Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E12 | FULL EPISODE

New MassArt Art Museum, DATMA Water, Frontline Songs, & more

We revisit the new MassArt Art Museum after going through a renovation, The Massachusetts Design, Art & Technology institute, or DATMA public art presentation using water as its theme. Healthcare workers process what they have dealt with during the pandemic through music and the help of a professional musician, singer songwriter, Mary Gauthier in Frontline Songs, and actress Harriet Harris.

AIRED: October 08, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> The Valkyries are goddesses, flying goddesses-- warriors.

And they will fly over the battlefield,

and they will bring alive the brave warriors.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen-- coming up onOpen Studio,

MassArt graduates to a new museum.

Then, water made mesmerizing.

>> The call of the sea will not be denied.

New Bedford is a mermaid's promise of treasures.

>> BOWEN: Plus, we'll go inside a songwriting session where,

for frontline workers, music is medicine.

It looked a lot like therapy. >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: Was it therapy? >> Yeah, it became therapy.

>> BOWEN: And Tony-winning actor Harriet Harris,

a first lady of the stage and on stage.

>> Once the marriage did fall apart and he cheated on her,

they stayed in it for his political career.

And I think also for what she wanted to accomplish.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

♪ ♪

First up, Boston has a brand-new museum... again.

After a multimillion-dollar renovation,

the former galleries at MassArt reopened

as the MassArt Art Museum last year,

but only days before the pandemic hit.

Thankfully, the new, free contemporary art museum

is open once more, so we go back to when I met

the museum's executive director, Lisa Tung.

Here we are, your brand-new museum.

>> Yay! >> BOWEN: What's...

Congratulations. >> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: What's the one bit of advice

you wanted to give people who haven't been here yet?

>> I want people to feel like this is their space,

that we're a welcoming place to come and hang out

in our Arne Glimcher Plaza,

and to come visit and to visit often,

because we are a temporary exhibition space

that will change up our shows year-round.

>> BOWEN: Should we go in? >> You want to come in?

Yes. >> BOWEN: I do.

I'm so excited about this. >> Jared, welcome to MAAM.

>> BOWEN: Thank you.

Lisa Tung is the museum's executive director,

and happy to be rid of the old MassArt galleries,

a warren of winding ways that, despite the art on view,

felt very much like the former gymnasium it once was.

>> We were really just spaces.

There was a space to show a show,

a space to show another show.

But there was no lobby, like we're standing in right now,

and there was no front door.

>> BOWEN: But after a 20-month,

12-and-a-half-million-dollar renovation,

MassArt has reopened as a full-fledged museum

with free admission.

Tung calls it aKunsthalle,

the German word for a non-collecting museum.

>> Allows us to be nimble.

Allows us to not be, um, beholden to a collection,

that we have to show something every so often, you know,

because it's in storage somewhere.

It allows us to respond to today's topics

and dialogue and ideas and artists.

>> BOWEN: In the lobby, you'll find an installation

by Brooklyn-based artist duo Ghost of a Dream.

>> We gave Ghost 30 years' worth of exhibition ephemera--

catalogues, posters, newspaper clippings, postcards.

And they have created

a kaleidoscopic patterning of madness.

>> BOWEN: It's now game time for the new museum

and one of its first exhibitions.

Game Changers is a show of video games at play,

with much to say.

Tracy Fullerton'sWalden invites a slowing down,

with demerits for a competitive pace.

Momo Pixel'sHair Nah

is born out of people's predilections

for touching a black woman's hair unsolicited.

And artist and MassArt professor Juan Obando

hacked the popular Pro Evolution Soccer game

to createPro Revolution Soccer.

(game announcer speaking Spanish)

>> BOWEN: His game inserts members

of Mexico's Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN,

a civil resistance group, onto the soccer field.

It's based on a proposed match that never materialized.

EZLN, he says, are not unlike computer and game hackers.

>> I thought that the metaphor was very, very clear.

People are intervening the system.

It's no different from the way

that EZLN has intervened the Mexican system.

>> BOWEN: Upstairs, in the museum's main gallery,

a jaw-dropping installation

by Lisbon-based artist Joana Vasconcelos.

>> Any museum can put sculpture on the floor.

But I wanted the first show to show something

that we'd never done before,

which is completely suspend something up in the sky.

And I was a little selfish.

I wanted to bring an artist

who had never shown in Boston before.

>> BOWEN: How do you want people to feel

when they are underneath?

