Unlocking difference
Boston, Massachusetts, USA


On January 13, 2023, a crowd of dignitaries gathered on Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, to unveil a striking new city memorial. A 7m-tall, semi-abstract bronze sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas, recreates a joyous hug between Dr Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King at the moment it was announced the civil rights activist had won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. A supersized snuggle you can literally walk into, it celebrates both the couple’s roots in Boston, and a renewed civic commitment to the values they stood for – love, cooperation and mutual uplift.

Significantly, the memorial stands at the beginning of the Freedom Trail, a scenic, city-central walking route linking 16 of the most famous historical sites in Boston – known for its compact dimensions as ‘America’s walking city’ – whose colonial foundation’s 400th anniversary will fall in 2030. A key catalyst of both American independence and abolition and site of recent social-justice landmarks like the US’ first legal gay wedding, Greater Boston has long been home to a rich variety of immigrant communities, yet till now has struggled to forge a unified culture that represents and nurtures its unique diversity. But passionate progressive efforts from community and cultural leaders – notably Kim Janey, who became the city’s first female and first African-American mayor in 2021, and her successor, Boston’s incumbent first-Asian-American mayor Michelle Wu – have in recent years created a new momentum, unlocking boldly multicultural new expressions of the city’s strengths and aspirations, of which The Embrace is a purposeful examplar.

Fine art is a sphere where Boston’s progressive new intersectionality is plain to see, and nowhere more than in the spectacular ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts/Boston) in Seaport, the city’s newest neighbourhood. The first US building by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architects also of New York City’s High Line park, this vast, waterfront neo-brutalist building platforms local artists alongside world-renowned names, and its outreach programmes, which spill into its second space, the ICA Watershed in up-and-coming East Boston, work hard to tend and share future creative talents. (Should more evidence of its unstuffy inclusivity be needed, the main space also hosts Red Bull’s annual cliff-diving competitions from its roof every summer.)

“We’re incredibly lucky with the educational environment there is here,” says ICA’s PR Director Colette Randall, “with Harvard, MIT and Berklee College of Music, among others, close by. These bring so many academics from all over the world, and so many young people who are interested in exploring new ideas. It makes for a very engaged audience, and allows us and other cultural organisations to be very adventurous.”

This engagement also manifests at grassroots level, for example on the guided walkabouts of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester offered by Collin Knight’s Live Like a Local Tours Boston. These spotlight illuminating untold histories and local organisations whose work “to bring prosperity and pride to diverse neighbourhoods” is vibrantly visible – as in Roxbury’s exuberant street murals and Dorchester’s Cape Verdean cuisine – and increasingly weaving itself into the broader city narrative. “Business leaders and developers from our communities are shaping the city’s culture as never before,” Collin says.

As both founder of the 25-year-old Roxbury International Film Festival and Community Initiative Program Manager for Massachusetts Cultural Council, Lisa Simmons is perfectly placed to describe an overview of a new integration that is sharing more of the city’s cultural assets with both residents and visitors than ever. “I know it from my festival work, when we collaborate and support each other, we create new stories and bring together new audiences, across perceived borders. Our festival for example has always carried LGBTQ+ content, and we’ve developed this over the years in partnership with Boston’s brilliant Wicked Queer film festival. And we as a city get it now. Cultivating our diverse businesses and creatives and having them inform how we move forward together is smart planning. Our arts and culture scene today is unbelievable, and unbelievably diverse.”

For the visitor, this forward-looking, better-together confidence is palpable, proud and warmly welcoming. You’ll feel it in the culinary culture, whether your pleasure’s fine dining or an artisanal street-food pop-up. You’ll feel it in accommodations serving luxury and style by the mile. You’ll feel it in music venues, museums, distilleries, galleries, poetry jams, parks, boutiques and more across all of the city’s 23 characterfully contrasting neighbourhoods. And it feels like a brand-new Boston.

www.icaboston.org | www.livelikealocaltoursboston.com | www.roxfilmfest.com

Photography by Shihab Chowdhury, Kyle Klein, G. Ortiz, Brian Samuels, Chuck Choi, Miguel Angel Lopez, Marcio Jose Bastos Silva and courtesy of Collin Knight, Sean Sweene and Heidi Besen

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