Thanks to Young Voters, Boston Will Get Some ‘Art Walls’

Think of the 'Os Gemeos' mural, but on a much smaller scale.

Photo by Margaret Burdge

Photo by Margaret Burdge

After tapping into the minds of Boston’s youth, and asking them how they would spend $1 million to better the city’s streets, Mayor Marty Walsh got his answer: more outdoor art.

Taking a page from the Bartlett Yards project, where artists were at one time allowed to transform decrepit building fronts and crumbling façades into eye-popping murals, the Mayor’s office announced Monday that portions of the city’s capital budget will be ciphered into locating blank, outdoor canvasses for local taggers, graffiti-writers, and painters to openly apply their talent without the fear of getting arrested or cited for defacing public property.

Called “Designated Free Wall Space,” the idea was born out of Boston’s first-ever participatory budgeting project, where Walsh’s administration turned to residents between the ages of 12 and 25, and asked them to share thoughts about how a lump sum of money should be spent in their neighborhoods.

After compiling a list of possible project ideas, Walsh’s office set up voting booths at Community Centers, schools, and MBTA stops and stations so the city’s young people could cast a ballot and voice their opinion about what types of fixes would benefit the city most. More than 1,500 young voters were able to select up to four projects on the ballot, which were divided into categories like education, streets and safety, community and culture, and parks and health. Out of the proposed projects picked—these included Chromebooks for students, security cameras in parks, and playground makeovers—one of the top-requested items was the plan to find a set of vacant walls for artists to spray paint and display murals within their community.

“This project is necessary because Boston’s inner city needs more public art on display. The wall will give young people a place to display their art in a positive space. It will bring light to areas of the city that aren’t aesthetically pleasing,” according to Youth Lead the Change, which helped rally young voters when Walsh announced the participatory budget program. “The entire community will benefit from this project. If the community is directly involved in making the place they live in a better place then there will be less vandalism in the area.”

As part of the deal, which will be supported by roughly $60,000 of the capital budget, volunteers and local youth organizations will help find and designate the free wall spaces, as well as provide ongoing maintenance to the sites that are ultimately chosen.

The “art wall” project is reminiscent of Roxbury’s Bartlett Yard initiative, where local talents took over the abandoned MBTA bus facility for a limited time, and painted all over the property. Those walls remain up, but are scheduled to be torn down as summer comes to an end.