Downtown Boston Art Gallery is Uplifting Powerful POC Artists

3rd Space Art Sale Credit: James Piombino

( ENSPIRE Feature ) 3rd Space Art Gallery is Enhancing the Culture of Downtown Boston

ENSPIRE Contributor: Leanna Florez

Downtown Crossing in Boston, MA is not known for much besides the few stores and coffee shops located there. Over the years, it’s been slowly crumbling into a place that the Boston culture doesn’t match. If you’re looking for fine shopping or art, you’d find yourself on Newbury Street, Copley Square, or Beacon Hill. 

For this reason, I was completely surprised to stumble upon 3rd Space, a hub of art and culture right in the middle of Downtown Crossing. 3rd Space is a renovated empty storefront implemented by Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID), a group intending to provide economic opportunities for creatives of color. Through the end of March from Tuesday-Saturday from 12 to 6 pm, the artfully decorated location features areas for trendy photo-ops, relaxing study spaces, and art exhibits. 

Image Credit: Georgianne Ten Eyck

In an exclusive interview with Downtown Boston (BID) President Michael Nichols, he described what role 3rd Space is meant to serve in the surrounding Bostonian culture. “We wanted to create a vibrant, mixed-use space to welcome people in… We know, of ourselves and of Downtown Boston, that we need to work harder to make some space available for younger creators, younger authors, younger makers, so this was an opportunity to do that.” As Nichols describes, Boston is a city full of art and culture, so why shouldn’t all areas reflect this?

Featured Artists just practice and VERS Collab

The featured exhibits are currently just practice  and VERS Collab, two groups of POC creatives from local colleges. Just practice artists Amanda Ugorji and Sophie Weston Chien are featuring their collection “Soft City,” a series of large textiles that map the Black neighborhoods in the Boston area. It shows the deep history and future of Black neighborhoods through the artistic lens of city planning. Using different textures and colors, the artists show the flood zones in relation to these areas, highlighting the resilience of these communities despite the odds. 

“One of the things we’re trying to do is make things less about data and more about patterns,” artist Amanda Ugorji says. “We’re using not so many instincts but what you feel, using that to help you understand it. Even though this is a compilation of a couple of layers of data, it’s also mentally a reminder and something visually beautiful.”

Image Credit: James Piombino

VERS Collab is presenting “ISUs,” a collection of work from many artists that highlight the different talents and cultures they all bring to the table as students in Boston. Founded by Chelsea Jno Baptiste, Sahil Monan, and Savannah Cheung, “Integrated Sheltering Units” or “ISUs” focus on the homelessness in Boston and how the city’s “hostile architecture” often harms homeless people struggling with housing inequity.

Chelsea Jno Baptiste describes the project as “dealing with all scales. We kind of try to push boundaries of identity, representation, and money, so we dabble in things from visual art to fashion to architecture.” Also comprised of mostly graduate students from MIT and Harvard, VERS aims to bring together a collective that will raise awareness about issues such as homelessness, minority representation, and systematic racism in the city. 

3rd Space holds Free Art Event Series

These aren’t the only artists that 3rd space highlighted. Throughout the Winter months and into the Spring, they have hosted many events such as comedy nights, artist talks, live music, and art sales. I attended an art sale in February and was astounded at the collections offered by almost only student-aged artists. From paintings to jewelry to architectural blueprints, each person had both a unique offering and a unique story. 

Upon arrival in the brick, graffiti-decorated, neon-lit space, shoppers listened to live jazz music from a saxophone player while strolling through a variety of vendors. One table was laden with copies of a children’s book collection written by children for children, while another featured graphic prints of water and architecture. Another artist presented a table of sustainable, naturally dyed, and fiber knits that they made to help cope with their ADHD while enrolled in graduate school right across from an artist using her work to showcase the beauty of black hair textures. The vendors ranged from painters who had been passionate about their craft since childhood to student jewelry-makers selling their products for the first time, all brought together by the positive messaging that Downtown Boston’s 3rd Space.

Image Credit: Georgianne Ten Eyck

Renovating Storefronts and Bostonian Culture

Aside from the fun events that 3rd Space has held, the root of its creation is deeply embedded into the city of Boston itself. 3rd Space is presenting an outlet for artists of color and—though many of the artists were students—non-student artists with a passion for socioeconomic and political activism. Sophie Weston Chien, a founder of just practice, described the culture of both performing and visual arts as an exclusive room; “if you’re not ‘invited,’ and there’s a large gap between people who aren’t invited, then it becomes a lot harder to make it.” 

Chelsea Jno Baptiste furthered this by adding that her Caribbean background made her feel more disturbed by the lack of opportunity for minority voices. On a smaller island, she felt that they “don’t have people who are just destitute on the streets, and it’s because we have that community.” This was compared to the Bostonian society, where she feels that “because it’s so busy, so many people, that people just have to kind of focus, and so a lot of times, people fall through the cracks. People with smaller voices, they’re not seen, they’re not heard.” 3rd Space has raised the voices of many Gen Z, POC, and LGBTQ+ artists by showcasing their talents in these vibrant events. 

Michael Nichols continues to use 3rd Space as a platform for these individual communities and Boston as a whole, and ultimately, he expressed his hopes for further inclusivity attempts by the city. “I think having our first elected non-white mayor, our first elected female mayor, our first millennial mayor, it’s all a really great energy for what Boston should be right now. I think the city’s going in a lot of the right directions on who they’re prioritizing and how they’re trying to lower the barriers of participation.” 

3rd Space will continue to hold events through April 21, outlined below. 

Free Lunch Club @ 3rd Space: Tuesday-Friday 12-3 pm 

Image Credit: Georgianne Ten Eyck

Trivia: Hosted by Morgan White Jr. of WBZ radio on Tuesdays from 12:30-2pm 

Games: Included but not limited to a putting green, jenga, and connect four will be available on Wednesdays and Fridays 

Live Music: See website for more information, held on Thursdays

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