SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 24, 2013

Artist plans to bring 'Oracle' to Beverly

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — You walk into a single-room structure on Beverly Common. As you sit in the chair surrounded by painted frescoes, a voice greets you.

“Welcome to the Beverly Oracle.”

That’s the vision that an artist from Brooklyn hopes to bring to Beverly as part of a National Endowment for the Arts public arts competition.

Anna Schuleit Haber, whose projects have included placing 28,000 blooming flowers in a closed psychiatric hospital and erecting 10-foot-high mirrors off an island in Boston Harbor, has been selected as the winner of the design competition.

The next step is to make the project become a reality. The estimated budget for the project is $250,000, which Montserrat College of Art President Steve Immerman said the college hopes to raise through grants and donations.

“There’s work to be done to figure out where it’s going to come from,” Immerman said. “To attract internationally recognized artists, you have to be ambitious. I’m hopeful. I’m excited, and I’m hopeful.”

The public arts competition was hosted by the city of Beverly, Montserrat College of Art and Beverly Main Streets after the group received a $75,000 “Our Town” grant last year from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Most of the grant money is being used to create a plan for an arts and cultural district in downtown Beverly, but a portion was used to pay for the public art competition’s selection process.

Schuleit Haber's “The Beverly Oracle” design was selected from a field of 75 applicants. According to her preliminary proposal, this is how it works:

A visitor enters a free-standing, ground-level, single-room structure with a roof and tall glass windows located on Beverly Common, in front of Montserrat College.

The person sits in a chair and is welcomed by a voice from speakers. The voice then asks, “What brings you here? What is your question?”

At that point, the windows, made of electrochromic smart glass, automatically change from transparent to opaque, providing privacy for the visitor. The visitor asks a question. The Oracle responds with sounds and language, and a printer prints out the answer, in the form of lines of poetry, for the visitor to take.

The windows change back to transparent, and the visitor leaves. At the same time, at four other locations in the downtown, the same answer is transmitted and displayed for the public to see.

“These oracle answers, lines of poetry, fill the urban spaces of Beverly, the other four locations, becoming part of the shared public realm,” Schuleit Haber wrote in her proposal. “Everybody watches, wonders, participates.”

The proposal does not say how those answers will be displayed. The locations are at the train station and at three corners of Cabot Street, at Central, Dane and Winter streets.

As part of the project, Schuleit Haber said she would spend three months traveling around the country speaking to poets and writers to develop the Oracle’s answers. She said in her proposal that the project would knit together the city’s cultural district and attract visitors.

“They come to Beverly to visit the Oracle they have read about, seen pictures of, heard rumors about from others, who have gone before them,” she wrote.

Immerman said Schuleit Haber has been asked to refine her idea, and the proposal is not yet finalized. He said there will be a “long process” of public input and discussions about the feasibility of the project.

“Conceptually, I think it’s fascinating,” he said. “The devil’s in the details, and it’s going to be a lot to work through.”

A timeline in the proposal says the building, testing and opening of the project would take place between August 2014 and August 2015.

Schuleit Haber, 38, is a MacArthur Fellow who studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and creative writing at Dartmouth College. She has been a visiting artist or guest lecturer at several colleges, including Harvard, MIT and Boston University, and has done several installation projects in Massachusetts.

Schuleit Haber visited Beverly in the spring to explore the city. She would be a visiting artist at Montserrat during the comprehensive design phase.

“I can’t wait for people to meet her,” Immerman said. “She is incredibly delightful and smart.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.