Illuminating Futures: Ashland Massachusetts

Dan Borelli

Funding Received: 2014
Ashland, MA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 20, 2015

My original intention was to open all three phases of this project at once; an exhibition at the public library which is the source of public information for the local Superfund site followed by a lighting event that illuminates the contamined groundwater plume and an unveiling of a public memorial garden. While the other phases are in process, the encountered delays have come from the challenges of shepharding a creative and collaborative project within a suburban and rural context.

Frankly, most people within my audience, support network, and local government are unfamiliar with the types of challenges that can arise when an artistic practice engages the social, political, and public domains. While there's great enthusiasm and support, we're working internally to clear the necessary permissions to unlock the parcel that will become the public memorial garden.

It's a nearly two-acre site with 5 different entities that abut it, from state transportation authority, school committee, neighborhood, and private developers; this site pretty much touches all types of land owners. Navigating these land-holders has gone slower than anticipated especially as our land surveyor unearthed a dated deed that had been missing in the parcel diagrams in the town documents!

Fear not, we're forging ahead and partnering with the school committee to make an area of the garden that will become a site for the science classes to conduct ecological field studies, only a stone's throw from one of the first Superfund sites. The symbolism stratifies just like geology by a transforming a wooded area into a pedagogical site of experimenting with ecology to create future environmental stewards. 



In the center of Ashland Massachusetts sits the Nyanza Superfund Site, one of the first ten sites of the EPA’s Superfund Program, launched in 1982. Nyanza was a chemically based dye company, one of the first colorant plants in US history. Throughout its history Nyanza has been a source of public health concerns and in 2006 the Massachusetts Department of Public Health verified that Nyanza caused an elevated risk of cancer to the Ashland residents. This history is the overall context of this art project which asks the following questions; what is going on with the remediation today, how is public knowledge disseminated, and how does a community regenerate while acknowledging it’s past?

This project activates a spatial network between three locations; the Public Library, the streetlights, and a garden. The network of these nodes each highlight a unique experience into the subject of Illuminating Futures as follows; the Public Library is the center of the informational dissemination of the EPA’s findings on site remediation, the streetlight intervention will serve as an in situ accurate dispersion of the remediation findings, while the garden will serve as a healing site of remembrance and resilience. This network will create a path for the artist to host ‘walkshops’—a walking tour that is also a workshop—for the community to directly engage in the realities of the subject within the physical site.