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Interactive art series “Winteractive” opens in Downtown Boston

“Winteractive,” a series of interactive art installations, is now on display around Downtown Boston until April 14, aiming to encourage residents to embrace the winter months and drawing mixed reactions since its opening.

“Untitled #3”, a series of 5 characters by Mark Jenkins, for the Winteractive art installation in downtown Boston. The exhibit calls itself a “Canadian Art Experience in Downtown Boston.” SARAH CRUZ/ DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Winteractive, which opened on Jan. 17, calls itself a “Canadian Art Experience in Downtown Boston.” The installations are presented by the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, or BID, and supported by multiple partners in both Canada and Boston, including the Québec Government Office in Boston and Meet Boston. 

For BID, the scope of Winteractive separates itself from past initiatives like musical performances and murals, BID president Michael J. Nichols said.

“Winteractive is brand new for the neighborhood, a first time effort from us and a major expansion of what we view as public art being brought into the public domain in downtown Boston,” Nichols said. “It’s all been sort of fairly small-scale until now.” 

With the help of curatorial partners from Québec province, each work was selected to “encourage wintertime exploration and promote visits during winter months downtown,” according to a BID press release.

There are 16 art pieces currently on free public display around the Downtown Crossing area, which take about 30 minutes to see along a 1.25 mile trail, according to the Winteractive website. Featured artists include Mark Jenkins, LeMonde Studio, Mathias Gmachl and Kezna Dalz among others. 

Jenkins’ pieces in particular have raised significant attention from Bostonians. One of Jenkins’ hyperrealistic sculptures of a person was taken down by the Boston Fire Department after a concerned passerby reported the figure, according to the Boston Globe

The sculpture was of a man sitting on the edge of a building “fishing for love,” Nichols said.

“We are currently in the process of finalizing a new location for that sculpture to bring it back to public view,” said Nichols, who said also they expect to find that this week. 

Amanda Bourbonais discovered the installations after receiving an alert on the Citizen app, but said she enjoyed the hyper realistic sculptures. 

“It’s supposed to probably catch your eye and make you wonder, ‘what’s that?’” Bourbonais said. “I like it, I think it’s interesting.”

Other displays include Olivier Roberge’s “Territories 2.0,” a large, metal cube situated on 175 Federal Street with a diorama inside, a piece that comments on human intervention and climate change. “Endgame (Nagg & Nell)” by Max Streicher features two inflatable clown heads stacked between building walls, artwork that Nichols said has gained international attention. 

“Endgame (Nagg & Nell),” an inflatable clown head by Max Streicher, for the Winteractive art installation in downtown Boston. This “Canadian Art Experience” has drawn mixed reviews from patrons. SARAH CRUZ/ DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Rei Firmin, who grew up in Boston, said she hasn’t seen anything like the clowns in the city before. 

“It was fun, and it felt different from other public art I’ve seen in the city,” Firmin said. “It dared to be different.”

Firmin said she’s noticed that people often picture Boston as being “very professional, and people [being] very serious,” along with its reputation for education. 

“It was refreshing to see because Boston’s not always like that,” Firmin said. “It can be anything.”

“The reaction was so much bigger than we had hoped for, and it’s been terrific,” said Nichols, who hopes the installations help Bostonians see winter in a “new and different way.”

The artists featured in the project are based in Canada, raising questions for some as to why local artists weren’t hired. Nichols said BID has hired exclusively local artists for the past 12 years, and Winteractive was an opportunity to bring artists from across the world to Boston, which he described as a cosmopolitan city with a diverse student population. 

“We should not exclusively feature the art of local artists [in Boston],” said Nichols, but he said that BID will continue hiring local artists in the future. 

“It is always nice to see Bostonian artists get a platform, and be displayed around the city,” Firmin said. “But I also think that bringing art from outside of Boston wouldn’t do any harm. I think it could be exciting.”

Nichols said BID “felt that Bostonians should transport themselves into a Canadian winter mindset,” and emphasized a new, global perspective on winter that the installations are trying to impart on viewers.

When organizers asked Brattle Bookshop owner Kenneth Gloss if they could display one of Jenkins’ sculptures in the space next to his shop, he agreed and wanted to support BID.

“I think it’s a great way of getting publicity for the downtown and getting people to come,” Gloss said. “What [customers have said] is that they saw the idea, and they’ve just been making the circuit of seeing the other art.”

Gloss hopes that BID continues to generate new ideas in the Downtown Crossing area.

“When this [exhibit is] done, if they think of another one, it would be great, too,” Gloss said. “The more art the more color, the more interest, the better.”

Winteractive is currently on display in the Downtown Boston area until April 14.

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