It’s a beautiful addition to what was once an empty eyesore at the Umana Middle School Academy on Border Street. Over the course of several months this summer, the vacant space outside the school was transformed into an exciting outdoor learning classroom, complete with mosaic benches, a table and inset solar lighting.
Last week, the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) and the Chelsea Creek Action Group (CCAG) held a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting at the ‘Our Garden’ site at the Umana.
The event celebrated the creation and installation of this public art project funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts and by Culture for Change. The mosaic benches, a table and inset solar lighting were designed by the NOAH/CCAG E3C youth crew with help from the Umana students and input from the community. The project was overseen by artist and architect Gretchen Schneider. Many community members attended, enjoying refreshments and live music from NOAH’s Junior Organizer Rigoberto Reyes and his band, West Eagle Misifu.
The benches and the adjacent garden have transformed what was once a vacant lot into a vibrant, colorful space and community asset for East Boston.
Viewed from above, the benches depict the gardening life cycle from seed to soil, symbolizing the growth and regeneration of the local community. Each bench also includes several hand-cut mosaic squares created by the E3C youth.
“Being part of this project made me feel more involved in my community,” said E3C Crew Member Angie Simmons. “Knowing that changes like this are possible makes me eager to get out there and create more of these types of improvements.”
The tiles surrounding the hand-cut squares were laid with a cutting-edge robotic technology by Artaic, a custom mosaic design firm located in the Seaport District.
Schneider, an Eastie resident, worked with and guided the teens through the process.
“As an artist and architect and East Boston resident it was tremendous to work on this project with the youth here,” said Schneider. “Those teenagers were dedicated and with me the whole way from the initial conception, through the design phase to its making. It was a real community effort and to be able to work with the young people here and help transform an overlooked space here was really exciting.”