Street art in Boston got a thrilling new addition this past May with Quiñonez’s Look to Your Elders, a vibrant painting on the side of Grove Hall pot shop Pure Oasis depicting a woman and young man surrounded by Caribbean plants and Indigenous patterns. A heartfelt nod to Boston’s generations of Caribbean and Afro-Latino residents, the piece is more than just a mural: It’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks work of art that has turned the spot into a must-visit. 430 Blue Hill Ave., Dorchester, MA 02121, marka27.com.
After a year spent working shifts at COVID patients’ bedsides, you could forgive healthcare workers for being in no mood to dance. But when vaccines finally arrived at Boston Medical Center in December, staffers there were ready to bust a move, performing a choreographed dance to Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” as a cell phone captured the moment on video. Ultimately reaching millions of viewers online, it was a scene of jubilation that allowed many of us to feel hopeful about the future.
Streaming companies made it easier than ever to catch the latest releases on the small screen during the pandemic. But for true cinephiles, nothing beats the experience, and the curation, of local independent cinema. Thankfully, the Coolidge has steadily offered fans a virtual screening room featuring everything from foreign films to Oscar-nominated shorts, giving film buffs ample fodder for their Letterboxd accounts. We’re thrilled it’s reopened to in-person audiences, but glad we had it all along. 290 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 02446, coolidge.org.
Come for the weigh-off of the biggest pumpkins in the world, stay for this renowned agricultural fair’s midway rides and barns packed with adorable farm animals. 207 Boston St., Topsfield, MA 01983, topsfieldfair.org.
Returning this holiday season, this event is the ideal winter one-stop shop: Get all of your gifts from local arts and craft vendors while enjoying food and cocktails, all graced by the glow of ice sculptures. 500 Harrison Ave., South End, MA 02118, sowaboston.com/sowa-winter-festival.
Get ready for some really cathartic moshing: After two years of heartbreaking cancellations, our marquee music festival recently announced its return for 2022 — and it did so with a bang, bringing back 2020’s promised headliners Foo Fighters and Rage Against the Machine. Allston, MA bostoncalling.com.
As New England’s largest celluloid celebration of people of color, this vibrant 10-day showcase highlights remarkable features, documentaries, and shorts that reflect the diversity in our community and around the world. Roxbury, MA roxfilmfest.com.
In the fight for racial justice, state Representative Liz Miranda stood out among local politicians by leading the charge to create a maternal health commission to help eliminate racial disparities in childbirth across the state, specifically when it comes to Black mothers, who die at much higher rates than white mothers. She did all of this while sponsoring additional bills for police accountability and gun violence prevention. Boston, MA
In a year full of contradictory health advice and opinions, Newton resident Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, deserves recognition for remaining a voice of reason online as we navigated the second wave of COVID and the beginning of vaccinations.
Bishop John M. Borders III of Mattapan’s Morning Star Baptist Church partnered with Boston Medical Center and Mattapan Community Health Center to use his house of worship as a vaccination site — and in so doing, gave the community a trusted place backed by a trusted leader to receive lifesaving shots. Now that’s what we call keeping the faith. 1257 Blue Hill Ave., Mattapan, MA 02126, .
Roxbury natives Muyi Fre$co and Noma Nomz live by the mantra “get your vibes right” — and that’s exactly what the DJ/producer duo have accomplished with their latest project, which celebrates the diversity of the city with feel-good rhythms and soulful Caribbean melodies infused with mesmeric Afrobeats. Cameos from other Boston artists are the proverbial cherry on top. supersmashbroz.com.
With “Anything for Selena” — a limited series that’s part investigation, part love letter, and part deeply personal essay — WBUR’s Maria Garcia gets to the heart of why so many people still adore the late Tejano pop star. Through vivid storytelling in both English and Spanish, she fills in gaps in the public’s understanding of Selena’s life via intimate interviews with elusive family members. Mixed in are heart-to-hearts with fans who saw, as she did, an aspirational version of themselves in the code-switching, border-straddling performer. wbur.org/anythingforselena.
It’s impossible to make a Zoom gala as exciting as the real deal, but Boston Ballet’s virtual ball, dubbed “The Next Step,” came pretty darn close. The breezy evening’s highlights, as always, were two world premieres: a live performance from Boston Ballet’s South End studio and a recorded performance at the Liberty Hotel. And lest they go hungry (and thirsty) while watching, guests received gift boxes containing splits of champagne, crackers, cheese and charcuterie, and a mezze selection — not to mention auction paddles that helped the organization raise more than $1.5 million that night. 19 Clarendon St., South End, MA 02116, bostonballet.org.
Given that it started as a parking lot, there was nowhere to go but up for Cambridge’s Starlight Square, which opened during the pandemic as a safe outdoor gathering space for locals. With small huts for area vendors, tasty food, and performances from dancers, musicians, and more, it was like a condensed version of what Central Square itself usually offers. And though it began as a pandemic-specific hangout, it was so popular that it’ll now live on as a way to enjoy the neighborhood’s character long into the future. 84 Bishop Allen Dr., Cambridge, MA 02139, starlightsquare.org.
What a coming-out party this past year has been for Moderna. For years the Cambridge company had been all-in on messenger RNA vaccines, the radical approach to disease prevention that attracted billions of dollars from investors but had yet to be proven in the real world. After its wildly successful vaccine put the startup on par with major drug manufacturers like Pfizer — not to mention helped break COVID-19’s grip on humanity — it’s clear that the bet has paid off. modernatx.com.