Or do you want people to feel when they're underneath?

>> Well, the idea is that

this piece has a kind of, um, a movement.

She's flying in that direction.

And of course, she has a center.

And this center is like any chapel, any cathedral.

>> BOWEN: "She" would be the latest

in the artist's Valkyries series,

in which she's created pieces around the world,

including in Paris, London, and Bilbao.

>> The Valkyries are goddesses, flying goddesses-- warriors.

And they will fly over the battlefield,

and they will bring alive the brave warriors.

>> BOWEN: Here, the museum is the battlefield,

a place Vasconcelos says

where the spirit of art and dreams are revived.

The piece is named for and inspired by

Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman, an enslaved Massachusetts woman

who was the first to sue for her freedom.

>> And I was, like, "Okay,

"this was an incredible woman.

"Without, you know, knowledge,

"without being able to read or to write,

"she fought for her rights and for her freedom.

That's the spirit of the Valkyries."

>> BOWEN: Vasconcelos's Valkyries

are made in her Lisbon studio--

a space for magic, as she describes it.

Teams of assistants craft the works

out of deliberately chosen fabrics.

In this case, they come from Mozambique,

a nod to Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman's history.

And they are beings, she says.

>> You can look into this as an animal

or you can look into this as a plant

or as a monster from the sea world.

Uh, it, you can look into this from an, a lot of angles.

It, it's not upon me to decide which one.

>> BOWEN: Why not? You made it.

>> Yeah, I know, but I like to make open things.

So, you can analyze and choose whatever connects with you.

That's the idea.

>> BOWEN: One writ large-- very large.

♪ ♪

The Massachusetts Design, Art, and Technology Institute,

or DATMA, is making a splash in New Bedford

with another season of public art programming.

This year's theme is water-- a fitting subject for a city

whose identity is ingrained in the harbor it's built upon.

This summer, we were met in New Bedford with a poetic welcome

by the city's poet laureate, Patricia Gomes.

>> We the people of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Connected, blended, entwined.

We are said to have salt water coursing through our veins.

Salt water, our lifeblood.

>> BOWEN: In New Bedford, water has always been deeply tied

to the coastal city's economy, culture, and identity.

>> We hold seashells to our ears

and listen for the whispers of our ancestors.

>> BOWEN: To New Bedford poet laureate Patricia Gomes,

a lifelong resident, water has always been a prompt.

And it's the inspiration for her new poem titled "Buoyancy."

>> Awakened by the cries of congregating gulls

and the tart aroma of the sea at dawn,

we are lulled to rest at night by the tinkling of wind chimes

and the comforting bleat of distant foghorns.

New Bedford has always been home to painters and writers, always,

going back to Melville.

It's, it's all right here.

So I think we draw more creativity

from being around the water.

>> BOWEN: And it's water that is the subject of this year's

citywide arts initiative

from the Massachusetts Design, Art, and Technology Institute,

or DATMA.

The organization is bringing a wave of new public art

to New Bedford this summer, from the streets to the piers.

>> The call of the sea will not be denied.

New Bedford is a mermaid's promise of treasures

for those who are brave enough, strong enough,

adventurous enough to mend the nets and mine the waters.

(loud rumbling)

>> BOWEN: Lindsay, what just happened?

What was that?

>> Uh, that's what we call a rainstorm here in New Bedford.

The artist is Zimoun.

He's from Bern, Switzerland, and he's a sound artist.

So he would argue that it's not necessarily about these objects,

but the sound that is the art form.

>> BOWEN: Lindsay Mis is the executive director of DATMA,

and this year combed the globe for artists to compose

variations on a theme of water.

Here at the UMass Dartmouth art gallery,

this installation replicates a thunderous rainstorm

using cardboard boxes, mini motors, and cotton balls.

>> Very simple, but through the simplicity of the work,

you're able to appreciate the nuances and subtleties

of what these materials can offer.

And each object ends up having its own personality.

(rumbling continues)

>> BOWEN: This is the third year

of DATMA's summer arts programming

focusing on natural elements such as wind

and, in 2020, light.

This year highlights the maritime industries

that have been a boon for the city since it was first settled

in the 17th century.

>> New Bedford is a pretty old historic city,

and wouldn't have been the melting pot that it was

without being on a coast.

We've got ships that have been docked there

for hundreds of years.

And so it was important for DATMA to pay homage

to this aspect of being in a coastal community,

and having this industry that's been tried and true

through many generations.

