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Career Stories: Kate Gilbert, MFA '13

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Image of Kate Gilbert with text that says SMFA Career Stories

Kate Gilbert is an artist and curator who, through her role as Executive Director of Now + There, is transforming the public art conversation in Boston. Her own studio work examines assumptions and biases inherent in the practice of urban planning and art curation. Now + There is in many ways an extension of her desire to spark conversation about cultural equity and public institutions. We recently caught up with Kate, and she shared the latest on her inspiration and recent work.

“Now + There is the biggest art project I have ever tackled. We engage with about four artists a year to do large-scale projects. They're temporary and take different forms, but always have an underlying theme or concept that we feel is relevant to what's happening in Boston today.” 

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Kate Gilbert and Nick Cave - Augment Joy Parade
Augment Joy Parade Photo (c) Dominic Chavez - Nick Cave, Kate Gilbert, and Bob Faust during the Joy Parade, September 2019. Photo by Dominic Chavez

The non-profit organization’s core mission, to “awe, illuminate, challenge, unsettle, confound, provoke, and, at times, offend,” guides their work with local and international artists engaging in timely and critical public conversations, highlighting the role of public art in strengthening and connecting communities throughout the city.

“We are trying to create a cultural shift in Boston by using the vision and talent of artists to present what is possible on a really large public scale. We hope that people, whether they’re policymakers, future planners, or a mom on the street, are inspired by that work to make some sort of meaningful change in their community.”

“In addition to the four projects we do a year, we run a public art accelerator program, which is our way of giving back to the local community and filling in some gaps in public art education. Public art is such a unique art form because it includes all of the traditional forms of art making like painting and sculpture, but it's also construction and permits. It requires specialized project management and also dips into politics because you’re working in a public arena.” The accelerator is designed to give emerging and mid-career artists a boost through practical training and financial support, encouraging more racial and economic diversity in the artists whose voices are heard in public art projects.”

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Breathe Life 3 by Rob Gibbs
"Breathe Life 3" by Rob Gibbs. Photo by Casey Preston.

Leading and fundraising for a $2 million-dollar organization isn’t all fun and games, but Kate talks about the excitement of spending every day as part of a community of artists. “It's just amazing to see how artists think and view the world and to help get some of those expressions out on a larger scale.” Kate recently mounted an ambitious project with Nick Cave which included giant inflatable installations, a series of community workshops, performances, public murals, and a parade that wound through the streets of Boston. “Every time I was sort of freaked out about how it was all going to happen, he would just say, ‘Oh, Kate, it's just joy. We're just making joy. How hard can that be?’”

“SMFA has a really wonderful, non-disciplinary way of helping artists identify what's most important to them. It doesn't say you have to be a painter, or you have to be a sculptor. It says ‘You're an artist with an important voice. Now, what is that voice?’ It helped me find what I was most interested in. And I've been able to apply that to everything I do.”

Above image credit: Augment Joy Parade Photo (c) Dominic Chavez - Kate Gilbert at the kick off of the Joy Parade, September 2019.