Category: CFA Newsmakers

For 40 years, CFA alum Sidewalk Sam has brought art to the people

October 23rd, 2012 in CFA, CFA Newsmakers, Visual Arts

Gazing at the scene in front of the Boston skyscraper, you think, There must be a full moon coming. The International Place security isn’t lifting a finger to stop the two women splattering paint on the sidewalk; in fact, black-suited staff helped rope off space for the graffiti-makers, chatting amiably all the while with the wheelchair-bound Santa Claus look-alike in a blue fleece coat overseeing the whole scene. That this defacing of public property proceeds unperturbed owes to the fact that the leader is as iconic as St. Nick.

“Hey guys, look what we’re doing. We’re painting a cornucopia on the ground,” Robert Guillemin (CFA’62,’67), better known as Sidewalk Sam, says with boyish gusto to any Financial District passers-by within earshot. His wife, Tina, and an artist friend Ying Zhang (CFA’11) diligently daub autumnal browns, yellows, and creams into the shape of a horn overflowing with acorns, squash, and onions. Sidewalk (even Tina calls him that) leans from his chair to brush some tomatoes into the painting, but mostly supervises and banters with pedestrians. Some glance at the work with expressionless curiosity, some break into smiles, some offer a simple “Cool” or a thumbs-up.

It’s quickly clear that painting in public brings 73-year-old Guillemin an audience far more eclectic than art museum or gallery patrons. A shambling man lugging a garbage bag over his shoulder, evidently down on his luck, answers Sidewalk’s “How are you?” with, “I’ve been better, but I love your cornucopia.” The most rapt spectators are a wagon full of toddlers from the building’s child-care center. A few longtime fans also stop by. “Are you Sidewalk Sam?” asks Danita Callender, who works in the building, as she strikes up a long conversation with a man who’s personally a stranger, but whose work she’s seen for decades. “I’ll be back down” to see the completed painting, she promises.

For more than 40 years, Sidewalk Sam has used Boston’s (and occasionally other cities’) sidewalks, streets, and plazas as canvases for paint or chalk, sometimes recruiting passers-by as collaborators. There’s no count of his asphalt and concrete creations—“Probably thousands; I wouldn’t even guess,” says Tina—but they’ve ranged from reproductions of famous masterpieces to a simple vine he coaxed BU students into drawing at the 2010 Comm Ave Fair. The oddity of his medium made him a media magnet long before then, and long before the wheelchair (the result of a 1994 fall off his roof). International Place invites him to decorate its sidewalk every year; he once painted Mount Rushmore with the faces of Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) and other local notables.

He gives his cornucopia a one- to two-month expiration date before it vanishes under the wear and tear of the elements and human feet. That perishability doesn’t faze him. He likens his art to a pleasant summer’s day chat on the veranda of his Newton house. “It’s going to end, and you and I will disappear and only have a memory of our morning,” he says. “And knowing that makes this more precious. I think the idea of having all art last forever has about it an ugly quality, akin to used car sales.” -Rich Barlow Read more on BU Today

Director Judy Braha previews “Camille”

October 12th, 2012 in CFA Newsmakers, Theatre

Originally published in the Daily Free Press
Oct 11, 2012
As a part of this year’s Fall Fringe Festival, Boston University’s College of Fine Arts presents “Camille,” a modern interpretation of an Alexandre Dumas novel about a doomed love affair. Director Judy Braha sat down with MUSE to talk about playwright Pam Gems’ inspiration, a “roller coaster ride” of a script and the research-intensive, dynamic rehearsal process.

