Tapping into Public Art

The instructions are simple: “Tap Here,” accompanied by the ubiquitous graphic of a Charlie Card. Pat Bordenave, a Boston resident who follows the local art scene, approaches the futuristic kiosks in the Boston Center for the Arts plaza, taps his card, and is bathed in light from a disco ball in response.

After the light show, customized to the information encoded in his Charlie Card, Bordenave says that this is his favorite of the three exhibitions he has visited this evening. “I’m interacting with [the kiosk] and it’s freaking cool. It makes me smile.”

Bordenave and many other Boston locals have warmly welcomed and engaged with “Culture Tap,” a temporary public art installation created as the brainchild of New American Public Art collaborators Dan Sternof Beyer and Bevan Weissman. The piece will be viewable through October 18 in front of the BCA at 539 Tremont Street and is open at all hours. Visitors are encouraged to visit both night and day for personalized sequences—at night, a light show, and during the day an anecdote from a South End resident about the area’s history.

What results is an interesting angle on NAPA’s philosophy, which focuses on putting the control of art in the hands of the audience. “People are the art that we do,” Beyer says. “When people are sharing Charlie Cards and talking to each other, that’s what we are trying to do.”

To Weissman, “Culture Tap” stands at the intersection of sculpture and engineering, public-interactive art and data metrics. “Our pieces are not just the physical piece themselves,” he says. “[They] also act as social ice breakers, a little melting pot that people can rally around, socialize about, and [use to] interact with their neighbors in a way they normally would not.”

On a grander scale, too, Beyer sees “Culture Tap” and NAPA as important contributions to a technological, audience-centric public art experience. “The stories are this awareness of the cultural fabric, and the lights are this awareness that you can change your environment around you, and it makes you look up from your tiny rectangular screen of light. And you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m changing things around me,’ and you’re looking above the horizon.”

—Staff writer Jay A. Drummond II can be reached at j.a.drummond2@gmail.com.

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