>> BOWEN: As evidenced in the hulking workhorse boats

that float cheek by jowl at the waterfront.

It's an industry as vibrant today as it was centuries ago,

as DATMA highlights in a series of installations

that can be viewed online or in person

on the streets of New Bedford.

LikeSea Scallops: Sentinels of the Deep,

which allows viewers to dive into scientific photography

of the ocean's seafloor.

>> We were working with scientists who were

doing research and involving technology and design

to capture important research on the coast,

but at the same time taking these elegant photos.

>> BOWEN: There is also Harvesters of the Deep,

large-scale portraits that highlight the impact of women

in the global fishing industry--

from the waterfront workers of New Bedford

to the herring lassies of the U.K.,

to the haenyeo divers of Korea's Jeju Island.

>> We're trying to highlight the unsung heroes in this show.

You often see that rough and gruff fisherman,

but what people don't realize is that women have made an impact

in the fishing industry for hundreds of years.

>> BOWEN: So tell me about the women that we're seeing here.

>> So back in 2008, I started going around and documenting

all the different people at their jobs.

>> BOWEN: One of those photographers is Phil Melo,

who has photographed fishermen and women

at every step of the job.

>> I just try to tell the story.

We have boats that come in from Point Judith,

and there's girls on it that fish,

and they offload the boats and everything else.

It's a whole organization of people,

not just men, that do the jobs down here.

>> BOWEN: Just another facet of a pool of programming

celebrating New Bedford's storied past, thriving present,

and promising future. (seagull squawks)

>> We know, as sure as the sun rises in the east,

we the people, having salt water coursing through our veins,

will again rise to the surface as one--

connected, blended, entwined.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Next, as we well know,

healthcare workers have been battling through wave after wave

of pandemic surges.

But, with vaccinations and boosters underway,

they can begin to process the year that was.

And for small groups around the country,

they're doing it through song

by teaming up with some of Nashville's

most esteemed writers.

Here's another look at a story we first brought you in April.

>> It was a tough year.

>> BOWEN: This is a moment

to heal the healers.

Five members of the Emergency Department

at Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital

gather on Zoom to write a song.

>> And what my goal with you today is... to do is to

just kind of get what's going on

and find a common thread that you all share.

>> It was really heartbreaking too.

>> BOWEN: In a two-hour session, they'll revisit

what they ultimately describe as the darkest, most uncertain

year of their lives.

>> It just keeps going.

>> BOWEN: Contending with the virus that ripped

through their E.R.

Walking them back through it

is Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier.

>> What's it been been like?

And... and, um, just kind of throw some...

some words out or experiences out.

>> It was a year of a lot of dualities.

It's like, you know, we were close,

but we were supposed to be alone.

>> Fear.

I had a lot of fear.

I remember walking up the hill some days and think,

you know, "Give me the courage to get through this day."

>> I think a lot of us are, in some ways, kind of sad

by the fact that it may not ever go back to normal.

>> Now that is a great place to start.

I really resonate with "will it ever be normal again?"

>> BOWEN: In short order, it pours out--

the memories, the feelings, the pain.

>> Basically, my job as a songwriter is to tap into

what they're feeling, individually and collectively,

and put that into a song.

♪ ♪

>> ♪ Burned out, scared, I couldn't slow down ♪

>> BOWEN: The effort is called Frontline Songs,

and since September, has been happening across the country,

as small groups of first responders

and healthcare workers process the pandemic in music.

>> So the process is really

therapeutic in the sense that people are coming together

as a group.

>> BOWEN: A physician specializing in trauma,

Dr. Ron Hirschberg is one of the co-founders of Frontline Songs.

>> We find that when

someone's words are reflected back to them,

and there's that validation

through a song can be powerful.

>> I always say that songs are what feelings sound like.

>> BOWEN: After decades of recovery, songwriting,

and nine studio records, Mary Gauthier is a living testament

to the power of music.

When we're dealing in trauma we can feel very removed.

>> BOWEN: Well, what is it

that music can do to help on that front?

>> Melody is so powerful, I think it comes...

into our ears and then radiates through our heart and soul.

I think it's a matter of feeling seen.

>> BOWEN: Back in the songwriting session,

the memories continue, and begin to coalesce.

>> We all experience the hero aspect of it in the beginning,

but then after a certain number of months when everyone

got used to it, we then became, like,

people who were exposed to it all the time.

And so you wanted to change your scrubs just so that you

if you left the hospital people wouldn't look at you and say,

like "Oh, are you carrying it or do you have it on you?"

>> So let me see.

"They called us heroes,

"we were looked up to and revered,

"and then we were looked at as contaminated,

removed and feared."

>> BOWEN: It looked a lot like therapy. >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: Was it therapy? >> Yeah, it became therapy.

>> BOWEN: We spoke with chief resident

Dr. Da'Marcus Baymon after the songwriting session.

A sometime songwriter himself,

he says the process was a revelation.

>> But then to really step back, and say, "Oh, my gosh,

"I didn't know you experienced that,

like I experienced something similar."

And connecting to that just made me really appreciate

how hard it is to wake up every day,

be a great human, and be a great colleague,

but then also have your own, you know, personal experiences.

(strumming guitar)

>> BOWEN: That is a refrain Gauthier has heard before.

She collaborated with war veterans for her 2018

Grammy-nominated album Rifles and Rosary Beads--

stemming from the similarly minded program,

Songwriting with Soldiers.

>> ♪ Morphine dreams ♪

>> BOWEN: How did that begin to shape

your approach to this

and what you really gleaned from that?

>> I think learning how, how to listen,

learning how to not insert myself in the story,

I have no more experience as a soldier than I do

as an emergency room doctor.

>> BOWEN: Does it ever become hard for you to have to

ask these questions?

>> There's a line.

I can tell, um... by feeling it out,

where to go and where, where to be really careful.

>> BOWEN: 45 minutes into the session,

Gauthier grabs her guitar.

She thinks she has enough of the lyrics to introduce a melody.

>> ♪ We were looked at as contaminated ♪

♪ Removed and feared ♪

No, I don't like that.

I don't want, like, too earnest.

I'm going to try something else.

(strumming guitar)

I kind of like the strummy,

going at it little... with a little bit more

than the pluckety-pluck.

Does that sound okay?

>> I love the stronger.

I think we're strong people, and yeah.

We're a zippy group in the emergency room.

(strumming guitar forcefully)

>> ♪ And springtime's upon us ♪

>> BOWEN: And then suddenly-- a tailwind.

An anthem emerges as the group steers the song

into a hoped-for return to normalcy.

♪ ♪

>> ♪ And we wanna know ♪

>> I was listening to her, you know,

play the chords and she switched it up and she really found,

I think, the essence of what we were all looking for

but didn't know.

And that was her brilliance.

>> BOWEN: In under two hours, the group finishes the song.

>> ♪ Loved ones at the bedside ♪

>> BOWEN: Like other Frontline Songs,

it's been recorded by Gauthier to live online for the public

and to be an enduring marker for its cowriters.

>> You know, for me, even if I have to cry or get through it,

it is a way for me to really identify and process

how I'm feeling and say, "This is my experience at that time."

>> ♪ There's normal ♪

♪ Coming soon ♪

>> Wow. >> That's really nice.

>> I think Miranda Lambert would do a great job with it.

♪ ♪

>> You think I don't recognize that look in your eyes?

>> Are you jealous, Eleanor?

>> I don't care about your romantic escapades.

I do care that you are letting your urges

change the political direction of this country.

>> Is that what you think?

>> BOWEN: That was Tony-winning actor Harriet Harris

as Eleanor Roosevelt inAtlantic Crossing

on PBS'sMasterpiece.

It wasn't her first or even last time playing the first lady.

She did it again this summer in the playEleanor

at Barrington Stage Company.

Harriet Harris, thank you so much for being with us.

>> Oh, thank you so much for, for inviting me.

>> BOWEN: This is your fourth time playing Eleanor Roosevelt.

That's a very... I'm not sure I've ever seen this before.

That's a very specific type of typecasting.

>> Yes, it's not what you dream of, but it is a dream role,

but it's not what you really want to have people say.

"Oh, she's, she's like Eleanor."

Except, of course, you do want to be like Eleanor Roosevelt.

In ways that would matter, I wish I were,

but it's really just my big teeth.

>> BOWEN (laughs): Well, tell us, what has drawn you

to playing her originally?

>> I've always thought, "Wow, she's, she's the most

amazing American woman."

But she's, she's just an amazing American woman.

And, and, uh...

She's just a joy

to learn more and more about.

Even the things that are deeply complicated about her

are, are fascinating.

>> BOWEN: We see some of that conflict.

We see some of what made her extraordinary in this piece.

