poverty

November 29, 2017: 10th Class Materials

Reading Comprehension I: Sculpture garden at Luc Hoa Buddhist Center

Photo credit: Joe Difazio for WBUR

On a side street off Fields Corner there is a yellow gate with three arches. It serves as the entrance to a garden with trees and statues. It’s a small oasis outside the Luc Hoa Buddhist temple.

The center began two decades ago when Buddhist members of the local Vietnamese-American community acquired the three-family home. The yellow gate has writings that speak about peace and joy.

7 Greenwood Park, Fields Corner, Boston

The statues in the garden include guardian lions, a white statue of a standing Quan Am bodhisattva, a spiritual figure of love and kindness, and a reclining statue of Sakya Muni Buddha that exudes spirituality and tranquility.

“We try to liberate ourselves from some of the things of this life,” Hanh says. “We know for sure this life is suffering. We try to cultivate our mind, liberate ourselves from this suffering.” The garden is an oasis of peace and public art in Dorchester.

Reading Comprehension II: “Roxbury Love” (Mandela) mural by Richard “Deme5” Gomez and Thomas “Kwest” Burns, 2014

Photo credit: Joe Difazio for WBUR

The 100-foot-long mural is a statement of pride by and for Roxbury’s African-American community with its black and white portrait of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-segregation and anti-apartheid leader who died in 2013. On the mural, there is text that reads: “Roxbury love.”

On Warren Street at Clifford Street, Boston

The two artists who spray painted the mural have said that the mural commemorates the visit Mandela made to Boston on June 23, 1990, just months after he was released from spending 27 years in prison. Massachusetts was the first state to withdraw its pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa; the city of Boston soon followed. The international civil rights icon had come for a one day stop to thank Boston for its support. After leaving Boston, he continued his eight-city U.S. tour to gather backing and raise money for a political campaign that would eventually get him elected president of South Africa in 1994.

Both texts adapted from previously referenced WBUR article, “The 50 Best Works Of Public Art In Greater Boston, Ranked,” by Greg Cook

Reading Comprehension Questions:

How many arches does the Buddhist Garden have?

a) One

b) Two

c) Three

d) Four

When was the center founded?

a) Around 2007

b) Around 1997

c) Around 1987

d) Around 1977

In this paragraph, what does “oasis” mean?

a) A place where there is water and palm trees in the desert

b) A place where people can find peace

c) A place where Vietnamese people can go

d) A place where Buddhists can pray

What does the “Roxbury Love” mural commemorate?

a) A visit by Nelson Mandela to the city of Boston

b) A donation of money from Nelson Mandela to the city of Boston

c) A donation of money from the City of Boston to Nelson Mandela

d) The eight-city tour Nelson Mandela took in 1994

What did the City of Boston do to support the anti-apartheid fight in South Africa?

a) It invited Nelson Mandela to visit Boston

b) It donated to Nelson Mandela’s presidency campaign fund

c) It donated to Nelson Mandela’s own private foundation

d) It boycotted companies doing business in South Africa

December 6, 2017: 10th Class Materials

Reading Comprehension: “Betances Mural” by Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg, 1979

Photo credit: Joe Difazio for WBUR

A pair of brilliant suns radiate from either end of this 45-foot-long ceramic mosaic. It celebrates the Puerto Rican heritage of many residents of Boston’s South End. It was painted during the 1960s to prevent the displacement of the neighborhood’s residents.

At Villa Victoria, Aguadilla Street, off Tremont Street, Boston

The artist, Lilli Rosenberg, also oversaw the creation of ceramic mosaics in the Boston Common and at the MBTA’s Park Street station. The create this mural, she organized more than 300 children and neighborhood residents to sculpt clay tiles.

Fish, people and musical instruments float across the design. In the center is Rosenberg’s sculpted-cement portrait of 19th century Puerto Rican patriot Ramón E. Betances, who lead an unsuccessful independence uprising against the Spanish colonial government. On the mural, you can read a quote from this man: “We must know how to fight for our honor and our freedom.”

“Freedom Trail,” 1951

Photo credit: Jesse Costa/WBUR

The Freedom Trail’s red line that goes through the Revolutionary War historic sites in the heart of Boston has been a big success.

It began in 1951 because a newspaper editor wanted to connect with the revolutionary history. But even as someone from the city, he found himself lost and disoriented when attempting to visit all the sites.

Along the Boston Common to Bunker Hill

Through conversations with religious leader of the North End’s Old North Church, they proposed a walking route. Schofield publicly floated the idea in his March 8 column. “All I’m suggesting is that we mark out a ‘Puritan Path’ or ‘Liberty Loop’ or ‘Freedom’s Way’ or whatever you want to call it, so visitors and locals will know where to start and what course to follow,” he wrote. “You could do the trick on a budget of just a few dollars and a bucket of paint.”

After more columns pushed the idea, the Mayor of Boston at the time announced that the city would create what is today known as “The Freedom Trail.”

That June, workers put up signs along a mile and a fifth route from Boston Common to the North End. It quickly became a hit. The trail has evolved over the years — the line has been repainted and it now leads to more sites than it originally did. The Black Heritage Trail and the Women’s Heritage Trail were created later to show the people and places the original trail had overlooked.

The Freedom Trail can be seen as an artwork because it’s a giant line drawn through the city. In addition to the art of it, the trail is also is a set of directions on how to walk a certain way, on how to perform a sort of ritual by visiting the actual sites and stepping back into history.

