Local artists open doors during COVID-19

by Sanjana Deshpande, Features Editor and Paul Hong, Features Reporter
photo by Maureen Caulfield

North senior Natalia Sawicka had only ever painted on canvases before she got the opportunity to take part in a citywide display for Newton Community Pride’s art initiative, Newton Outdoors, which was an initiative formed with a goal to uplift the Newton community during the pandemic. For her, the experience was a unique chance to give back to the community.

“[The doors were] just something new and colorful, and they captured so much joy of the human experience in so many different ways,” she said. “Especially after such a long year of being inside and having everything virtual. To have something real and big and tangible that is actually in front of you is wonderful. It definitely brought me joy, and I hope that the rest of the community feels the same way.”

‘21 South graduate Zoe Lister, one of five students who took part in the initiative alongside Sawicka, first heard about the initiative through school.

“My art teacher, Ms. Nichols, told our art class about the upcoming project,” she said. “So, I submitted a design proposal. I wasn’t expecting them to choose mine at all, so I was absolutely thrilled to find out that mine was one of the chosen designs.”

For professional artists such as Amanda Beard Garcia, the experience of working on her door was personal, as her door featured a portrait of her grandmother.

“It just made sense to me to want to do a portrait of her,” she said. “The area made me think of her because she lived in Brookline for most of her life, which is very close by. At the same time, with everything we’ve been through with the rise in Asian racism, I wanted to explore my own Asian American identity and reflect on it through her, as she passed away a few years ago.”

Lister chose to portray a dreamlike version of the T in her door, as it remains a memorable part of Newton. She said she wanted to represent how the train connects our city in a way that many don’t usually realize.

“[My door] represents all of the endless possibilities that taking the T gives the residents in the surrounding suburbs,” she said. “It really just connects people, and I wanted to give a new perspective because people don’t always see the train system in that way.”

For senior Abby Zheng, Newton Outdoors was a way to bring together the community as a whole. Her door, titled Corner Vending Machine, is a representation of how vending machines at South tend to bring strangers together for a brief moment of human connection.

“My goal with my door was to simply gather people together during Covid and social distance,” she said. “A lot of people were not able to communicate with one another, nor were they able to find the spaces to do so, and Newton Outdoors gave that opportunity. My door was made to show how even the smallest things bring people together.”

Sawicka aimed to bring awareness to the topic of ocean conservation through her design. Her door, titled Breath of Life, shows the importance of whales in our ecosystem and the damage done as a result of ship strikes and entanglements. Sawicka said that beyond being a form of communication and self-expression, art is a way of advocating for social issues she cares about.

“Art is a powerful tool for bringing people together and showing different perspectives,” she said. “It’s powerful in activism because it can show different issues.”  

Zheng said that this experience has given her a new perspective on how she views her own art.

“The difference between being an art student and being an artist for the community is that as an art student, you’re focused on improving yourself,” Zheng said. “For an artist for the community, your goal is to help beautify the neighborhood you live in.”