^ artists celebrating the Green Line have been laid off, and with them, the art they were creating

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Were you saddened to read that the T has cancelled several Green Line extension art contracts ? I sure was.  For the sake of saving $ 1,700,000 — less than one percent of the cost of extending — middle managers at the T have nixed the art work that might have graced the new Green Line stations with visual beauty and even a message or two.

This is a false and foolish economy. Public art is not a mere cost item, a financial annoyance. Public art has a moral purpose. Beautifying visual space encourages the soul. It raises the optimism of those who see it.

Even the darker messages of art — Rembrandt, or Goya — strengthen us by confronting the wounds and subtractions put upon us by evil. But one need not delve that profoundly into the purposes of art to applaud the soft spoken appeal of Green Line artwork. It is a shame to see it go.

That cost overruns impact Green Line extension, at a time when the T’s finances are being entirely reset, is not an excuse for this cancellation. T art may seem like  a T budget item, but it isn’t. Art has its own purposes as witness to the society it displays; T art is simply one arena of that witness

The T’s managers say that they hope corporate sponsors will take up the cost so that the art project can go ahead. That would be good news. I suppose, at least for the artists, whose family budgets have been decimated by the T’s act; but the responsibility, as I see it, of the state to promote art work cannot buck-pass to corporate generosity. The purpose of public art is to engage public participation.

Public art is no new or controversial idea. Until very recently — the 19th Century — only governments, church establishments, or the very rich sponsored most art. Not until mid-century revolutions gave voting power to the middle class did private art become the standard. Private art of the period 1850 to, say, 1980 served purposes financial, psychological, and intravenous : artists taught other artists, within the private aisles of private museums, or at art gallery showings, and at auctions, where private, investor-owned art was sold for investor purposes. Almost the entire finance of private art was private money, as were the guests lists of private art events.

I’m inclined to think that the T managers who cancelled the Green Line extension’s artist contracts assume the private sphere that has defined how we see art and deduce its provenance. Yet they are wrong. The arena of artwork is changing. Public art sponsorship is increasing, in dollars and in the number of people committed to it. All across Europe, and in Montreal, publicly sponsored festivals of arts — music, film., comedy, painting — dominate how art is made and performed. The same is coming to Boston; is already here, centrally and in the neighborhoods. The T by its cancellations has missed the bus even as the bus route itself has arisen.

Public art is becoming important not just because governments  think it nice to have. Public art binds community, helps create it; enhances conversation, generates discussion. It is an act of citizenship; and as all acts of citizenship arise from the “yes” side of our souls. so public art stands firmly on moral ground.

The moral message of public art is that there is meaning to citizenship, that it is enhanced when shared; that enhancement strengthens the soul and gives us the courage to do what we know to be right no matter what tries to undermine it. Now of all times, as many avenues of fear drive relentlessly toward us, we ought to increase our commitment to public art, not cancel it. The T’s decision could not be more ill-timed.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere