If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.

– Edith Sitwell

CITY ARTS NASHUA: ARTVENTURES  will take the public on a dramatic series of collaborative public artworks transforming Main Street and downtown Nashua through the celebration of identity, ethnicity, history, industry, urban revitalization, creative economy initiatives and quality of life concerns.

CITY ARTS NASHUA is no stranger to public art.

It’s facilitated more outdoor displays than perhaps any other art organization in New Hampshire, from the Nashua International Sculpture Symposium, bringing in handfuls of sculptures downtown every year, to the Vivian’s Dream and restored Yankee Diner murals, the latter of which was refinished by former New Hampshire Artist Laureate James Aponovich this fall. But all these projects have been permanent, artist-commissioned work. Very few were participatory projects.

That’s where Jerry Beck comes in. Beck has a 30-year resume in producing participatory, temporary public art projects. He founded The Revolving Museum (TRM) in 1984 and has transformed railroad cars, Civil War forts, textile mill factories, baseball fields, movie theaters, ice cream trucks and old warehouses into venues for visual, theatrical, literary and public art projects in Boston, Lowell and Fitchburg, Mass., where he’s currently the city’s director of economic development and chief marketing officer. But for the past several months, he’s been working on Nashua.

If you attended Nashua’s Winter Holiday Stroll this November, you probably saw some of his work.This fall, City Arts Nashua hired Jerry Beck to help build ARTventures: Nashua, a program created to bring more public art downtown via community participation. He facilitated the creation of six large sculptures built with recycled materials. He estimated about 400 took part, with lots of help from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua, the YMCA of Greater Nashua, the Gate City Charter School for the Arts and Nashua High School South.

The six sculptures — a dragon, an enchanted castle, a boat, a bird, a star and, soon, a candelabra — were the first project part of the initiative. They were up and displayed at the Stroll, though City Arts Nashua President Kathy Hersh said they’ll make reappearances starting at the end of January, popping up outside of plays, music shows and other Nashua community events. Beck’s official role is consultant for City Arts Nashua, who was able to hire Beck due to its contract with the City of Nashua. The nonprofit had come into contact with the “creative mediator,” as Beck calls himself, last spring, when Beck reached out to Tom Galligani, City of Nashua’s economic development director, in honor of TRM’s 30th anniversary. (Galligani had been economic development director in Lowell while Beck was there.)

“I was in Lowell for 10 years, and I had gone to Nashua a lot [then]. And I had always loved Nashua. I said to Tom, ‘I’d really love to do something in your downtown.’ … So he set up a meeting with me and Kathy Hersh,” Beck said. Beck and Hersh hit it off immediately. Beck was blown away by Nashua’s public art collection, while Hersh liked what she saw in Beck’s past projects. “I just thought it was fascinating, that the work he’s doing is really very much interactive and participatory,” Hersh said. “The idea of being able to help create art and then have that art displayed is not something we’ve done a lot of.”

The next ARTventures: Nashua project is Totem Poems, short written pieces displayed in public spaces around Main Street. Beck was inspired by the cluttered way-finding signs you’ll find downtown and Native American totem poles.

Totem Poems planning is still under development, and exactly when and how people can take part is to be determined. Ideally, community members will write short poems and send them via email or postcard to City Arts Nashua. Hersh said the art wouldn’t hit the streets till June. Beck likes the temporary nature of these kinds of public art projects.

“I find that when you move things, and you keep evolving them, it makes it fresh and maintains people’s curiosity. We put everything on wheels for that purpose — to be transitory and mobile,” Beck said.

Though he hasn’t been working in Nashua for long, Beck has had a strong impact on the downtown art culture, Hersh said. “I definitely think Jerry’s personality is engaging. He loves to work with people. He especially likes to work with kids, and he likes to pull people in. I got a lot of good feedback about the sculptures at the stroll,” Hersh said.

Beck said his aim is to get people to think of art not just as something you’ll see in a museum, but as part of everyday life. History says he’s pretty convincing.
“No one has said no to me in 30 years. It’s the truth,” Beck said.