Mount Auburn Cemetery (www.mountauburn.org), located in Cambridge and Watertown, Mass., was founded in 1831 as America’s first large-scale designed landscape open to the public. A National Historic Landmark, accredited Level III arboretum, and Massachusetts Audubon Society Important Bird Area; its acclaimed landscape inspired the creation of the nation’s public parks.
A private, non-profit corporation, Mount Auburn is an outdoor museum and a world-renowned ornamental horticultural landscape of great complexity and beauty. Mount Auburn offers a wide variety of high-quality educational programs to the community, welcomes 250,000 visitors from around the world annually, and is the highest-ranked tourism attraction in Cambridge on the popular website Trip Advisor. www.mountauburn.org
Ever since Mount Auburn’s early decades, its diverse collection of monuments and burial markers has formed a remarkable tapestry central to the Cemetery’s aesthetic richness, educational value, and historic significance. In the 19th century, the Cemetery commissioned a vast array of public artwork – monuments, structures, and buildings – and visitors experienced the site as an outdoor museum as well as a place of burial. Today, Mount Auburn continues its dual mission of active cemetery and cultural landscape by striving to inspire all who visit and commemorate the dead in a landscape of exceptional beauty. While we have long offered tours and programs to the public, in recent years we have further embraced our role as a cultural resource and begun working with contemporary artists and art organizations to create site-specific programming.
Mount Auburn originally engaged Roberto Mighty as its first artist-in-residence as part of a two-year grant to catalog, photograph, and assess the Cemetery’s Significant Monuments Collection from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-30-0533-13), adding an artistic and new media component to the project to tell the story of preservation at Mount Auburn in a dramatic and engaging way. As part of that project, Roberto filmed the conservation of one the Cemetery’s most significant monuments and created a series of short videos about the process. Roberto quickly became captivated by the stunning landscape and the stories of those buried here, and began creating short artistic films about Mount Auburn as well. He then proposed his site-specific multimedia project earth.sky, and Mount Auburn’s staff was so impressed with the artistic quality and appropriateness of his work that we supported the project and began to discuss formalizing a residency program. earth.sky premiered in May 2015 with a weekend-long exhibition in Story Chapel during Cambridge Open Studios, followed by a presentation with new content added in November 2016. Roberto also participated in additional outreach activities and content creation for our new mobile app with humanities scholar Victoria Cain from Northeastern University.
Roberto’s residency, the first ever at a historic cemetery, is a model for Mount Auburn and other historic sites to engage contemporary artists. The Cemetery’s commitment to ensuring its historic integrity keeps the use of interpretive signage in the landscape to a minimum, so providing alternative resources such as earth.sky, with its diversity of information and images, can deepen the public’s understanding of Mount Auburn as a historic and cultural site without impacting the landscape itself. Likewise, Mount Auburn is dedicated to continuing to broaden the scope of its educational value to the community, and earth.sky has provided us with a new way to engage audiences interested in the arts.
Countless beautiful photographs of Mount Auburn have been taken over the years by professional and amateur artists and visitors, as well as by our own staff and volunteers. However, Roberto is the first artist to capture Mount Auburn through new media, and his multimedia contribution to our historical collections is unique and invaluable. His residency, and the moving stories and images of earth.sky, have given a new interpretive lens to Mount Auburn and have helped to create a new model for engaging artists around our unique site.
- Jenny Gilbert, Director of Institutional Advancement, Mount Auburn Cemetery
Funding for this project
A. J. & M. D. Ruggiero Memorial Trust
Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery
Cambridge Arts Council
Preservation Fund for Eastern Massachusetts of
The National Trust for Historic Preservation
Watertown Cultural Council
Vice President of Cemetery & Visitor Services
Director of Institutional Advancement
Meg L. Winslow
Curator of Historical Collections
Vice President of Preservation and Facilities