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'The Creative' by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead

The City commissioned Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead for an exterior artwork at the new Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway neighborhood.

The artwork was installed in December 2022. This is one of two new public art projects commissioned for the school.

Project details

Project Context

Boston Arts Academy is Boston’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts. It provides a diverse student body access to a college-preparatory arts and academic education. 

This project was funded through the City’s Percent for Art program. The total project budget was $250,000, including fabrication and installation. It complemented the City’s $125 million construction of a new building for Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway neighborhood. The state-of-the-art facility at 174 Ipswich Street includes:

  • dedicated rehearsal and performance spaces
  • gallery space
  • studios for music, visual arts, and fashion design
  • academic classrooms, and
  • recreation areas, kitchens, and student commons.

Boston Arts Academy ribbon cutting photo
Photo from Boston Arts Academy ribbon cutting in October 2022.
Project Site

The exterior project site is at the corner of Ipswich Street and Van Ness Street, on the public sidewalk.

The school is located in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. This area is part of the Fenway Cultural District. There are many cultural and educational institutions within walking distance, including:

  • Berklee School of Music
  • New England Conservatory
  • Massachusetts College of Art + Design
  • School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts
  • Emerson College
  • Fenway Park
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and
  • Frederick Law Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace of parks.
Commissioning Process

The City released a Call for Artists for two public art projects at the site in October 2019. Several artists were invited to interview with an Artist Selection Committee. The Committee was comprised of:

  • representatives from the Boston Art Commission
  • local arts professionals representing the neighborhood, and
  • professional and student end-users of the project site. 

The Artist Selection Committee selected:

  • MASARY Studios for the interior artwork, and 
  • Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead for exterior artwork. 

The Boston Art Commission voted to approve both artists for the commissions.

Design Phase

The artists were encouraged to consider Boston Arts Academy’s four shared values in their artwork:

  1. Community with social responsibility
  2. Diversity with respect
  3. Passion with balance
  4. Vision with integrity

The projects were also required to include a robust educational component in their processes. 


In addition to The Creative, the City commissioned MASARY Studios to create an interior artwork. They installed Memory/Diffusion in September 2022. It is located along a monumental stairway that runs from the first to second floor in the center of the building, near the front entrance. 

Memory/Diffusion by MASARY Studios
Memory/Diffusion by MASARY Studios

Learn more about 'Memory/Diffusion' 

Existing artworks

There are also several existing artworks at the site:

  • “Dream Catching” by Wen-Ti Tsen is a sculpture that had been previously installed on the façade of the old Boston Arts Academy building. The design consists of a series of bronze-plate cultural figures and mirror-finished, stainless steel plates. The original installation was completed in 2004. The project included a four-month residency working with students of the school. The artwork has been resited in an internal stairwell in the new building. It is visible from the school’s primary entrance and from the commons area around the monumental stairway.
  • "Teammates" and "Carl Yastrzemski" by Antonio Tobias Mendez, and "Ted Williams" by Franc Talarico are across Ipswich Street. They are visible from the school's entrance.


"Dream Catching" by Wen-Ti Tsen
"Dream Catching" by Wen-Ti Tsen.

About the Artwork

"The Creative" by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead is a free standing, stainless steel sculpture. It was installed in front of Boston Arts Academy. The sculpture is a depiction of a young woman with her eyes closed and head tilted upward in an imagining gaze. The “head” is composed of dozens of laser-cut stainless-steel shapes. They are held apart to create a skin of perforated stainless steel. Each 5/16” thick plane is welded together in a stacking fashion by small rods that create a 1” distance between sheets. The effect is that of an ever-shifting nature as you move around the piece. You go from perceiving the appearance of clearly defined topographic planes to seeming almost invisible when looking straight-on from front or back. 

At night it is lit by colored LEDs. The 8’ tall work stands on an 8” plinth. It is lit from below by eight surrounding fixtures recessed into the top of the pedestal. The porous skin design and reflective, shiny nature of stainless-steel allows light to bounce around the interior. In the center of the head, there are images of the various artistic disciplines taught at the school. These silhouetted shapes were designed by BAA students.

Rendering of 'The Creative' by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead
Rendering of 'The Creative' by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead.

Photo from installation of "The Creative" by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead
Photo from installation of "The Creative" by Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead.
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