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Written by Kait Ziskin Levesque, Programs Manager

As part of a multi-year curation started in 2015, each Lunar New Year a new Chinese Zodiac-themed artwork has been installed at Chinatown Park’s Essex Street Gate. A gateway to Chinatown and the northernmost area of Chinatown Park, Essex Street’s minimalist red gate complement these installations which explore tradition by contemporary artists.

Even if you weren’t born in the year of the dog, you might have some fun playing with this year’s installation: Risa Puno’s Year of the Dog. Puno, known for her playful, interactive, site-specific works, was commissioned by The Greenway in late 2017 to create the installation. She was inspired by the qualities attributed to those born in years of the dog and from themes of family, home, loyalty, and playfulness.

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Puno also wanted to connect with the community where the work was to be sited and worked with many locals in Chinatown to hear and record their stories of this special place. A workshop organized by Greenway Conservancy Programs Manager, Kait Levesque, and Asian Community Development Corporation’s Jeena Hah, focused on the memories, stories, and unique perspectives of the Asian Voyces of Youth for Community Empowerment (AVOYCE). AVOYCE Youth shared all they knew about Chinatown with Puno (who, while Asian American, was an outsider to Boston’s Chinatown as she grew up in Louisville, KY). They shared what it’s like to walk through this neighborhood and breathe in its smells, how it feels like a shared home, and where the best bubble tea is. Teens wrote out their thoughts on post-it notes which were then etched onto some of the cedar blocks that you see in the installation.risa 2

The public has loved interacting with these blocks, which also feature other community stories and Chinese characters that are spun to create phrases and meanings relevant to the year of the dog.

With so much packed into one artwork, we’re grateful that the Castle Square Tenants Organization Teen Program Interns have taken on the task of diving deeper into some of the themes of the work. You might remember CSTO teens from the podcast they recorded in Dewey Square last year. This year, they focused their audio/visual prowess on Risa Puno’s sculpture and process, and Chinatown’s public art. Teen interns produced, researched, filmed, interviewed and edited a series of four videos expounding on these themes, which were entered into the short films competition of this year’s Boston Asian American Film Festival. We were incredibly proud that one of the films, Portraits of Chinatown: Resilience and Jia, was chosen as one of four finalists in the competition and can be viewed on our website.

It’s been thrilling to watch an artist collaborate so extensively with our neighbors, and to read their stories and hear their connections to this neighborhood, park, and community we care about so much.

For more information on Risa’s project visit her blog: https://www.risapuno.com/blog/