About Storefront Stories

About Storefront Stories

Storefront Stories, part of the East Arlington Story Project, is a temporary public art project celebrating a defining aspect of this friendly, eclectic neighborhood: it's diverse independent small businesses.  We asked: who are the people who run the tiny, specialized storefront businesses located along Massachusetts Avenue in East Arlington, and what makes them tick?  They work hard, investing long work hours with little time off.  They take risks, their businesses are vulnerable to economic ups and downs, and they don't make a lot of money.  But we found out: they love what they do!  

Whether they fix typewriters, cut hair, whip up pizza, or help people express themselves through art, music, fashion or gift-giving, these business owners have acquired deep knowlege of their craft and of their customers.  Some have stepped into a tradition -- a family business sustained for many generations.  Others have forged their own way -- sometimes by making a transformative career change.  But all are eager to share what they do and what they know.  They also grateful to the community of neighbors and customers from father away who support what they do.

We were not surprised to find out that thse business owners are experts, but by the end of the project, we became convinced that they are also artists, in the sense that they practice, they draw on tradition, they experiment, and most important, they express themselves -- daily -- by creating their business.

Responding to themes that emerged from a community engagement process last fall, curator Cecily Miller invited a superb group of artists to collaborate on the creation of Storefront Stories: Cedric Douglas, Nilou Moochhala and Julia Roth.  Together, we selected business owners for portraits based on nominations from the community and our own door-to-door conversations.  Our process started with interviews.  We connected with people as they shared their life stories.  These conversations inspired  large-scale designs using portrait photographs printed on paper using an inexpensive laser printer.  Cedric Douglas took the lead on this aspect of the project. The artwork was printed out in many pieces which were carefully matched up and then cut along the edges to form silhouettes; all the piece were meticulously lined up on exterior walls and installed using ladders and wall paper paste in a process known as wheatpasting.  Julia Roth took the lead on this aspect.  The transcribed interviews were the basis for text portraits written by Nilou Moochhala, with editing contributed by Cecily Miller and Lorri Berenberg.  Nilou also designed a tabloid zine collecting all the interviews, photographic documentation, and final artwork in one place, along with many of the nominations sent in by the public.  

Although the limits of time and resources forced us to select 12 local business owners for portraits, we want to make it clear that there are many other fascinating stories that remain to be told in this exceptional community.  We had to make difficult choices, but we hope that we have gathered a group that represents the contemporary spirit and local history of East Arlington. 

We, the East Arlington Story Project team -- artists Cedric Douglas, Nilou Moochhala and Julia Roth, and curator Cecily Miller -- wish to extend our grateful thanks to all the businesses who agreed to participate in our project and generously shared their stories with us.  We believe the art of our project lay as much in the wonderful and inspiring conversations we had with all kinds of people along the way as in the final products!  

We also wish to thank our generous Arlington Public Art Steering Committee: Adria Arch, Lorri Berenberg and Jill Manca.  These artists and activists contributed much time and expertise to making this a successful project.