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Boston University students start Art Marathon to honor Boston Marathon responders

Posted by boston.com  November 8, 2013 04:45 PM

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A recent art-making event at BU's Commonwealth Gallery. Photo by Taylor Mortell.


By Melanie Dostis, Globe Correspondent

Months after the Marathon bombings shook the city, a Boston University student is working to build a tribute to the strength shown during the tragedy.

As Boston looked toward recovery in the weeks after the bombings, BU sophomore Taylor Mortell and a fellow student founded “Still Running: An Art Marathon for Boston,” to try to take the meaning of ‘healing through the arts’ to a new level.

The project has a simple goal: It invites community members of all ages to participate in free art-making events, in which they produce works that celebrate the city of Boston. Plans call for the artwork to be displayed in hospitals and public safety buildings across Boston, to thank those who helped in the aftermath of the bombings.

“Beyond who was injured, so many people were involved, from hospital staff to police. It was a huge effort,” said Mortell, 19. “We not only want to do something to help the general community to heal, but to thank those who helped.” 

Mortell and her friend, Luca DeGaetano, brainstormed the idea while sitting in their art class the morning after bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was caught. The marathon tragedy was the only thing on everyone’s mind, she recalled. 

Art was a natural draw for the two art students, who started firing off emails to anyone they could think of, summoning those interested to a planning meeting.

“The idea of a broad art project took shape naturally,” said DeGaetano, who was completing his Master of Fine Arts degree at BU at the time. “I learned once more that only a communal effort can revive a sense of liveliness and power, even in the darkest circumstances.”

Originally planned as only a three-week-long project, the art marathon has become a yearlong effort, with community events planned at least once a month at locations around the city, including BU and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  

The first painting event was held in May, about a month after the bombings, and produced more than 100 pieces of art. Since then, Mortell says, the number of artworks has doubled.

Provided with art materials, community members who stop by an art marathon event are asked to craft any work of art that celebrates Boston. From oil paintings to woodblock prints, many of the pieces have included colorful sneakers with laces tied in a heart formation. Some community members have chosen the words “Boston Strong” for their works, while others have painted the Boston skyline or iconic buildings. 

“We want it to be a celebration of Boston, instead of always going back to that moment [of the bombings],” Mortell said. 

This month, the collected pieces are being displayed for the first time, at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Two more exhibits are planned for next year, and the first donation of the pieces will be made Dec. 7 to the Boston Medical Center. The final exhibition is planned for April 18, the anniversary of the bombing. 

Additionally, the project aims to raise donations for local organizations dedicated to Boston’s youth, by selling some original works or reproductions. 

Mortell, a Marshfield, Mass., native, was on her way home from watching the marathon when the bombs went off. As those injured were sent to hospitals across Boston, Mortell knew from experience that their recovery would be challenging.

“Art came to me as an intervention during a traumatic accident I had a few years ago, and even though it’s two completely different things, it really changed my life. It took me two years to recover from it,” she said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the scope of what you can do is extremely limited, so art helps.” 

Since the project’s inception, Mortell has travelled to Washington, DC, after being named a Youth Service America Ambassador for Massachusetts. As part of the award, Still Running was granted $1,000, and Mortell was invited to lead a community-based activity at next year’s National Day of Service.
While DeGaetano has left Boston to work in Italy, he still remains dedicated to the project, which he sees as “the tangible mark of the strong spirit of Boston.”

Mortell hopes to extend the project beyond April, possibly by continuing it as a series of pop-up community events “to make for a safer and tighter community.”

“Boston hope lives on,” she said. “That’s what this is all about.”

 This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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