It has been recognized since Mount Auburn’s early decades that the Cemetery’s aesthetic richness, educational value, and historic significance are derived in large part from the remarkable tapestry formed by its diverse collection of monuments and burial markers carefully sited in the landscape. In the nineteenth century, the Cemetery and individual lot owners commissioned a vast array of public art: monuments, structures, and buildings. Visitors, therefore, experienced the site as an outdoor museum as well as a place of burial. Today, Mount Auburn continues its dual mission of active cemetery and cultural landscape by striving to inspire all who visit and commemorating the dead in a landscape of exceptional beauty. While the Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery has long offered tours and programs to the public, in recent years we have further embraced our role as a cultural resource and have begun working with contemporary artists and art organizations to create original site-specific programming.
In 2014, Mount Auburn became the first cemetery in the United States to establish an artist residency program. Our program supports the creation of new work by a contemporary artist inspired by his or her in-depth experience at the Cemetery. The resident artist is charged with creating works for visitors, drawn from their direct experience, that convey a fresh and innovative perspective of Mount Auburn. To date, we have awarded residencies to filmmaker Roberto Mighty (2014-2015), composer Mary Bichner (2016-2017), playwright Patrick Gabridge (2018-2019), and visual artist Jesse Aron Green (2020-2021).
In light of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on in-person programming, and in recognition of the many talented artists who have been inspired by Mount Auburn during this time, we are awarding a series of mini grants to support artist projects in 2021. Five artists have been invited to create works or programs unique to and inspired by Mount Auburn over the course of 2021, or as planning grants for larger projects to be completed in 2022.
Jesse Aron Green, Visual Artist
Mount Auburn Cemetery’s 2020 Artist-in-Residence was visual artist Jesse Aron Green. Jesse’s work has been exhibited at the Tate Modern; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Harvard Art Museums; the ICA Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, Bologna; and many other museums and galleries around the world. Jesse received a BA from Harvard and an MFA from UCLA.
Jesse has been visiting Mount Auburn since he was a child, when his mother, who studied landscape architecture, brought him on her walks to study the grounds and plantings. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Jesse would walk the grounds for respite. More recently, he has been here for memorial services as well. In his own words, “I’ve come for nature, for art, for introspection, and in mourning. As the Artist-in-Residence, I hope to do service to all of the functions that Mount Auburn plays in people’s lives.”
During his residency, Jesse envisioned several ambitious and large-scale public art projects. Due to COVD-19, implementing these projects was not logistically possible. However, Jesse’s research and concepts are being added to the Mount Auburn archives. Learn more>>
Patrick Gabridge, Playwright
The Mount Auburn Plays: The Nature Plays and The America Plays
During his residency, playwright Patrick Gabridge wrote two series of plays inspired by Mount Auburn. In June 2019, we produced the Nature Plays, a series of five one-act plays that explored the rich natural environment of Mount Auburn Cemetery. The plays touched on topics such as spotted salamanders in Consecration Dell, birders at Auburn Lake, and historic debates between naturalists who are buried at the Cemetery. Audiences experienced the performances at various spots across the grounds, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the natural world. In September, we presented The America Plays. Mount Auburn was founded in 1831, during the post-Colonial era that would help define America’s identity. This series of five short plays, staged at sites across the landscape, brought to life the drama, philosophies, and struggles shared by Mount Auburn founders Jacob Bigelow, by sculptors Edmonia Lewis and Martin Milmore, and by strong women like Harriot Kezia Hunt and Charlotte Cushman who sought new opportunities beyond the social norms of the time. The journey through the American experience concluded with an immigrant story, featuring some of Mount Auburn’s Armenian residents. Audiences experienced the personalities and drama that lie at the heart of America’s first large-scale designed landscape open to the public.
Since concluding his residency, Gabridge has published The Mount Auburn Plays as a book, allowing readers to experience Mount Auburn landscape, its “residents,” and its many stories. Learn more>>
Mary Bichner, Musician and Composer
Mount Auburn: Spring & Autumn Suites
During her residency, musician and composer Mary Bichner composed a series of new works inspired by Mount Auburn’s breathtaking landscape and landmarks, using her sound-to-color synesthesia to select the musical components that best “match” the natural color palette of each location. As Ms. Bichner completed her compositions in 2016, she participated in a series of “pop-up” concerts and gave talks about her artistic process. In early 2017, her Mount Auburn compositions were professionally recorded. Ms. Bichner completed her residency with two sold-out concerts in Story Chapel. Mount Auburn: Spring & Autumn Suites, the product of her Mount Auburn residency, is now available to stream or as a free digital download. Cemetery visitors may also experience Bichner’s music in the setting that inspired it through Mount Auburn’s Visitor app. Learn more>>
Roberto Mighty, New Media Artist
Roberto Mighty, Mount Auburn’s inaugural artist-in-residence from 2014 through 2016, drew inspiration from the sights, sounds, and individual stories of the Cemetery to create earth.sky, an immersive meditation on life, death, ritual, history, landscape, nature, and culture. The original version of his project, designed to be screened in Mount Auburn’s Story Chapel, premiered in full in November 2016. To make the films, music, images, and storytelling of the original exhibit available to audiences worldwide, Mighty completed his residency with the release of an online version of his project. Learn more>>