By Matt Ellis
2012 has gotten off to a great start at the West End Museum with three shows highlighting the history, culture and social relevance of the neighborhood. As soon as the curtain came down on Hidden Gems from the Old Boston Garden, a collaborative show between the West End Museum and The Sports Museum that ran during January and early February, the Museum launched two new shows.
The featured exhibit of the Museum’s 2012 Winter/Spring season is The Preservation Movement Then and Now, which runs through May 12 and outlines the story of the preservation movement in New England from its inception in 1863 through the present day. For this show, the Museum partnered with Historic New England. A major theme of this show, according to West End Museum Executive Director Duane Lucia, is the ongoing effort to get people to understand what historic preservation is all about.
Founded by William Sumner Appleton in 1910, Historic New England was originally known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Appleton’s goal was to save historic buildings and preserve their inherent architectural value. One example is the Harrison Gray Otis House, which Appleton fought to save even as it was slated for demolition as part of the widening of Cambridge Street. Later, it survived the urban renewal of the West End. Today the Otis House is an important link to West End history and houses the offices of Historic New England.
The exhibition also explores how the preservation movement has evolved to encompass downtown revitalization, environmental conservation, land and shoreline protection, and the preservation of whole neighborhoods.
“From the perspective of the West End Museum, this show helps to highlight that while the demolition of the neighborhood could be viewed as a failure of preservation, the mission of the West End Museum is to preserve artifacts, photographs and memories of the old neighborhood,” Lucia said.
The current exhibition being shown in the Members’ Gallery celebrates 25 years of the West Ender newspaper-something that surely hits close to home for all who were displaced by urban renewal. James Campano’s quarterly newspaper has been an important link to the old neighborhood. Its masthead reminds readers that the paper’s mission is “Dedicated to Being the Collective Conscience of Urban Renewal and Eminent Domain in the City of Boston.”
For this exhibit, Lucia, who also served as curator, wanted to create various panels comprised of graphic representations of the newspaper throughout the years. The panels are divided into three major themes: “Blowing Off Steam,” “Sense of Place” and “Sharing Stories.”
“Part of the strategic plan we outlined in 2010 was to schedule as many shows into the future as we could. We are in the middle of the three-year schedule and are planning future shows while we build and exhibit current ones,” said Lucia. “Major shows are a lot of work and because we are still trying to identify a long-term funding source, the work is all DIY (do it yourself). That’s how Jim (Campano) always did the West Ender and that’s the ethic we have adopted at the Museum.”
Lucia says the Museum is succeeding in providing entertainment for all residents. He points to the upcoming “Burlesque Basics” class that will be held on April 21 in connection with the Vintage Costumes of Burlesque exhibit running April 10 through May 12. Taught by experts from The Boston Academy of Burlesque Education, the class offers a primer on burlesque dancing.
“Burlesque was an important part of the entertainment in the Old West End and Scollay Square dating back to the transition from 1920s vaudeville, so we definitely wanted to capture and incorporate that entertainment component into this show,” said Lucia.
See more about all upcoming Museum events.