Seeds of Wisdom, 2023
Returning for its second year on The Greenway, Roxbury Sunflower Project: Seeds of Wisdom (2023) is a multi-site public artwork consisting of three large-scale sunflower installations throughout the park. This project is an extension of Holmes’ growing Roxbury Sunflower Project, which began in 2018 as a vision to use sunflowers to spread beauty and hope throughout the historically Black Boston neighborhood where the artist has lived since childhood.
Building upon last year’s sunflower plantings in Dewey Square, this year’s project features ten different varieties of sunflowers throughout the park. Each landscape is dotted with bright golden signage featuring quotes curated by the artist to inspire, support, and nurture Boston’s younger generations.
Sunflowers are heliotropic plants, which means they turn and shift to follow the movement of the sun through the sky each day. For Holmes, sunflowers represent resilience, inner beauty, self-determination and the ability for a community to evolve and emerge while staying deeply grounded in its history and traditions. “Sunflowers have a radiance that sustains us by inviting us to turn toward the light in all things,” she shares. the sunflowers are dotted with bright golden signage featuring poetry and quotations of inspiration curated by Holmes that speak to the importance of engaging, supporting, and nurturing Boston’s youth and upcoming generations.
Beyond The Greenway, Roxbury Sunflower Project will be growing across the city of Boston this summer: through a partnership with the Friends of Martin’s Park and Hurst Landscaping, sunflower installations have also been planted in Martin’s Park in the Seaport and a large open lot in neighborhood of Grove Hall.
Roxbury Sunflower Project: Seeds of Wisdom (2023) is collaboratively organized, planned, and planted by an interdisciplinary team at The Greenway and beyond: Ekua Holmes, London Parker-McWhorter, Darrah Cole, Tori Hiney, Sam Trulli, David Hurst and team, Gina Lindner, Audrey Lopez, Joey Pellegrino and the team at PowerCorps BOS, a City of Boston program, Jen Coyne and Sierra Rothberg of Lusterity Design + Events, and Greenway volunteers.
For 2022’s iteration of the Roxbury Sunflower Project, sunflowers were planted throughout Dewey Square to complement and grow alongside Breathe Life Together, the mural from Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs (another Roxbury-native artist). Planted in collaboration with co-caretakers and volunteers from the United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Community Garden, the 2022 project on Dewey Square featured four varieties of sunflowers in mini-landscapes that spoke to the power of art as a tool of self-determination to change one’s mindset and community. Roxbury Sunflower Project: Seeds of Love and Justice (2022) was organized and planted in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team at the Greenway and beyond: Ekua Holmes, London McWhorter, Kai Holmes, Audrey Lopez, Abby Parker, Darrah Cole, Sheila Novak, Sam Trulli, Sophie Pollock, co-caretakers and volunteers from the United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Community Garden, Copper Civic Collective volunteers, and Greenway horticulture volunteers. Special thanks to Tarik Bartel for documenting our process.
The Roxbury Sunflower Project is a community-wide, collaborative initiative founded in 2018 by artist Ekua Holmes through a Now + There: Public Art Accelerator Fellowship. The project aims to bring nature, beauty, and color to the Roxbury landscape in unloved and uncared for public lots or in private gardens and yards by inviting families, organizations, and agencies to plant 20,000 sunflowers a year in the Roxbury neighborhood and across Boston. Seeds, instruction, and encouragement are provided free of charge. The Roxbury Sunflower Project positions the sunflower as a symbolic representation of contemporary Roxbury, its people, and history and to bring nature, beauty, and color through community-wide sunflower plantings.
The project’s goals are to:
INSPIRE a community-wide action of planting seeds, harvesting flowers, and documenting the process with photography, art, and video;
INSTALL lush and colorful mini-landscapes around Grove Hall in Roxbury and Dorchester;
EMBRACE the Sunflower as an emblem of spirit and history of Roxbury;
EMPOWER youth to lead and influence their neighborhoods.
For more about the project, please visit Roxbury Sunflower Project’s website and Instagram.
