State official steps in to stop T's attack on young artists
Running the MBTA is not an easy job. Officials must keep aging equipment in service, juggle complicated schedules, placate surly passengers — and, most important, make sure they are not sponsoring any art that might offend someone's delicate sensibilities.
This last skill came into play in August, when young people working on a mural on T property in Dudley Square were told their depiction of city life was too negative, and that they would have to make changes if they didn't want funding for their summer-jobs program to be cut off. Among other things, the mural depicted fires and the words DISINVESTMENT and ARSON — harsh realities in neglected urban neighborhoods, but not the sort of realities that the MBTA wanted to acknowledge.
"I don't get this," project coordinator Suely Neves said of the T's objections. "The beauty of it all is that we went from something so heartbreaking, so devastating."
The story did, however, have a happy ending. The state transportation secretary, Jim Aloisi, was properly appalled, and overruled his underlings at the MBTA. "I see it as honest," he said, "and I said you can't sugarcoat history and keep yourself blind to things that weren't so great, so I don't see it as negativity."
Aloisi himself was a controversial official, and he left state government before the end of the year. But he certainly rose to the occasion in speaking out against censorship. As the Boston Globe, which had broken the story, editorialized, Aloisi "appears to have a better appreciation for art than do T officials."
The T's Muzzle is its third, and thus the agency enters our hallowed Hall of Shame. In 2006, the agency was singled out for banning photographers from taking pictures of its facilities — a misguided anti-terrorism measure that it eventually abandoned. In 2009, the T won again for suing two MIT students who had discovered a security flaw with CharlieCards that could let people ride for free. Again, the T backed down and ended up working with the students, instead.
To understand that there's something deeply wrong with the culture of the T, all you have to do is ride it. Perhaps an agency that was more open and less controlling would also do a better job of transporting people from Point A to Point B.