Both texts adapted from previously referenced WBUR article, “The 50 Best Works Of Public Art In Greater Boston, Ranked,” by Greg Cook

Reading Comprehension Questions:

What is at either end of the mural (1st reading)?

a) Puerto Rican men

b) Artists

c) Moons

d) Suns

Was this the artist’s only work in Boston (1st reading)?

a) Yes

b) No

c) It does not say

What kinds of things can you see on the mural (1st reading)?

a) Fish

b) People

c) Musical instruments

d) All of the above

Why was the trail created (2nd reading)?

a) It was easy to get lost when trying to find Boston’s historic landmarks

b) Many people did not have maps in the time it was created

c) It was created so that tourists could pay more money to the city of Boston

d) It was created because the city had extra bricks from another project

Was the trail immediately popular?

a) Yes

b) No

Public Art Presentations: Speaking Practice

An inspiring oral presentation by a student who presented on his idea of public art in Boston: the American flag itself!
This student chose to present to the class another original interpretation of public art: cemetaries in Boston

December 13th, 2017: 11th Class Materials

Reading Comprehension: “Tenango” mural by Mayor’s Mural Crew, 2014

Inspired by the building owner’s request for a Mexican style mural — and a rooster — Heidi Schork, the founder and director of the Mayor’s Mural Crew, came up with a catchy composition of flowers and birds around a rooster for this narrow, fenced-off alley sandwiched between two Jamaica Plain buildings. The imagery is inspired by traditional tenangos, which Schork explains are an embroidered piece of cloth made by women in the state of Hidalgo in central Mexico.

2 Harris Ave, Jamaica Plain, Boston 02103

The Mural Crew, a summer work program for Boston teens, began in 1991 as an anti-graffiti project under former Mayor Ray Flynn. “Our first few summers were spent in Codman Square painting out gang graffiti,” Schork says. “Then it took on a life of its own.” After a quarter century, she says, “hundreds of Boston kids have been able to paint murals that have lasted a very long time. We have trained many kids and turned them on to public art. … The freedom of painting such a large wall is a lot of fun. But it’s a lot of hard work.”

Text adapted from previously referenced WBUR article, “The 50 Best Works Of Public Art In Greater Boston, Ranked,” by Greg Cook

Color Commons 2017, by New American Public Art Studio and Dennis Carmichael

Photo credit: New American Public Art

Color Commons is a responsive public art installation by the studio New American Public Art that invites passersby to change the color of the twelve

Atlantic Ave & High St, Boston, MA 02110

24-foot tall Light Blades by text message. The Light Blades have become a much more personal and relatable icon since NAPA allowed them to be controlled by the public community. Color Commons is programmed with over 900 different color names. Anyone can text a color name, like red, blue, or yellow, to a number posted on the site. The lights will respond by turning the color that the person texted. With this new feature, New American Public Art hopes to make Boston a more playable city, one where existing urban infrastructure can be used in ways that enhance person-to-city and person-to-person connections. Color Commons will be on display through Winter 2017.

Text adapted from New American Public Art website, at

Reading Comprehension Questions:

Who works on the Mural Crew?

a) Professional artists

b) Teenagers

c) Adults

d) Mexican women

At first, what did the Mural Crew do?

a) They painted over graffiti

b) They painted graffiti themselves

c) They painted murals around Boston

d) They took down murals around Boston

What changes depending on text messages in the second public art piece?

a) The shape of the piece of art

b) The name of the piece of art

c) The sounds of the piece of art

d) The color of the piece of art

What kind of city do the artists want to make Boston?

a) A more intelligent city

b) A more hardworking city

c) A more playable city

d) A more hardworking city

Who can interact with the art piece using text messages?

a) The Mayor

b) Anyone

c) The artist only

d) Women only

Public Art Presentations: Speaking Practice

Wonderful presentation on the John Quincy Adams statue by a very thorough student!
Another great oral presentation by our class’s youngest member

December 20, 2017: Last class — Field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts

After showing students how to find the title of the artwork, artist, and medium used on the museum plaques that accompany the art pieces, we roamed as a group and practiced this reading skill with each painting and sculpture we observed.

Students discuss John Adams bust and painting
One student, himself of Vietnamese descent, explains to the class the history of the Vietnamese art on display in the Asian Art wing of the MFA
For all of the students, it was their first time in the museum. The glass sculpture in the plaza was a big hit!

A big thank you to all who made this class possible:

Mike Oliver, Executive Director of St Marks Community Education Center, for trusting me to design curriculum and execute this vision, for inviting me to paint the mural at St Mark’s that sparked the idea for the class, and for being a wonderful mentor and friend throughout my time at St Marks.

Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs at First Literacy, for first approaching Mike with the wonderful idea of an arts-based English class, and for following through with the funding that allowed St Marks to provide this class to students free of charge.

My students and friends, who made this Wednesday class the past three hours of my week, every week.

Boston Cultural Council, for funding the creation of the mural at St Marks and many other public arts projects throughout Boston

The City of Boston, for sponsoring so much great public art in Boston that we couldn’t begin to do it all justice with this course.

Investigative Reporter at The State. Bylines before in Scientific American, The Economist, The Marshall Project and others. Ex-ESL teacher, nonprofit co-founder

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