The Council Chamber was filled with supporters of public art in Watertown, including members of the new Committee devoted to Public Arts & Culture and its predecessor, a volunteer grassroots effort. The group also paid tribute to a woman who spent many years advocating for the arts as well as bicycle paths in Watertown.
On Wednesday evening the two groups gathered to celebrate the former Watertown Public Arts & Culture Committee, and to welcome the City’s recently formed Public Arts & Culture Committee. One person missing from the celebration was Janet Jameson, a longtime advocate for public arts.
Jameson, who recently passed away at the age of 84, was a member of the original WPACC, along with Ingrid Marchesano, Aramais Andonian, Barbara Epstein, Barbara Ruskin and Deborah Peterson. The members received a thank you gift, and Jameson’s family was on hand for the ceremony.
Also, honored Wednesday was Steve Magoon, for his role in public arts as Director of Community Development & Planning.
The members of the new Public Arts & Culture Committee, recently appointed by the City Manager and approved by the City Council, also attended Wednesday’s event. The members are resident members Dawn Evans Scaltreto, Carole Katz, Roberta Miller, Erin Webb, Leah Craig, and Archy LaSalle; Watertown Cultural Council representative Sally Young; and youth representatives May Cort, and Kara O’Neil.
Marchesano, the head clerk in the Watertown Department of Community Development and Planning, recalled how she would look forward to speaking with Jameson each week and she always asked how her family was doing.
“And then she always came up with wonderful ideas,” Marchesano said. “I just want to say to her family how much I am going to miss her, and I am very sorry for your loss.”
Peterson knew Jameson for decades, and recalled how they first worked together 40 years ago when they started an effort to turn the railroad line from Fresh Pond in Cambridge to Arlington Street in Watertown into a bicycle path. Several years ago a piece of the path from Arlington Street to School Street opened, and now the section they started working on all those years ago is on the verge of opening, Peterson said.
Young recalled how Jameson’s daughters babysat her children, and noted that when her daughter and grandchildren come to visit they take the bike path Jameson advocated for on the way from North Cambridge to Watertown.
In the meantime, Jameson and Peterson worked on other parts of what is known as the Community Path, including a section between Whites Avenue to Waverley Avenue. That was the the location of the first public art project for which Jameson advocated. To make the path and the mural a reality, Jameson advocated for the Town to work with urban planning interns, with whom Jameson enjoyed working.
“Oh, how she loved those young students with the energy and fresh ideas,” Peterson said. “One of those ideas was a mural on a long ugly wall on the proposed right of way.”
To make the mural a reality, Jameson and Peterson spoke to many people in town, including the future members of the WPACC. The partnership they formed with artist Gregg Bernstein, working with students form Watertown High School, resulted in more public art.
“At Janet’s instigation and nudging we did two more murals and then nudged the Public Arts and Culture Committee into being,” Peterson said.
One thing the WPACC advocated for was having the then Town of Watertown to get a grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Committee to do a public arts master plan. One of the recommendations of the plan was to create an official Public Arts & Culture Committee as part of the Watertown government.
Just weeks before she died, Jameson continued to work on public arts events. She brought together two of her loves, the bike path and public art, by organizing a bike tour of the YardArt displays, where residents display art on their front lawns and homes.
“With public arts, as with the bike path, she saw something with the potential to be universally uplifting that seemed to be well beyond our reach,” Peterson said. “And yet she stuck with her vision with tenacity and hopeful expectation that it would come to pass, and it did.”
Liz Helfer, Watertown’s Public Arts & Culture Planner, said the new Committee has started meeting, and already has some projects in the works.
“One of the first projects is a community sculpture walk, along the Community Path in Linear Park,” Helfer said, referring to the section of path along Saltonstall Park. “We are also having an event called Edible Watertown.”
More ideas are being considered, Helfer said, and the Committee is always looking for new inspiration.
“We are considering all sorts of ideas from all places,” Helfer said. “We are very excited to be doing what we are doing.”
Young said that she plans to tap the members of the former WPACC, too.
“Just because you are not on our Committee doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to enlist your help in the work we are doing, so just wait for our call and when we call say ‘yes.'” Young said.
Find out more about the Public Arts & Culture Committee by clicking here.