Currently, the Boston Public Library’s McKim Exhibition Hall holds 150 pairs of running shoes, tattered from the 26.2-mile stretch they endured before being left in Copley Square. These shoes, Sharpie-tattooed with messages of support and inspiration, were just a few of the items left in the makeshift memorial that arose in downtown Boston after last year’s Marathon and are now the centerpiece of a BPL exhibition entitled “Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial.”
In the wake of the Marathon bombings, hundreds of t-shirts, flowers, posters, and shoes accumulated in Copley Square to create a makeshift memorial that offered support to both the victims of the attacks as well as to Boston in general. Now, in preparation for the Marathon’s quickly approaching anniversary, select items from the memorial are on display in the Central Library, aiming to provide viewers with a place for reflection. The “Dear Boston” exhibition opened on April 7 with a ceremony led by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, and will continue to highlight the hope of the people of Boston until May 11.
The exhibition, curated by Rainey Tisdale, is a collaborative effort between the BPL, the New England Museum Association, Iron Mountain, the Boston City Archives, and the Boston Art Commission. It is divided into three major sections that transition viewers from memories of the attacks to examples of courage and hope in their aftermath.
The original memorial was carefully dismantled in June of 2013 and preserved by the Boston City Archives from where Tisdale selected noteworthy items that now make up the exhibition. Among the posters and running shoes are numerous handwritten notes and sentiments establishing the thoughts and words of people as the display’s focus as opposed to commentary by the curator. Included in these words are the condolences from a Sandy Hook mother, a pair of maroon sunglasses with “BC hearts Boston” sketched on the frame, and multiple suggestions of hope from areas across Massachusetts and the rest of the nation.
Though only running into early May, the “Dear Boston” exhibition is a portion of a larger series of events entitled “#BostonBetter,” in which Boston-area culture centers, such as museums and libraries, will host various programs geared toward helping Boston be “better” throughout April for the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.
This effort, which encompasses more than 35 events in April alone, hopes to achieve a sense of healing, reflection, and connection throughout the Boston community culminating in a series of discussions and community outreach on April 15. In addition to the participants of “Dear Boston,” the participating partners of #BostonBetter include the Boston Children’s Museum, the Cambridge Public Library, Design Museum Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts, among others.
The “Dear Boston” exhibition and #BostonBetter have already seen a positive response within the community as viewers lined the library an hour before the display opened on Monday, which is hoped to continue throughout the remaining events scheduled up to and following the one-year anniversary.
After the May 11 ending date, all of the items displayed in “Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial” will be preserved by Iron Mountain, a storage and information management service, and will be available to the city at any time if needed. In addition to preserving the items that created the makeshift memorial in Copley Square, viewers of the display are encouraged to leave notes on a tree as they exit, designed to emphasize the sense of community that the exhibit is working to establish.
“Dear Boston represents our strength and solidarity not only as a city, but also as a community that supports one another through even the most difficult of times,” Walsh said in a March 31 press release. “I encourage people—residents and visitors alike—to visit the exhibition, experience the resilience of the people of Boston, and view the messages of hope and healing.”