Boston usually conjures images of college campuses in the fall, revolutionary scenes from the country’s earliest history or more modern moments from that famous baseball park. It also has a history as a beacon for the arts, but lesser known is rough and tumble graffiti past. More recently, Boston has come into its own as a global mural destination. Visitors can find great fine-art galleries concentrated in Boston’s South End neighborhood, but the city’s public art scene requires an entire metro-wide adventure.
While Boston proper gets all the hype, Cambridge is really where it’s at. Home to both MIT and Harvard, this intellectual enclave sits just across the Charles River from Boston’s hoppin’ Back Bay neighborhood and its impossibly elegant Newbury Street. One stop on the public T train from downtown’s Park Street station to Kendall/MIT puts you in the heart of academic action. While Cambridge’s historic institutions connote stodgy tradition, they’re also places of extreme curiosity, experimentation and discovery. That spirit plays out on Cambridge’s walls, saturated with a striking amount of paint from local talents and international names alike. Walking west, make sure to snap a picture of this technicolor icon by Oakland, Calif.-based Allison Torneros, known to the art world as Hueman.
The opposite walls in this otherwise unassuming parking lot hold space for the psychedelic harmonies of two fellow muses.
Continuing west just one block over to Massachusetts Avenue will take you toward Central Square, a thoroughfare lined with vintage shops and international cuisine alike. Stop at the intersection of “Mass” and Sidney to catch this towering monument of flaming calligraphy from Nepalese artist IMAGINE. Check out this IG post where she’s posing with her father in front of the completed artwork! Spoiler alert: if you keep your eyes peeled at many of the locations that lay in store, you’re sure to spot IMAGINE’s signature hand.
Underground at Ink Block
Barely hidden beneath the highway between South End and South Boston lies an eight-acre urban playground called Underground at Ink Block. This privately operated public park has hosted annual mural projects since opening in 2017, highlighting the best of Boston and beyond. Every part of this park is painted, from canvases to concrete columns supporting the highway itself. Underground at Ink Block offers parking, but it’s pedestrian only — a great place for a relaxing, colorful stroll.
From NYC to LA, it seems like every city has a neighborhood devoted to the local East Asian population, but Boston’s Chinatown feels a little different. A thriving public arts scene shines alongside this culturally rich community. Some murals, like the one below, have even been around since last century. Take a closer look at this artwork in the parking lot just north of Royaltea to read its dedication, which says it’s an endeavor of South Cove Community Health Center Tobacco Control Mural Project circa 1998. History.
Murals also abound in this parking lot. Across the way, marvel upon this unclaimed artwork in homage to multiple elements of East Asian culture.
And if your street art adventures have your stomach rumbling, get out of that brisk Boston breeze for hot pot at Kaze Shabu Shabu.
If you’re feeling especially daring, take the 20-minute commuter rail trip out of North Station for an afternoon in Lynn. Since 2016, local mural fest Beyond Walls has helped transform this onetime shoemaking capital into perhaps the most impressive collection of street art on the East Coast. There’s murals in every direction the moment those train doors open — commuters leaving the station immediately enter Love Alley, featuring artworks by Cey Adams, Georgia Hill and Urban Ruben. The wall on the left facing this photo features a portrait by Brazilian artist Sipros of Ruben himself, rowing a boat for when that parking lot floods. Facing this photograph on the right is another mural by Ruben’s Miami neighbor Golden.
Lynn doesn’t just have a lot of great street art — the city has great street art by world-renowned creatives whose work is more elusive across the United States. For example, BORDALO II actually has two signature trash art installations on an abandoned building in Lynn. As Beyond Walls COO Philip Fagan shows me through the city’s myriad murals, he points out the “X” on the bear’s chest, which actually indicates to firemen not to enter this building in case of emergency because it’s not structurally sound. At least half of the trash in these works was collected from Lynn to create these half-realistic and half-kaleidoscope portraits of animals relevant to the city’s ecology.
Helen Bur is one of the most buzzed-about artists of the current global muralism movement. Originally from the UK, this classically trained artist works in house paint even while tackling massive facades, opting to mix original colors entirely on her own. In an Instagram caption, Bur explains this mural depicts “my Grandma Eve holding some leaflets that were [brought] back from Thailand by my Grandpa David where he was held as a Prisoner of War in Nong Pladuk camp between 1943-45 during WW2.” Always driven to harness her platform and inspire others, Bur notes, “This little piece of salvaged history is a reminder of how even in the most horrific situation, creativity can provide a vital lifeline or a mode of survival.”
Google Maps might call it “East Boston,” but locals lovingly know this nautical neighborhood with striking views of the city skyline as “Eastie.” Annexed into Boston during 1836, this traditionally working-class, immigrant community is rapidly growing into a global street art destination. Last year, local arts org HarborArts worked with marine nonprofit PangeaSeed to present the Boston edition of Sea Walls, a global mural festival that attracts vanguard artists from all over the world. Lauren YS, known to Instagram as “Squidlicker,” endowed Eastie with this mural called “Plastic Pandora,” which unites pure technical prowess with imagination and altruism.
These bright and lively murals on one public school in Eastie don’t just energize the neighborhood’s spirit, they also inspire students to seek beauty in everyday life. If you find yourself in the area after hours — –perhaps after enjoying fresh oysters and craft brews at a local haunt like Cunard Tavern — –make sure to catch this mural by Marka27 at night, when it catches the streetlights just right and glows neon.
Farther south in Roxbury, one of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ministered at the 12th Baptist Church and Malcolm X spent time living with his sister. It’s historically been a hub of Black culture in Boston and Rob Gibbs, known to the art world as Probl, is one of the most recognizable Roxbury-based artists at work today. “I’m a Black man from Roxbury but my community is across the nation and of the world,” Gibbs wrote in an IG caption about this powerful mural. “I created the ‘Breathe Life’ series because I wanted to create a gift for our city and leave a bold visual representation that matters.”