Friday, July 10, 2009

On tiles, a story of gentrification

Project chronicles Davis Square over 30 years

It’s been about 30 years since schoolchildren in Somerville created the artwork for a series of tiles - crudely drawn sailboats, rail cars, and clowns - that now adorn the Davis Square T station’s brick entrance wall.

Many commuters walk by without a pause. But a group of community arts organizers believes these 249 tiles tell the story of a neighborhood that has changed as much as any in Greater Boston in the 25 years since Davis Square got its own subway stop along the MBTA’s Red Line.

In April, members of the Davis Square Tiles Project began an effort to track down the people - now probably between 35 and 45 years old - who created the artwork to find out how their lives have changed and how they view the changes in their old neighborhood.

They want to tell the collective story of the community’s gentrification, with all the complexity and individuality that it entails, and start another conversation about the changes that may come when the Green Line extends into new neighborhoods in Somerville, and Medford over the next five years.

The work in progress, posted on, is something like a reverse time capsule - coupling the ageless artwork of children with the words, insights, and in some cases photographs of the adults they grew into.