Cruise through Boston and you’ll see an enormous, slightly mysterious billboard in Kendall and Copley squares. No, it’s not a Herb Chambers ad: The billboard showcases public declarations of trust pulled from the day’s headlines, whether it’s Mick Jagger promising to support his eighth child or a company pledging equal pay for equal work. The billboard will stay in each neighborhood for a week at a time, with a twist.
The billboard is Brooklyn artist Paul Ramirez Jonas‘ newest design, “Public Trust,” an interactive sculpture of changing promises. Public Trust showcases these public declarations and goes a step further: Visitors are asked to make a promise too, which also ends up on the billboard.
Jonas is half-Jewish, and many families have made a pilgrimage to the free exhibit to make a New Year’s promise in honor of Yom Kippur. Each visitor can sit down with Jonas himself or a local “artist ambassador” to confess a promise that each artist then typesets, rubs and gives away as a keepsake. A copy of the promise also goes up on the billboard—”I’ll be more present in the moment”; “I’ll do my homework each day”; “I’ll spend more time with my kids”—and a copy is memorialized for an eventual book.
“People love this moment of self-reflection,” says Kate Gilbert, executive director of Now + There, a new non-profit organization devoted to public art, which commissioned the work. “We also get a lot of lurkers or people who are afraid they won’t be able to keep their promises.” Think of it as a free therapy session. The art ambassadors are typically able to coax a vow out of each visitor, and people seem to find the experience liberating.