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How Art Is Revitalizing Wellesley Square's Storefronts

The Wellesley Community Art Project aims to transform the downtown square, one vacant store at a time.

From far way, the property that used to house looks like an empty storefront. It’s become a of Wellesley Square over the course of the last year: An inviting sign hanging above the locked door of a vacant lot.

Take a few steps closer, though, and you’ll see that the space is quietly being occupied.

Along the windowsill at the old Rugged Bear location, 34 Central St., are nine sculptures designed by students. The sculptures, dresses hung up on mannequins, are made from a variety of materials: glue, old newspapers, recycled T-shirts, food wrappers, plastic bags, soda bottles and even used cigarettes.

It’s part of the Wellesley Community Art Project (WCAP), which is one of the many initiatives under the umbrella of the Wellesley Square Initiative committee – a group of town officials, business owners and interested citizens bent on keeping downtown vibrant.

Though Rugged Bear , volunteer Laura Fragasso, who proposed WCAP, says the space can and should still be used.

“The Wellesley Square Initiative committee was looking at all the vacant spaces we have in town,” she said. “I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we put some community art in those spaces?’”

Fragasso said the window art serves two purposes: It’s fetching for Wellesley Square shoppers, and it's brought together people from several interested community groups who may not have connected otherwise.

For the Rugged Bear display, Fragasso said she had instant cooperation from property owners Edens & Avant.

“There’s creativity all over the place but the whole project is creative,” she said. “We’ve got all these people operating in different spheres of concern entirely.”

The installation, which was put in place Oct. 21, represents the work of the finalists of the Davis Design Contest at Wellesley College. The art is inspired by the work of El Anatsui, an artist who had an installation at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum from March to June. The pieces are each titled and explained by way of a small sign.

One standout dress is titled, “Media Machine Queen” by Abigail G. Hansen. The dress riffs on today’s fixation with celebrity, and the idea that society is quick to anoint a celebrity as royalty despite the person’s actual accomplishments.

There will be a second installation beginning Nov. 1 in the space at 102 Central St., which most recently housed the seasonal Wellesley Holiday Boutique (the shop currently with the “Betsy’s” sign). This exhibit will serve as the culmination of a Wellesley Recreation Department class of young artists. Like Edens & Avant, property owner Linear was quick to allow these displays, Fragasso said.

Following this, Wellesley College students will parade a sculpture across the college’s campus Nov. 8 en route to an installation at 98 Central St., which formerly housed Neena’s Design Lighting (now at Linden Square.)

But there are no lighted signs in Wellesley Square pointing visitors in the direction of the display where Rugged Bear used to be, and they’re not going to appear anytime soon.

Fragasso says the subtlety is part of the attraction.

“I love to be surprised,” she said. “I don’t like to reveal what it is, just that it’s coming and to look for it.”

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