Hand in Hand: How art is being used to break down barriers in South Boston

On a Saturday morning, eight cautious young people and eight equally as wary Boston Police officers were brought together to work “Hand in Hand” on Southie’s latest community project. In light of the recent increase in tension between officers and civilians, specifically individuals of color, founder of Medicine Wheel Productions Michael Dowling felt compelled to act. Medicine Wheel is a group dedicated to using art and self-expression as a catalyst for social change and activism. Unfortunately, many of the young people who engage with Medicine Wheel have had bad history with the police; including one of the participants who at first refused to go into the meeting because one of the officers had “arrested [her] three times” (Boston Globe). Dowling saw this negative history as a barrier to be broken down—and what better tool to use than art?

In April, Dowling reached out to Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and pitched the idea of young people and police officers working together. Evens enthusiastically agreed, hoping that the groups would “meet outside their normal roles, and try to see one another as people, rather than simply as cops and perpetrators” (Boston Globe).

Just as Medicine Wheel has done in the past, by the end of the “Hand In Hand” art day, all sixteen individuals were talking, exchanging numbers, and promising to keep in touch—which they did. The projects they worked on included casting their clasped hands, literally setting the symbol of civilian and police unity in stone (or rather, plaster). Deputy Superintendent Nora Baston, who has worked on community engagement with BPD for years, stated she had “never seen anything connect like that. Everyone was down on the same level when it came to art. It really broke a wall down” (Boston Globe). Evans and Dowling would like to keep the program going, as neither has seen a civilian and police engagement activity affect its participants in a deeper way than “Hand in Hand.”

This amazing project is just one of the ways that art can be used as not just a beautiful image to be admired, but as a force for change and unity across the country.

Read more about this community project in the Boston Globe.

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