Call Proposal

Call for Art

The Town of Concord seeks a temporary art installation to creatively interpret the ways in which people have struggled for the fight for freedom through time in this community.  Taking inspiration from the 250th anniversary of the start of the American Revolution in 2025, the town seeks artists to consider the ways in which two 19th century Concord residents – Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) and Ellen Garrison (1823 – 1892) - continued this fight for independence through the abolitionist cause. Through a visually compelling artwork, we hope to more deeply investigate a pivotal time in Concord’s past to bring overlooked stories to the fore and to more actively grapple with our generation’s work to provide liberty and justice for all.[SA1] 

The site for this installation is one with historic significance.  In July 1846, author and abolitionist Henry David Thoreau spent a night in the county jail on the very spot that has been selected for this work of art.  Thoreau refused to pay his annual poll tax saying "I cannot for an instant recognize . . . as my government [that] which is the slave's government also."  By not paying this tax he thus spent one night in jail and this event inspired him to give an antislavery lecture, which was later published and known as “Civil Disobedience.”  Today, a small plaque makes note of the event at the old site of the jail.    

Thoreau’s abolitionist thinking was greatly influenced by the leadership of the women in town who were members of The Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society, including his two sisters and mother. These women determined to do their part to right the wrong of enslavement.  They raised money by hosting fundraising fairs. The money provided food, clothing, and train tickets for people fleeing enslavement and helped cover the fees for antislavery speakers to appear throughout the state.  Through their efforts, they brought a young Frederick Douglass to speak in Concord on three separate occasions. Among the 61 members was Black abolitionist Susan Garrison, the only member of color in the Concord society.    

Susan Garrison’s daughter, Ellen, grew up free in the town of Concord.  Her grandfather was Caesar Robbins, a formerly enslaved man who fought in the American Revolution as a Patriot of Color. Her father, Jack, was born into slavery in New Jersey.  Ellen and her siblings were able to attend the Concord Public Schools, but she was not a stranger to racial discrimination. She followed in her mother’s footsteps to become an antislavery activist. As an adult she moved to Boston and became engaged with influential Black abolitionists there.   Later, Ellen became a teacher to newly freed people in the South. In 1866 she tested the nation’s first Civil Rights Act in court after she sat in a segregated waiting room in a Baltimore train station and was “forcibly ejected.” She felt it was her duty to test the new law. “I feel as though I ought to strive to maintain my rights… it will be a stand for others….”  

This project strives to spark new conversations amongst residents and visitors to town about what freedom and independence mean as we head into the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.  After this installation, the town hopes to create a permanent memorial at this site with Ellen Garrison as its center.  The memorial will honor the legacies of those who have fought for the rights of all people and inspire current and future generations to continue to strive for freedom and justice, no matter the cost.  It is our hope that this initial temporary installation will start these conversations in Concord and help to inform the goals of the permanent installation.

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