Illuminating what we share

The Friends of the Public Garden worked with Now + There on a public art project to celebrate the Friends’ 50th Anniversary and bring Bostonians and visitors together to consider what we have in common and how to care for our cherished public spaces.

What Do We Have in Common? by Janet Zweig was a 32-day, immersive experiential installation on Boston Common from September 22 – October 24, 2021. The installation began with a wooden cabinet near the Parkman Bandstand. 200 blue, illuminated markers waited within it, each carved with poignant questions such as “Who owns this park?” Over the month, Guides placed these illuminated markers throughout the park and the questions sparked thought-provoking conversations and reflections with the public on our shared responsibilities to each other and the public spaces we visit.

You can track the project with #InCommonBOS.


What Do We Have in Common?

Janet Zweig

Commissioned by the Friends of the Public Garden to celebrate their 50th Anniversary and curated and produced by Now + Thereartist and public art pioneer Janet Zweig unveiled What Do We Have in Common? on September 22, 2021 on Boston Common. This large, participatory public sculpture featured a handcrafted, double-sided, fantastically oversized cabinet with drawers containing blue glowing markers that inspired conversation about commonalities and public ownership in memorable and insightful ways. With an ever-changing set of questions and nighttime illumination, this engaging, whimsical work invited, with the help of a group of Guides, thought-provoking conversations and reflections on our shared responsibilities to each other and the public spaces we visit.

“After much research, I had more questions than answers about the idea of commons. The markers ask a lot of those questions. I am hoping the Guides who spread the markers…to the wider public around the park over the month, will facilitate many questions including an important one for us all: What do we have in common?”  – Artist Janet Zweig 


Who owns…

The Boston Common is a powerful platform for conversation about our shared resources and experiences. As America’s first public park, it has witnessed nearly 400 years of history and continues to be one of Boston’s most important public gathering spaces, hosting art and music festivals, memorials, marches, and even running races. Coming off a prolonged period of disconnection, Zweig’s installation invited us to re-engage, reflect, and find connections with each other and the long-historied Boston Common.

Each day of the installation, a group of Guides removed a series of blue markers from the cabinet and they installed throughout the Common. The markers asked such questions as “Who owns the grass?,” “Who owns the future?” or “Who owns the Boston Harbor?” As markers were installed around the park, a poem emerged creating a constantly changing daily commentary. The cabinet also contained a free Giving Library for visitors to further explore the theme of shared resources and commonalities. What Do We Have in Common? offered countless layers of meaning and ways for people to engage. Explore the books included in our Giving Library.

Reflective of the City’s rich cultural diversity, 32 of the 200 boxes in the cabinet were available in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean and Creole. The Guides greeted and engaged members of the public prompting conversations about the space itself and the concept of “the commons.”


Blogposts from the park


Janet Zweig

Created in Boston for the first time

Janet Zweig is a leader of the public art form, having worked in the public realm since the 1990s. Her major projects include a kinetic installation on a pier along Sacramento River, a performance space in a prairie on a Kansas City downtown green roof, a generative sentence wall in downtown Columbus, a light installation and memorial in Pittsburgh, a 1200′ frieze at the Prince Street subway in New York and a system-wide interactive project for 11 Light Rail train stations in Minneapolis, incorporating the work of over a hundred Minnesotans. While she has created public sculpture, interactive works, and performance, “What Do We Have in Common?” seamlessly brings all three elements together for the first time. The project highlights the tremendous ecological treasure at Boston’s center through its amplification of the care that must go into it.

Janet Zweig is based in Brooklyn, NY and her sculpture and books have been exhibited widely in such places as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Exit Art, PS1 Museum, the Walker Art Center, and Cooper Union. Awards include the Rome Prize Fellowship, NEA fellowships, and residencies at PS1 Museum and the MacDowell Colony. In 2021, she has a year-long residency with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University.

Janet lived in Boston and Cambridge in the 1980s. This project was her first Boston-based public commission.

Photo provided by artist Janet Zweig at Prince Street subway station (c)



What Do We Have In Common?

The installation created by Janet Zweig asked park-goers questions about who owns precious resources. Some questions are whimsical, some get at the very core of our well-being as a society, yet the answer is always the same: no one and everyone. The magic and the wisdom of our parks is that they ask us to come together for their care. The core work of the Friends of the Public Garden is in this practice. As we have worked through this challenging time to forge a better future, we wanted to celebrate what we have in common and how caring for those things together makes us stronger. It was our hope that the artwork will highlight the practice of caring for what we have in common to actively forge community.

The project instilled a sense of pride and ownership for the natural resources and cultural importance of the Boston Common by sparking curiosity and inviting conversation about how we tend to the things we hold in common.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that our parks occupy what was the unceded land, marshlands, and waterways of the Massachusett Nation, today known as Boston. We acknowledge the painful history of forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their land, and that the work of repair is ongoing. In the spirit of the Massachusett people past, present and future, we acknowledge that we live in a bond of reciprocity with the plant and animal relatives who call our parks home. We honor the gifts given to us by this land and return them with our care.

The Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall are cared for by the Friends of the Public Garden, in partnership with the Boston Parks Department for all to enjoy.

Curated by Now + There

Now + There is a public art curator that challenges Boston’s cultural identity by taking artistic risks and consistently producing compelling projects. Projects are temporary and site specific. Now + There’s mission is to foster artists and the public to create bold public art experiences that open minds, conversations, and spaces across Boston, resulting in a more open, equitable, and vibrant city.

Photo credits: Erin Sunderland, Michael Dwyer, Kate Gilbert, Jan Trousilek