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Artist, Teacher, Community ActivistPortrait of Michael Dowling

For over twenty years artist Michael Dowling has been creating award-winning public art which responds to and relates to the natural environment. Much of Dowling's work is located in nature, such as No Man's Land in south Boston which has transformed an abandoned piece of land into an urban public art park; or Conspire, which sat atop a floating barge in Charlestown.

Medicine Wheel, Dowling's annual public art event in honor of World AIDS Day, takes place in the Boston Center for the Arts, but is centered around a different element each year: Earth, Air, Fire or Water. Water from nearby Fort Point Channel, leaves from wooded paths in western Massachusetts, a fallen tree illuminated with silver leaf--all become incorporated into the artwork, creating a mythical environment in which nature is newly revealed and revered.

Dowling's vision as an artist is founded on a deep belief in the healing power of art. For his work at No Man's Land he was given the Faces of Greenspace Award from Boston Greenspace Alliance.

In 1996, with the help of neighbors, friends, and especially youth from the community, South Boston, artist Michael Dowling began the process of reclaiming the unsightly, vandal-ridden slope behind South Boston High School with the goal of transforming it into a sacred space that all the diverse people who live in that area can feel belongs to them.

The Medicine Wheel Youth Program is central to this process. It began as a paid summer employment program for youth ages 14 to 18. Students worked 25 hours a week for 8 weeks on various individual and group projects as part of the main Medicine Wheel public art projects at No Man's Land and its Poetry Path.

The season culminates with a Community Day and performance and showcasing of the summer's accomplishments in gardening, landscaping, environmental works, sculpture, drawing, poetry, and bookmaking. Later the program was extended to fall and spring sessions and, in 2004, to a year-round after school program in collaboration with South Boston's Odyssey High School.

The Medicine Wheel after school arts program at No Man's Land goes beyond providing cultural enrichment. It grows out of the notion that by bringing an artistic, nonverbal perspective to topics in science, math, history, and other academic subjects, we can promote students' access to a deep, intuitive way of knowing things that enhances their learning capacities in the classroom. This program also brings together youth from the neighborhood who are bussed to schools elsewhere with youth from elsewhere who are bussed into the neighborhood, promoting friendship and a sense of community between traditionally hostile groups. In 2002 the program was awarded the Boston Peace Party Community Star Award from the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center for outstanding work in fostering peaceful neighborhoods. It was also honored by Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino on the occasion of receiving the city's only 3-year Safe Neighborhoods Youth Fund Grant. Read more about Michael at


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