That's the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) to you and me.

That’s the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) to you and me.

In late March, I attended a conference at ASU that focused on the value of prison education—a topic easy to overlook, even in a high-incarceration society. (I previewed the event here.)

The conference was terrific, and you may still be able to see tweets by me and others by looking for @PEAC_ASU and the hashtag #PEC15. And as long as you’re online, be sure to follow ASU’s Prison Education Awareness Club.

The topic of education for correctional inmates is pretty specific, one that I would think does not recur in my life too often. But a recent trip to Boston threw the issue in stark relief again.

As I strolled through the Institute of Contemporary Art in that city, I was pleased to see so many compelling and provocative pieces. It is worth a stop—the longer the better—if you get the chance.

This is the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Yes, it’s as cool as it looks. Yes, you want to visit.

This is the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Yes, it’s as cool as it looks. Yes, you want to visit.

One particularly striking exhibition (sorry, it closes May 10) was called “When the Stars Begin to Fall.” The ICA describes it here:

“When the Stars Begin to Fall gathers 35 artists of different generations who share an interest in the American South as both a real and fabled place. Key to the exhibition is the relationship between contemporary art, black life, and ‘outsider’ art, a historically fraught category typically encompassing artists who have not received formal art training and who may have been marginalized in society. When the Stars Begin to Fall includes artworks by self-taught, spiritually inspired, and incarcerated artists alongside projects by prominent contemporary artists such as Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons, and Theaster Gates. It presents diverse artworks—from drawing and painting to performance, sculpture, and assemblage—unified by an insistent reference to place.”

Read more about the exhibition here.

The entire show was amazing, but I was especially struck by the work of the incarcerated artists. (That may not be a surprise, given the number of times I’ve covered corrections issues before. For instance, here is my review of the film Herman’s House, about former Louisiana inmate Herman Wallace, whom I’ve written about numerous times.)

It may be more than a coincidence that some of our most evocative art arises from people in adverse conditions. And a few artists represented in Boston cause viewers to stop and consider what we value and how fragile our sense of normalcy is.

Causing me to pause was the work of Frank Albert Jones. As I gleaned from the museum-curated detail: The artist created the drawings with colored pencils he salvaged from the accounting office of the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, where Jones was an inmate at the end of his life. The pieces on display were from the late 1960s, soon before Jones’s death.

Here are photos of his pieces on display:

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Also compelling were pieces by Henry Ray Clark, as described by the museum:

“Conjuring alternate realities, Clark creates drawings populated with figures that appear to be from another planet. He builds his compositions by repeating geometric shapes to form patterns and elaborate borders around central subjects. As Clark’s titles imply, his works express feelings of isolation while humorously suggesting possible places where people can exist with their multiple identities.”

Clark also was in the Texas Penitentiary. Upon release, he got involved in Houston’s artist community and participated in community-based organization Project Row Houses. Here is some of Clark’s work:

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The work by Jones and Clark was noteworthy, but I also was struck by the artists who had never been incarcerated but whose work complements and comments on a society heavy on incarceration. Like the dedicated students in the Prison Education Awareness Club, these artists feel that prisons say a lot about us and that they have lessons to tell—about those within the walls and those without.

Among those intriguing people were video artists Kara Walker (and her video titled 8 Possible Beginnings; or the Creation of African-America, A Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker) and Lauren Kelley (and her video titled Unbleached Objects).

Kelley’s work (photo below) communicated consciously with the pieces by Frank Albert Jones on a facing wall. As the museum explained:

“Kelley’s series of videos on view are inspired by the blue and red drawings of Frank albert Jones featured in this gallery. To create these animated drawings, Kelley sourced images of miscellaneous goods on Etsy, an online marketplace for arts, crafts, and vintage items. She envisions these as ‘portraits of the playful spirits captured in the spaces Jones ornately rendered.’ The objects sourced from the free market of the internet contrast sharply with Jones’s reality as a prisoner … but they make reference to the types of mass-produced goods currently made by incarcerated individuals for large corporations.”

Prison arts Boston Unbleached Objects by Lauren Kelley_opt

Unbleached Objects by Lauren Kelley

Here are a few of the inmate-created works displayed at the March ASU conference, as described by Kyes Stevens from the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project (click to enlarge):

And here are photos from the packed-to-the-gills room as PEAC president Jessica Fletcher opened the conference (click the photos to enlarge):

Given the wall-and-wire chasm that lies between millions of inmates and the society that imprisons them, art may be a necessary bridge. Based on the conference message, art can play a powerful role in humanizing a dehumanizing situation. And based on my visit to Boston, it can play a similarly powerful role in reminding us all of the need to remain fully human, even as we dole out justice and retribution.

A Flxible tour bus in front of Boston's Verb Hotel tells you something different is going on with this parcel's transformation.