Karolyne Ridgill: What are some ways the play has been modernized?
Judy Braha: The play itself was written in 1984, and that was in the midst of [Margaret] Thatcher’s England. There was [a] giant economic problem for lower class folks at that time. I think that Pam Gems really saw a parallel between the women in “Camille” and women of Thatcher’s England in trying to make ends meet in a very bad economy. There’s a real emphasis on women trying to make a life for themselves in desperate circumstances and trying, in a way, to trick fate and change the hand they were dealt.
KR: How does “Camille” relate to this year’s CFA keyword — resilience?
JB: Everyone in the play is very resilient. Alexandre Dumas called the world of this play the demi-monde, like the half world, which was his word for the world of very high-priced courtesans and beautiful people who live in sort of an underworld instead of an up and up environment. We’re updating the play to 2012. We’re not doing it in the 1840s. So, we’re trying to find out what’s our demi-monde—our underworld—of today. And it makes me think of the 99 percent and the one percent because we definitely have a world where there’s aristocracy, and then we have the world of common folk. So, in that sense there is a lot of striving for resilience in the play and a lot of very resilient people who, no matter what, bounce back. But unfortunately Camille is not one of them. Although she wins for a long time, at the end, she has a tough time remaining resilient.

KR: What can the audience most look forward to in the play?
JB: It’s very beautiful at moments and farcical at moments and of course tragic at other moments. What I really love about the script is how it’s a huge roller coaster ride, and it’s a really good time for [the] audience to see what happens to this beautiful woman and the man who loves her in this inhospitable society. And I think just the idea of seeing basically the same story in three different forms is really exciting. The Alexandre Dumas cited as the playwright isn’t the same man who wrote famous books such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” but his illegitimate son.

KR: Was this a common misconception you had to correct?
JB: Yeah, I guess so. Poor Alexandre Dumas fils, who was the son who wrote our play, was pretty much not acknowledged by his father until he was in his 20s. He was always this great kind of advocate of the underdog. He understood women who had no choice but to give into this life. But the father, although he was a really great writer, wasn’t a great guy to the son. So, the son really spent a long time trying to crusade for these women, and he wrote a lot about their lives because he grew up in the same way.

KR: Can you tell us a little about the rehearsal process?
JB: We’ve been working hard with a lot of improvisation to discover links between our time and their time, and we’ve found lots. We’ve also added a lot of cell phones and electronic devices. We’re basically finding and looking online, listening to women who are high-price call girls or who have been [during] their life and finding that they got into the business for the same reason all our characters did — to make their lives better and to save their families. They weren’t in the business for a depraved reason. Because of the roller coaster nature of the play, we have some nights, which are just hysterically funny, and we howl and laugh with discovery of the piece and other nights we can’t even move because it’s just so tragic.

KR: In a few words, how would you describe the process of putting together this production?
JB: Exciting, challenging, an imaginative leap for actors, directors and audience, a challenging design problem. I think it’s kind of a wonderful soaring experience to deal with this story that’s almost mythological in its history. So many different kinds of people have tried to tell the same story, so it’s always kind of a thrill to work on this material like that.
“Camille” runs Saturday, Oct. 13 through Saturday, Oct. 20 at the BU Theatre. Times vary. $7 general admission.

-Written by Karolyne Ridgill

Boston University Center for New Music highlighted in the Boston Globe

October 12th, 2012 in CFA Newsmakers, Music


(The Center for New Music) “Is a really great example of organizations coming together and doing more than any one of them can do by themselves.”
-Josh Fineberg, Director of the Boston University Center for New Music

New music is one thing Boston is not short on. Thanks in no small part to the plethora of local universities and conservatories, there is a near-constant clutter of activity, with various organizations, ensembles, and composers vying for listeners’ open ears.
You might wonder, then, what Boston University’s recently created Center for New Music hopes to add to the mix. Composer Joshua Fineberg, the center’s inaugural director, says its purpose is less about adding one more strand to an already frenetic scene than it is about lending some coherence, some collaborative glue, to it.

“What it’s always tended to be is very much like this sort of archipelago of little islands — we’ll do this, you’ll do that,” Fineberg says. “It’s really fragmented. And we started thinking, what do we do to sort of catalyze all of these things that are going on and try to make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts?”

Read more in the Boston Globe

BU Band Celebrates Opening of New Band Room

September 19th, 2012 in CFA Newsmakers, Music

Unusual ribbon-cutting: Willy Tsai (CAS’15) (from left), Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, College of Fine Arts Dean Benjamin Juarez, and Danielle Hibbard (COM’14) cut the ribbon on September 17 marking the official opening of the new BU Band facility at 300 Babcock St. The scarlet ribbon consisted of a string of band T-shirts. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky BU Today

Tagged ,