When live performance was off-limits, this glam-punk queen raised the (gay) bar on virtual drag shows in a major way. Her “Full Spin” series, start-to-finish presentations of iconic albums in the queer canon — Lady Gaga’s Artpop, for one — has so far raised nearly $40,000 in Venmo’d tips for underemployed artists and social justice orgs. That’s when she’s not releasing her own debut record of dark, glossy electro tunes (Before Me), offering eye-popping makeup tutorials on YouTube, or cohosting “Now Serving,” a Drag Race–style digital competition that shines the spotlight on other colorful local talent. majentawithaj.com.
For any Bostonian in search of beauty during a year of social isolation, the PEM’s fresh, eclectic slate of programming was well worth the trip up north. A survey of women who revolutionized fashion stood beside documentarian Peter Hutton’s film of a globetrotting container ship’s journey from construction to junkyard. Meanwhile, painter Jacob Lawrence’s landmark series The American Struggle shared a building with Indian street art, Zarah Hussain’s sound-and-animation exhibit detailing human breath, and Alexis Rockman’s collection of hyperreal paintings of famous shipwrecks. 161 Essex St., Salem, MA 01970, pem.org.
A stalwart in Boston since 1959, the gallery managed to not just survive but thrive this past year thanks to live and online shows that brought legends and locals together. See: works from modern-art icon Josef Albers, contemporary star Jenny Holzer, and Mike Glier, whose paintings are inspired by birdsong in the Public Garden. The gallery even hosted its annual AIDS Benefit Auction around the holidays virtually, with all proceeds going to the Dimock Center’s pediatric and family programs 10 Newbury St., Back Bay, MA 02116, krakowwitkingallery.com.
When Idris Goodwin’s play premiered at Boston’s Company One in 2018, its intimate portrait of an interracial hip-hop trio rocked by the needless police killing of a Black teenager had its finger directly on the national pulse. Hype Man’s pivot to video with the original cast — presented with great sound, ample drama-heightening close-ups, and interstitial animations — added renewed vigor to a production whose timeliness has only increased exponentially in the intervening years 64 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA 02138, americanrepertorytheater.org.
Anxious readers seeking comfort and perspective at a time when both were in short supply found solace in Heather Cox Richardson’s daily newsletter, turning it into an unlikely smash hit. Each morning throughout the COVID crisis, the Boston College professor has penned a crisp summation of the news that is free of panicked hyperbole, heavy on context and warmth, and sprinkled liberally with historical tidbits. It’s no wonder more than 600,000 subscribers still hang on to her every word. heathercoxrichardson.substack.com .
Get your sea legs ready: Reaching this hidden-gem hike requires two boat rides, first on the Georges Island ferry, then on a tiny boat that runs (for free) to Lovells. What a payoff you’ll get, though: a glimpse of Boston Light and the city skyline, a chance to explore the ruins of a deactivated military fort, and solitude in the fresh ocean air. You can trace the outer edges of the quiet island in just over an hour, but you’ll likely find yourself lingering for much, much longer. Boston, MA bostonharborislands.org.
The Netflix treatment of Sean Ellis’s wrongful conviction and ultimate exoneration in the 1993 killing of a Boston police officer is both triumphant and infuriating, exposing cracks and rampant corruption in the criminal justice system that put him away as a teen. The eight-episode series also gives a major platform to familiar voices in the city, like GBH’s always excellent investigative reporter Phillip Martin, and introduced the world to Rosemary Scapicchio, the no-nonsense local attorney with an unforgettably spiky platinum-blond hairdo who spent years fighting to set Ellis free.
Drive-in theaters, like any piece of real estate, are all about location, location, location. And there’s nothing like making new memories at this landmark fairground, a wide rural expanse that — when cars line up under golden sunsets and starry skies — looks straight out of the movies. Family-friendly films like Peter Rabbit 2 and blockbuster eye candy such as F9: The Fast Saga, meanwhile, are perfect for watching from an open hatchback. 207 Boston St., Topsfield, MA 01983, topsfielddrivein.com.
The decision to let restaurants reclaim parking spaces for al fresco tables was a pandemic-era marvel that almost certainly kept some of our favorite spots from going belly-up. It also changed Boston’s dining scene, and its streets, for the better (can you even remember the days when restaurants didn’t spill out into their own elegantly decorated parklets?). Filling all of that space with people rather than lifeless hunks of metal was good for the soul — let’s keep it going in the future.
It may not have been the same as huddling shoulder to shoulder by the greeting-card racks, but for the bookishly inclined, this Harvard Square mainstay’s online offerings still provided the respite of a Cambridge literary evening during COVID’s darkest days. If anything, going digital only expanded its impressively boldfaced roster, with everyone from Roxane Gay to Margaret Atwood and Carmen Maria Machado stopping by the virtual reading salon 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138, harvard.com.
If we needed any more proof that celebrities (and hugely viral TikTok stars) really are just like us, Zachariah Porter, a.k.a. @zzzachariah, is it. He’s shopping at Target a little too frequently, imagining the reality shows he would be really good on, and above all else, drinking iced coffee from Dunkin’ (medium with a splash of almond milk) in his car. His 60-second clips — including his spot-on impression of every mom at HomeGoods — manage to make every day entertaining, and have snagged the loyal viewership of 2.1 million followers in two quick years. tiktok.com/@zzzachariah.
We love a tote bag as much as the next person, but after a while, the GBH and New Yorker ones start to pile up. WERS, Emerson College’s radio station, not only plays some of the best eclectic music around town — from singer-songwriters, rock, and R&B to show tunes and a cappella — its live-music swag also beats all. Baseball caps, T-shirts, hoodies, and coffee mugs all blare your allegiance to Boston’s best college radio station and make you look younger and hipper than you actually are. 120 Boylston St., Theater District, MA 02116, wers.org.