A Flxible tour bus in front of Boston’s Verb Hotel tells you something different is going on with this parcel’s transformation.

“What does a big red bus have to do with adaptive reuse?”

That is how I open my Arizona Attorney column for the October issue (I’ll share the whole thing when it’s online). The bus comment relates to a recently refurbished Boston, Mass., hotel. The larger issue poked at the question of how laws and lawyers can work to make urban spaces more vibrant and dynamic.

One way to achieve adaptive reuse is to alter your laws and your code to encourage (or at least not disincentivize) it. That is something Phoenix has been at work on. You can see a brochure about the city’s own plan here.

Meantime, in Boston, its namesake university has a fascinating piece of journalism on its site that describes the transformation of a main street into what it is today. Once the site of scores of auto dealers and auto-accessories shops, it has become a boulevard welcoming to cars but also to cyclists, pedestrians, and the City’s iconic T subway.

On the site, writer Patrick L. Kennedy explores that street’s transformation. (The site itself is a marvel; click through, at least, to view the brief videos and the sliding-bar effect that lets you view the old and new streetscapes right next to each other.)

One of the fascinating old structures that might have met the wrecking ball in another city is seen below. The building once held an automobile showroom. Now, the BU School of Theatre makes its home there, and it left intact much of the impressive artifacts—one of which are gargoyle-like figures high on the walls that honor mechanics rather than supernatural beings.

Boston University School of Theatre building, once an auto-dealership.

Boston University School of Theatre building, once an auto-dealership.

Yes, that is a mechanic gargoyle in the Stone Gallery. It and many others line the high ceiling in a space now used for education.

Yes, that is a mechanic gargoyle in the Stone Gallery. It and many others line the high ceiling in a space now used for education.

In that magazine column, I was able to share only one image (that very cool decades-old Flxible tour bus, also pictured above). So I thought it would be terrific to share more images here from the Boston adventure. Here are a few more.

Currently, Phoenix seeks to emulate the success of places like Boston that have installed “parklets”—repurposed parking spaces that now accommodate non-car uses. Dozens of cities have already discovered that altering their laws to permit these spaces creates a more vibrant streetscape, which benefits the businesses nearby and adds to residents’ value.

This is just one example of many that businesses have taken when they install public parklets in Boston.

This is just one example of many that businesses have taken when they install public parklets in Boston.

Boston parklets, branded

Boston parklets, branded

A parklet reminder that the space has no predefined use.

A parklet reminder that the space has no predefined use.

The somewhat odd debate is occurring in Phoenix right now as to whether the city should have both public and private parklets. As seen in the images below, Boston’s are public—as are the parklets of 99 percent of the cities out there that have adopted this unique tool. (Is it an Arizona thing to imagine that higher benefits flow from passing public amenities on to the private sector? Hmm.)

In case there was any doubt, signage makes clear that all parklets are public (and not just for a business's customers).

In case there was any doubt, signage makes clear that all parklets are public (and not just for a business’s customers).

Also occupying former car space are wildly successful bike-share stations. They can be found at dozens of places around the city, which makes hopping on—and then off—an easy task.

Boston bike-share occupies space formerly used for cars.

Boston bike-share occupies space formerly used for cars.

Of course, adaptive reuse means businesses often live alongside—or above—residential spaces. This image shows multiple floors of retail and commercial (including below-grade) with residences above.

Business and residential together (and yes, that is Insomnia Cookies in the foreground). Boston streetscape

Business and residential together (and yes, that is Insomnia Cookies in the foreground).

And here is another former auto dealer that now markets bagels and other food through its massive plate-glass windows.

Boston adaptive use streetscape

Boston adaptive use streetscape

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice a former incinerator chute—not removed but left to evoke the past—in a university dorm.

Boston: The impulse to retain the past burns bright. An incinerator chute in a Boston University dorm.

Boston: The impulse to retain the past burns bright. An incinerator chute in a Boston University dorm.

 

Boston incinerator 2_opt closeup

Incinerator label closeup

Do you agree there is value in keeping and adapting the past? If you’re a lawyer involved in that effort, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Tomorrow, I’ll share another great adaptive reuse—here in Arizona, and with another legal angle.

A historic Boston cemetery contains the seeds of much of our nation's legacy.

A historic Boston cemetery contains the seeds of much of our nation’s legacy.

A brief pictorial tour today, from Boston, Mass.

No trip to a historic city is complete without a stop in a graveyard or two. Many of you may have dropped into the cemeteries near the city’s North End. A glance at the inscriptions yields a history lesson, and quite a few regarding prominent attorneys.

Some more photos are below. Have a wonderful—and epitaph-free—weekend.

Boston 2014 2 Paul Revere

Boston 2014 3 cemertery gravestone

Boston 2014 4 gravestone cemetery