We invited Sarah Beardslee, one of the organizers of the project, and an artist herself, to pitch the idea at one of our meetings. She explained how MACI would be presenting an art show in their new gallery and performance space in the Meadow Glen Mall, and on May 30, 2015 they would be giving all the pieces away.
She asked for our help because they wanted a fast, efficient and friendly way to distribute the art to locations across the city, and having bicycle couriers do it naturally came to mind. This made a lot of sense, so we agreed and said “Count us in!”
Covering a city of about eight square miles from the centrally-located mall is not hard to do as there is no point that is more than a 15 minute ride away. With many stops to make it would be efficient, no need to hunt for parking or drive around the block if we accidentally passed one of our destinations.
Finally, it would make the art gifters approachable. When riding a bicycle you are part of life on the street. People can see you coming and you meet them neighbor to neighbor.
Doing that in a car? It invites suspicion.
After working out the details and identifying a couple dozen places where we thought we might find art aficionados, our group of six bike riders met up at the gallery. We loaded large photographic prints, jewelry pieces, paintings and other artworks—17 in all— into our backpacks and panniers, did our ABC Quick Checks and departed as two teams, A and B.
One of the first stops for Team A was the Medford Community Garden in Riverbend Park, next to the McGlynn Elementary School. There we presented George McLean’s framed photographic print of a bald eagle that was shot at the Mystic Lakes to Carol Rickenbacker, a first-grade teacher at the McGlynn Elementary School.
Carol told us that her students had recently asked her if there were any eagles in Medford. Now she has the proof to share with her class—and she knows where to look for them next winter as well, at the edge of the open water just below the dam. Incidentally, this is also a great place to bike to at any time of year.
While Team A was working Medford Square, Team B headed directly from the mall to the Roberts Elementary School on Park Street where the school’s PTO was holding a yard sale. Many families had donated items to sell, including a couple of children’s bikes that could be had for a bargain.
Cycling is a great sport in that way, the essential equipment—a bike and helmet—can be had for just a few dollars if you know where to look. In fact, any kid in Medford can get a brand new helmet for only $10 by going to Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Medford Square. Just go to the Pediatrics Department and they will custom fit it for you—you don’t even have to be a patient there.
Team B completed several more art drops at locations that included JRA Cycles, Fellsmere Park, Bellevue Pond in the Middlesex Fells and on Wicklow Avenue. This took us through one of the more difficult intersections in the city, the Roosevelt Rotary, where South Border Road and Rt. 28 meet above I-93. While we would not recommend inexperienced cyclists ride through it, it is perfectly manageable for more confident riders who have learned the proper techniques and follow the rules of the road.
This highlights the importance of creating bicycle transportation networks that connect seamlessly from one town, or property owner, to another. The MBAC works with many different organizations, such as the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Somerville Bicycle Committee, Bike to the Sea and others to make sure that routes and markings we propose for our streets are coordinated and have continuity with others that they connect to.
At the end of the afternoon Team B was left with one last piece of art, a tribute to the cartoon character Betty Boop. No longer able to offer our next recipient a choice of pieces, we felt we had to find the perfect match, and where else would we find it but at The Painted Bird Tattoo Studio in Wellington Circle. There we gifted Betty to their receptionist, Shenise Philbrook.
This final stop was one of the most satisfying of the day. We had spent the afternoon sharing the work of Medford artists with people all across the city and then had the opportunity to present our last piece at a studio of artists practicing their craft. It did not feel like an abandonment, but more the completion of a circle.