Of her project, the artist writes: “The Roxbury Sunflower Project is a seed of love for Roxbury neighborhood of Boston— for its geography, its leadership, and its historical and continuing struggles against displacement, broken promises, and cultural neglect. The Roxbury Sunflower Project is also a challenge to monuments of stone and metal, because it is made of a living organism that must be nurtured, cared for, and sustained. For me, sunflowers represent resilience, inner beauty, self-determination and the ability for a community to evolve and emerge while staying deeply grounded in its history and traditions. Sunflowers have a radiance that sustains us by inviting us to turn toward the light in all things.”
“From an ecological standpoint, sunflowers provide multiple levels of nourishment for the earth, both above and below ground: their blooms are supreme pollinators, attracting both bees and butterflies, while their deep roots draw toxins from damaged soil. Sunflowers symbolize the hardiness of Roxbury and make a compelling emblem for our community. The sunflowers’ essential attributes mirror those that are reflected in the cultural traditions of Roxbury’s Black community and must now be collectively amplified in our society.” – Ekua Holmes
Ekua Holmes, Artist (she/her)
Ekua Holmes is an interdisciplinary artist, illustrator, and designer. She has created and led workshops, been a visiting artist and lecturer, and held artist residencies in public and private institutions throughout New England. For her first public art initiative, she received a Now + There Public Art Accelerator Fellowship and launched The Roxbury Sunflower Project, in which she facilitated the planting of 10,000 sunflower seeds in her native Roxbury, MA by giving away free seeds, instructions and encouragement.
A lifelong resident of Roxbury, Holmes is inspired by the neighborhood from which she blossomed and considers the Roxbury Sunflower Project a bouquet of love. Now in its 5th year, the project has highlighted the sunflower as a symbol of resilience, radiance, self-determination, intergenerational learning, and appreciation of urban landscapes.
Ms. Holmes currently serves as Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Boston Art Commission, which oversees the placement and maintenance of public works of art on and in the City of Boston. She is also currently Associate Director at MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships, where she manages and coordinates sparc! the ArtMobile, an art-inspiring, art-transforming vehicle retrofitted to contribute to community-based, multidisciplinary arts programming currently focused in Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Dorchester, MA. Ekua Holmes received her BFA in Photography from MassArt.
As an award-winning illustrator of children’s literature, Ekua’s practice is collage-based and her subjects –made from cut and torn papers– investigate family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, the power of hope, faith, and self-determination. Holmes is the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, Robert Siebert and Horn Book awards for her illustrations in “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” by Carole Boston Weatherford, her first illustration project. In 2018, she won the coveted Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for the book, “Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets.” In 2019 she won the 2019 Coretta Scott King Award again for her illustrations in “Stuff of Stars,” written by Marion Dane Bauer.
London Parker McWhorter, Project Lead
London is a Boston-based photographer, composer, digital artist and gardener. His visual work is informed by a deep family tradition as a third-generation photographer. He has proudly contributed to documentaries featured on PBS’s Independent Lens and Northeastern University’s Lower Roxbury Black History Project. His formative music experience includes performances at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and more.
London currently serves as the co-caretaker of the United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Community Garden (UNLR) which celebrates more than 40 years of community gardening and neighborhood action. UNLR has supported the growing and planting of sunflower seedlings with The Roxbury Sunflower Project since 2018, as part of its commitment to continuing the legacies of equity and activism in Roxbury set forth by groups like People Before Highways.
The Greenway Public Art Program is exclusively funded through grants and private sources, including the generous support of The Barr Foundation, Boston Cultural Council/Reopen Creative Boston Fund administered by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, and Goulston & Storrs. In addition, The Roxbury Sunflower Project is supported by MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships (www.massart.edu/cacp), Lolita Parker Jr., and United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Community Garden.
Roxbury Sunflower Project: Seeds of Wisdom (2023) is organized by an interdisciplinary team at the Greenway and beyond: Ekua Holmes, London McWhorter, Kai Holmes, Audrey Lopez, Abby Parker, Darrah Cole, Sheila Novak, Sam Trulli, Sophie Pollock, Copper Civic Collective volunteers, and Greenway horticulture volunteers. Special thanks to Tarik Bartel for documenting our process.