You light up my life , Award Sash: vintage satin, embroidery thread, 8 x 48”, 2013 (Photograph: Ashley Wood)

You light up my life, Award Sash: vintage satin, embroidery thread, 8 x 48”, 2013 (Photograph: Ashley Wood)

You light up my life

In 2014, I was invited to be the Artist in Residence at Boston Center for the Arts. The resulting installation is an exploration of gentrification, personal history, legacy, and the role of art in a community. The title alludes to the optimism in the possibility, while maintaining skepticism in the absurdity, that artists – or art – can change anything.

The Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) was created when, in 1968, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, together with a group of concerned residents in the South End neighborhood of Boston, decided to transform a dilapidated block of buildings into a cultural center. When I began meeting with longtime artist tenants of the BCA Artist Studio Building, they shared many stories from those early days. Artists were an important part of the “revitalization plan” because of their willingness to work – and often live – in poorly heated, crumbling buildings where they invest their time and labor to make improvements.

To address this complex past and present of the BCA, I created the You light up my life award sash, which honors the work of Ken Clark. A BCA artist since 1972, Clark has made many improvements to the physical structure of the BCA over the years. In 2014, Ken Clark took the initiative to change all of the light bulbs in the Artist Studio Building to more energy efficient LEDs. This subtle change highlighted the history of artists’ labor and efforts at the BCA over the past 44 years.

The sash and the fabric it is made from reference a parallel part of my history. The red satin is left over from flower girl dresses made by my mother in 1968 for my sister and me to wear in our Aunt Sheila’s wedding to her high school sweetheart, Buck. Corporal Walter “Buck” Guy Wicker, Jr. died from multiple fragmentation wounds in Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. He was 20 years old. The same year that Buck was killed, the Boston Center for the Arts was founded. This fabric connects the BCA artists’ idealism in the 1960s and 70s, the fraught times that they were living in, as well as present day parallels with artists’ desire to effect change.