8 min readBy Published On: June 13th, 2011Categories: Features0 Comments on Got Art? by Kathleen Bitetti

The nonprofit arts organizations you didn’t know was in your backyard that is doing public art work in South Boston and beyond!

Medicine Wheel Productions, located on 110 K St. in Southie has been a best kept secret. World renown art work and programming has been taking place there for quite some time. The founding artistic director, Michael Dowling, has done public and community art projects all over the world and has worked with countless communities.  Since its inception MWP has been providing a safe, nurturing place for teen and young adults to make art and to become part of a community. It is a great organization to support and to become involved with  and I hope this Q & A inspires folks to just do that!*

(The scoop:  MWP’s annual fundraiser is this June 15th!  More info : http://mwponline.org/wordpress/ or  call 617-268-6700)

Q & A with Michael Dowling

Kathleen Bitetti: Can you give a brief history why/when you founded Medicine Wheel and what the organization’s mission is?

Michael Dowling: In 1996 following an alarming number of suicides and overdoses in South Boston I began to work with a group of 18 teens who called themselves “Southie Survivors” because they had lost so many friends.  I helped the youth channel their grief and anger into public artwork, creating a Celtic Cross Memorial on an abandoned lot called No Man’s Land behind South Boston High School, a site of rampant drug activity and violence.  As a result of the noticeable impact the art making was having on these youth, who so many others had given up on, I challenged other artists to join me in this endeavor.  

Today, MWP is an arts organization dedicated to the production of site-specific public art installations, both intimate and large-scaled, that invites people to use art as threshold, gaining awareness of self, community and the human condition. It is forging a common path, beyond diversity to inclusion, building community from the inside out, using art as the threshold.  MWP has a long history of looking at each member of a community as a resource. We are all on different paths, but what we have in common is that we are all on a path.
KB: Can you elaborate about the choice of name of the organization-Medicine Wheel productions as it references among other things Native American practices?
MD: The name for the organization comes from my art work name Medicine Wheel. It is a public art installation and vigil held annually at the Boston Center for the Arts and it  is the longest running Boston Area World AIDS Day event (an annual international event held every December 1st). Medicine Wheel provides a safe place to gather and reflect on the impact of the pandemic, while artists from all over Boston offer their gifts of music, dance and poetry. All of my work in the past twenty years has been about collecting these moments and using them to create a safe place to be with them and to remember. I strive in all my work to respond to the human condition, to merely being.

KB: Can you briefly tell us about the programs at Medicine Wheel? For youth – for adults?

MD: We programs have for youth, adults and the general public. The work of MWP is done through its five (5) programs: (1) Paid Art Internships – after-school and summer paid art internships (employment) for youth; (2) School-Based program – a contract with Edwards Middle School; (3) Hope and Recovery – working with youth in recovery from substance abuse at the Cushing House and the Youth in Transition program; (4) Medicine Wheel Ireland which is responsible for The Tonnes project focusing on post peace process healing along the borders of Ireland; (5) and Studio School – a Gallery and Retreat Program that provides art classes to adults, earns income and builds a community of supporters for MWP. 

We will be adding a public exhibition program for our gallery and visiting artist program hopefully in Fall 2011.  In addition we will be hosting panel discussions, artist talks, poetry readings, film screenings and community dialogs.
KB: Can you talk about the project you are doing in Ireland a bit- The Tonnes, a Meeting of the Waters?   

MD: The Tonnes, funded by EU Peace III Programme, involves communities along the border region of Ireland in art and dialogue about the post-peace process. It engages the residents of the area along the Foyle River on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As people engage in this project of animating the public space of the Foyle River and Lough Foyle, they will take a step towards strengthening their attachment to the place where they live, towards a vision of this place as a community to which they all belong. Such experiences are one way to build lasting changes in attitude, laying the groundwork for peaceful coexistence and productive social relations. On an international level, MWP is forging a common path, beyond diversity to inclusion, building community from the inside out, using art as the threshold.

The Tonnes invokes the myths, history, and energy of the border area encompassing Strabane, Derry, Donegal and Limavady, from the source of the Foyle River to the North Atlantic. The project invites the 300,000 people who live in this area to engage in the creation of a work of art in community. In March, 2011 I was in Ireland leading 30 book making workshops, (ten from each of three counties) creating a collection of the first 3,000 of the 30,000 voices expected to participate in the Tonnes project.  MWP invited them to animate this public space as a way of connecting to their individual selves, to each other, and to their land, to home.  These workshops culminated on March 11, 2011 with readings from the book making workshops that traced the journey of the Foyle River. This legacy project has the potential to help the people living in the Foyle Basin see who they can be for themselves and for each other. The response of the participants was truly moving and the sense of ownership thrilling!  The readings as they traced the journey of the Foyle also traced the story of our common humanity.  The Tonnes project is a threshold piece to a shared new future for all.


KB: Where people can  see the projects the organization is doing and/or get involved with MWP?

MD:  We are always looking for volunteers and donations and we just did a email call asking people to participate in:
“Our Common Path, Moving Beyond diversity to Inclusion, Building Community From the Inside Out Using Art as the Threshold As part of our Common Path Projects we are creating a collective poem. Could you take a few moments to fill out our interactive and downloadable templates and share in this latest project! “

To participate:  http://mwponline.org/wordpress/?page_id=565

People can go see No Man’s Land, a work in progress, that is open to the public at all times and is located behind South Boston High School: http://mwponline.org/projects/nml.html

Every December 1st- World AIDS Day, we install the Medicine Wheel Installation at the Cyclorama at Boston Center for the Arts and have a 24 hour vigil.  It is free and open to the public. 2011 will be the 20th year of doing this project @ the BCA
More info: http://mwponline.org/projects/vigil.html

Our Art Classes  and Overseas Retreats are now taking enrollment: http://mwponline.org/wordpress/?page_id=271

The Safety Mapping project being done by MWP youth has a map on display at the  Atrium Gallery at Lesley University- 2nd floor, University Hall, 1815 Mass Ave Cambridge and it runs from May 25 to September 6th 2011.
KB: Medicine Wheel  is a nonprofit organization- How does it support itself/pay for its overhead? How can people get involved to support the organization?
MD: MWP supports itself through individual donations, grants, awards, and through earned income (i.e. art classes, contract with the state for serving DYS youth).  To support MWP, people can make donations via the MWP website (there is a donation link on the calendar of events section of the website and on our facebook page), they can come to events and all are welcome to come visit MWP anytime.  MWP will be hosting 4 “salons” or forums over the next several months in which building a common path and inclusion will be central themes.  The public will be invited to attend them.   

And lastly come to our June 15th Annual Fundraiser! 6 to 9pm at our home at 110 K Street Second Floor in South Boston!

The Fundraiser is featuring:

Photo exhibit by Richard Dinsmore
* Performances – Live and Silent Auction – Raffle *   
Some of the Raffle items: Hot air balloon ride · Golf for four
Red Sox tickets · Theatre flex passes
African Safari · and more…

More info : http://mwponline.org/wordpress/ or  call 617-268-6700

*Full disclosure, I have known Michael for 20 years and I came on board at MWP in January 2011 as chief curator to help build its exhibition program and visiting artists program. I count him as a friend, neighbor and colleague.