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Olmsted Equity Grants open up Boston parks to all

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Olmsted Equity Grants open up Boston parks to all
Parks as Platform event 2022. PHOTO: TYAHRA ANGUS

Parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted around Boston are getting shaken up this year. In celebration of the 2022 Olmsted bicentennial, Olmsted Now Parks Equity & Spatial Justice Grants totaling $205,000 have been distributed to 16 artists. These artists will activate Olmsted green spaces and the parks’ histories throughout the fall with the specific purpose of welcoming and celebrating marginalized groups.

An early version of “Wilderness Project” presented by Dzidzor Azaglo and Crystal Bi. PHOTO: RENE DONGO

“What is most exciting about these proposals is how they seek to move the needle, not only on how cultural activities can enrich Boston’s green space, but how green space can be essential to enriching Boston’s cultural landscape,” says Jen Mergel, director of experience and cultural partnerships at the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. “Now the key question is how to learn from and sustain this work going forward — through and beyond 2022.”

Olmsted has a rich and well-celebrated history in Boston as the designer of the Emerald Necklace park system. This Olmsted Now project aims to look at the current and future status of the parks. Who is being welcomed and included in these spaces and who is not? How better to make these beautiful natural refuges equitable to all Boston residents?

The artists’ projects span a wide and exciting spectrum. Karen Susan Young will host a series of events in several locations centering elders, shared land knowledge and sustainable and ancestral gardening practices. On Sept. 18 in Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester, musician Kera Washington will host a festival highlighting Afro-diasporic arts. On Oct. 30, Veronica Robles will host a Day of the Dead parade and celebration in East Boston’s Central Square Park. Nakia Hill is writing a book featuring stories of women and girls of color and their connections to Boston parks.

One of the grants will support an ongoing anti-displacement series called “Hudson Street Stoop/Chinatown Backyard,” on view in Chinatown’s One Greenway Park this fall.

Parks as Platform event 2022. PHOTO: GRACE RAMSDELL

“We’re so grateful to the Olmsted Now Committee of Neighborhoods,” says Christine Nguyen, director of development and communications at Asian Community Development Corporation. “‘Chinatown Backyard’ has been a refuge and space for connection and creativity for the community since its inception a few years ago. This grant will help us usher in its next phase of community gardening and arts and culture.”

With the Olmsted equity grants, Boston’s parks are getting a much-needed dusting off. These artists are tapping into the immense and underutilized possibility of these green spaces to serve as community gathering places, cultural breeding grounds and bastions of joy and inclusion. The Olmsted Now events and projects will roll out across the city this fall in a thrilling wave of diversity and cultural affirmation.

Writer Nakia Hill says, “I think this is a really great way to archive Olmsted’s legacy, and for community members to have an intimate keepsake for future generations to look back on their Boston park experiences.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, Olmsted Equity Grants, Olmsted Now, Parks Equity & Spatial Justice Grants