Giant Pigeons Are Taking Over City Hall Plaza

Don't worry, they're two-dimensional.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

A group of muralists working out of Mayor Marty Walsh’s office is putting the “art” in “flying rat.”

The painters, who are a part of a special team called the “Mural Crew,” which was formed by the city more than two decades ago, have been tapped to transform the construction site of the MBTA’s Government Center stop on City Hall Plaza into a place for public art, and they’re doing it by plastering the boards that block people’s views of the ongoing work with giant pigeons.

“When the topic came up of painting these giant boards at the construction site, I was really flummoxed. I had no idea how to make it look better and interesting, and aesthetically pleasing,” said Heidi Schork, the long-time director of the mayor’s Mural Crew. “It was a very tall order. I did toss and turn for quite awhile, but when I was finally asked, I said, ‘I think I want to do giant pigeons.’”

Schork has been working with three muralists on the bird-themed project, which started a week ago and already wraps around a large portion of the construction site.

To complete the mural, Schork teamed up with Thomas Burns, a well-known talent in the Boston scene who has applied his craft to pieces like the brand-new Nelson Mandela mural in Roxbury; Jerome Jones, a recent Charlestown High School graduate who has worked with Schork the past two summers as part of the Mural Crew; and Brandon Santiago, who also just graduated from Charlestown High.

“They are really talented kids,” Schork said of her artistically driven team.

Schork said it was she who picked the subject matter for the site, on a gut reaction. After spending some time staring at Government Center plaza, a place that once was home to hundreds of pigeons—although Schork likes to think of them as “rock doves”—she realized the birds were displaced by the multi-million dollar redevelopment of the T stop.

“It used to be like Piazza San Marco,” she said. “There used to be a sea of pigeons, so that was the obvious thing to do. Pigeons are the natural inhabitants of the city environment, and a part of the city-nature of things we need to take care of.”

When Schork came up with the concept, she brought it to Burnes, who drafted up mock-images to present to Ken Brissette, the director of the city’s Office of Tourism, Sports, and Entertainment.

Brissette said at first he was surprised, falling in line with the general public’s opinion that pigeons are a bit of an annoyance. But when he saw the proposal, he quickly approved it.

“I said, ‘pigeons?!’ And then I realized, if you think about it, they are part of City Hall plaza. You have pigeons everywhere, and it kind of puts it at something favorable. It’s almost calming,” he said. “They’re doing a good job…I have been watching them out there doing it, and to see them bringing these birds to life, it’s—other city’s have outdoor art like this, and there is no reason we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Both Brissette and Schork said the blue boards sitting atop the jersey barriers that circle the Government Center construction site, which serve as the group’s canvas, were unsightly, and weather permitting the Mural Crew plans on covering them all with the large birds.

“When you do art in public it changes the space, it kind of changes everybody’s attitude about a place, and that is significant to me, particularly in City Hall plaza,” said Schork.

If the weather does have an impact on the painting, and since the T’s project will last two years, Brissette said there’s an opportunity to change the mural if the group wants to, offering tourists and pedestrians a changing landscape that will hopefully transform their perception of the otherwise bland landscape.

“People are stopping and taking pictures and Tweeting at it,” he said. “It’s the people’s building, and we don’t want to make the construction site an eyesore, we want to make it exciting. It takes your eye off the construction and makes you really look at it… they are making something that’s not very attractive, more attractive.”

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