UEP alum (MA ’15) and local artist Cara Foster Karim is wrapping up work on an oil painting of UEP’s HQ – the “Brown House” at 97 Talbot Ave. I talked with her over email about art, urban planning, and how the two disciplines overlap. The painting will be delivered to the Brown House next week – be sure to stop by!
Tell me the story of how you came to be creating an oil painting of the Brown House!
Well, the short version is that I sold a painting to a UEP classmate of mine earlier this summer. He posted about it on Facebook with a link to my website, and Mary Davis saw it and got in touch with me. So, if you’re reading this, Suveer, thank you for the shout out!
How does your work as an artist intersect with your experiences at UEP?
The most obvious way is through subject matter. Most of my recent paintings are landscapes that explore the relationship between nature and the built environment. I love to be able to celebrate sidewalks and street scenes through my paintings. For me, a primary goal of painting is to help people see ordinary places and spaces with a new appreciation and enjoyment. I hope that celebrating a place through art leads to an increased sense of connection and identity and ownership. At least, that’s what I experience through the process of creating a painting, and I hope that viewers experience some of that too.
Do you ever see yourself blending these two worlds? Perhaps in the realm of public art / creative placemaking?
This is the question I’m most excited about answering! My favorite way to paint is working outdoors in public – it’s a unique opportunity to interact with strangers in a very positive way. I’m sure there are people who don’t like my paintings, but usually the people who stop to talk to me are the ones who do like them. So it’s always encouraging to have positive feedback from strangers, but it also makes a connection–the fact that I’m painting bridges the gap of silence that is usually present between strangers (at least in Boston). People ask me for directions, talk about what they like about the place where I’m painting, or talk about their own artistic experiences. For me, all those conversations and interactions get embedded in the painting itself in some way. The finished result feels like a collaborative work, rather than something I created out of my head, in isolation.
Sometimes I daydream about ways to expand these collaborations. Maybe have researchers sample the public and passersby on a given street where someone is painting to see how it impacts their experience of the place? Maybe have sidewalk chalk or a mural or some way to make it interactive for people as well? I’m still brainstorming but it’s definitely something that excites me.
What are you up to now professionally?
Professionally, I’m painting right now. I’m selling paintings and working on a couple of commissioned pieces as well. I’m still getting started–working on applying for local Somerville grants for artists and I’m hoping to participate in Somerville Open Studios next year. Sometimes it feels a little weird that I spent all that time going to grad school for urban planning and now I’m doing something completely different. But deep down I’ve always wanted to be an artist, since I was a kid, and it feels amazing to get paid to do something that I love so much. I still also really care about building community and fighting for and social and environmental justice and immigrant rights and I still expect that I’ll work in a field more directly related to UEP again someday. But for now, this feels right.