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Posted on: June 1, 2021

Public Art Commission Announces Inaugural Exhibition at Portal Gallery on Boltwood Plaza

Artist Benjamin Cowden for Boltwood Plaza Exhibit

The Amherst Public Art Commission is pleased to announce the launch of a pilot program to exhibit art on Boltwood Plaza. The Commission has selected Amherst resident Benjamin Cowden as the first artist to display work in the space that previously housed the Poem Windows. The Commission has renamed the site Portal Gallery on Boltwood Plaza.

The Portal Gallery consists of five small, south-facing windows on the headhouse above Boltwood Garage. Cowden will install work inside the building, which viewers will access by looking through the windows. The Amherst Center Cultural District is supporting Cowden's exhibition with a $2000 recovery and rebuilding grant, allocated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Cowden's exhibition will transform the windows into miniature worlds that combine natural and mechanical elements. In Cowden's proposal (see attached), abstract representations of spinning caves, blooming flowers, and dancing rock beds respond to environmental cues. Changing light, temperature, and the presence of viewers will all affect the objects in each window. As Cowden describes, "People will be able to play with my sculptures through the glass." Viewers can clap or shine light from their cell phones to activate the sculptures in each window.

Cowden began his career as a sculptor when, as an undergraduate anthropology student in Cameroon, he learned from local Baka people how to turn worn machetes into utility knives. Over the years he has produced a variety of objects, from hand tools to large sculptural installations. He is a voracious student of craft technique and enjoys creating with almost any material, whether it is sewing clothes, building furniture, or constructing Arduino-based robotic cocktail-mixing machines.

William Kaizen, Chair of the Amherst Public Art Commission, says, "We hope that after this inaugural exhibition, we can secure on-going funding to make The Portal Gallery a permanent feature of Amherst's cultural life. Our hope is to present rotating exhibitions, featuring two or three artists a year. This would allow for changing exhibitions downtown and relieve the town from the on-going need to maintain these works in perpetuity. An outdoor gallery is an ideal exhibition venue during COVID and in its wake."

Cowden's exhibition is slated to open this summer and run through the fall. 

For more information, contact publicart@amherstma.gov 

Click here to learn more about  Benjamin Cowden's Boltwood Plaza Portal Gallery Installation Proposal

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