At what point do we meet her

and, and what ground do you cover in this show?

>> We meet her actually after she's died.

And she's a energetic spirit roaming the Earth,

still trying to find a place for herself,

and where she really ultimately fit in and belongs

and where she can rest.

Well, then, who was I?

Besides a first lady?

I view those years almost impersonally.

It was like I'd erected someone outside of myself,

because I didn't know who I was inside, and...

I was afraid to find out.

It sounds kind of spooky and strange,

but that, that part of the story is sort of

dispensed with right up front.

But it's, you know, you have to meet the audience some way.

(chuckling): And everybody knows that Eleanor's gone.

So, she confronts it

in a rather humorous way, I think.

And says, "And now let's move on so, so I can move forward

and do what I need to do."

And, being Eleanor Roosevelt, she always wants to

accomplish her goals.

(laughing): I said everything Franklin could never say.

I spoke about our need for birth control programs

and pregnancy education.

I said that we had to stop pitting race against race.

>> BOWEN: So I understand, for you, part of what

has so attracted you to this role

and to her as a person is the marriage,

which I think, history has, has often tried to reconcile

how that marriage existed and what it meant for her.

>> I, like anybody who would be playing Eleanor,

would be making assumptions.

But having read about her and feeling like she was

a young, lost girl, with no parents,

and was sent away to school and was brought home,

and fell madly in love...

I mean, when you see pictures of Eleanor and Franklin

when they are young and in love, they almost look like

they're eating a bowl of ice cream or something.

They really look like, "I just can't,

I can't get enough of you."

And they look so energized together, and that...

Maybe that doesn't make, always make a perfect marriage.

And once the marriage did fall apart,

and he cheated on her,

and she couldn't reconcile that,

they stayed in it for his political career.

And I think also for what she wanted to accomplish.

And they stayed deeply connected,

even though a lot of the marriage was over very early on.

>> BOWEN: Well, in terms of what she accomplished,

it must be very rewarding, but also slightly disappointing

to look at the civil rights work that she did.

And I say disappointing, because so much of what she did

is happening all these years, all these decades later.

>> I think Eleanor really did believe in an evolution

and a-- of society--

and an acceptance of people.

It was still a elite white woman's business

to be the person that was extending themselves and saying,

"I need to make room for you."

At that point, many people in America really did believe

there was this permission that had to be granted,

and, and that Eleanor was in a position to do it.

And she was.

>> BOWEN: I'm always curious, as an actor,

when you're playing a real-life figure, do you...

Do you focus more on

the biography, the real-life figure,

or is she a character in this case for you?

>> The way Mark has written her,

he has crafted something that really

fits together, and I think brings...

It's not just, like,

Eleanor Roosevelt's greatest hits or something like that.

But it's, it's feelings that she has from different parts

of her life, and accomplishments,

and things that you think, "Oh, my gosh, this fits together

"almost, you know, so beautifully, it...

That you barely need to use your imagination."

>> BOWEN: It almost seems like she's the ballast at this point,

when you consider a lot of the other roles that you often play

that are, are really, really big, or really, really bad,

in your case, the roles that go your way.

>> I can tell it's good for

my, my soul when I get to, get to play her,

because you get to, you get to live in

a, a very unselfish part of your brain.

And, and you have to.

So it... I love that.

And I do love playing wicked people, and bad people,

and extremely selfish people,

because that is what's funny about people.

>> BOWEN: As theater is reopening,

you're among the first people to be back on the stage.

What does that represent for you?

>> (sighs): It was such a hard year.

It was so...

It was very, very hard, I mean, on everybody, you know?

On everybody, in so many ways.

To have been denied the opportunity

to work is, is harrowing.

When they said they were shutting down Broadway

for two weeks, I just thought, "That's just to get the actors

out of the building."

(laughing): Because, because otherwise,

we're not going to leave the building, you know?

But to get to go back to work,

and to get to do what, what you've...

Either what you just gotten out of school and you want to do

or what you have been working on for so long,

to get to do it's great.

>> BOWEN: Well, Harriet Harris, thank you for being

one of the people to bring us back to the theater,

make us find that joy again.

>> (laughing): Thank you. >> BOWEN: We appreciate it.

>> Thank you so much.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, a patchwork of stories in quilts.

Plus, for the first time in more than 20 years,

the Boston Symphony Orchestra has a new leader.

Gail Samuel joins us.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen. Thanks for watching.

As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio

and you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioGBH.

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