Cecily Miller: Bio

 

 

Cecily Miller served as a leader in the field of community arts for more than 25 years, first as Executive Director of the Somerville Arts Council, where she worked to establish that city’s identity as a vibrant and inclusive arts community, and then as Executive Director of the Forest Hills Educational Trust, where she brought an array of innovative cultural programs to historic Forest Hills Cemetery. These included large-scale exhibitions of site-specific installation art in the Cemetery’s spiritual landscape; artists were invited to explore themes of nature, history, memory and time, family and identity, mortality and the question of life after death in this powerful environment.

 

At the Arts Council, Cecily developed an artist fellowship grant program open to all media and established showcases for the work of professional artists living in the city such as the ArtBeat Festival and annual exhibitions of grant winners. Major projects such as the Somerville Garden Awards (combining photography and oral history) and the Illuminations Tour recognized the creative work of diverse residents; by celebrating the compact gardens preserving original traditions of immigrants and the exuberant folk art displays of holiday lights, Cecily worked to reduce the divide between the city's professional artists and working class residents. She funded and helped establish Books of Hope, writer Anika Nailah's teen literacy program, and started the award-winning Mystic River Mural Project, both based at the Mystic Public Housing Development.  The Mural Project, a public art and teen employment/empowerment project led by artist David Fichter, continues to grow annually, as new panels are added. The mural landmark access to the Mystic River – cut off from the city and hidden from view behind the concrete walls supporting I93 – with over a thousand feet of colorful painted images of the watershed ecosystem.  

 

At Forest Hills, Cecily invited artists to invent rituals and present art – music, poetry, performance, and visual installations – that could help people process grief, heal from loss, contemplate mortality, and take pleasure in life. This represented a return to the original vision of the founders of this 19th century institution, as well as a way to overcome contemporary culture’s reactions of discomfort and denial around the issues of aging and death.  Some of the Trust’s largest events took inspiration from other cultures, such as a Lantern Festival modeled on the Japanese Bon traditions, or an authentic Day of the Dead organized by artists of indigenous Mexican and South American heritage hosted by the Trust.  Other programs welcomed kids in urban summer camps and local schools for fieldtrips that included artmaking and birdwatching; tours and performances for adults told the stories of people buried in the cemetery ranging from 19th century pioneers to poets ee Cummings and Anne Sexton. 

 

The development of tours, interpretive materials, historic preservation projects, and a successful nomination to the National Registry of Historic Places were also accomplished with Cecily's leadership.  Research into African American history at Forest Hills began with scholar-in-residence Sylvia McDowell.  McDowell uncovered many little known stories of Black people buried at Forest Hills since its founding in 1848.  Cecily raised funds to commission The Sentinel by artist Fern Cunningham in bronze as a permanent installation; this powerful work depicted Cunningham’s imagined West African ancestor. The Sentinel was prominently sited at a crossroads in the Cemetery’s grounds on natural Roxbury Puddingstone by curator Rebecca Reynolds, honored as the first representation of Black people in a landscape filled with portraits of Boston’s prominent White residents.

 

In 2012, Cecily founded Spark Art to work independently and focus on curating temporary projects for public spaces. Her vision was to partner with artists, organizations, and community groups to create work drawing inspiration from the distinctive qualities of places and exploring the concerns of the people who inhabit them.  Miller’s mission is to develop authentic contemporary art that celebrates what is positive while building the resiliency we need to face important challenges -- by strengthening community, providing new insight or understanding of issues, and creating experiences of hope and joy. 

 

In 2015, Cecily began working for the Town of Arlington to expand its grass roots public art programs.  Serving as the town’s Curator of Public Art and Community Engagement has become the focus of her consulting work, and many of her recent projects are documented on this site.  Building on Arlington’s character, she has developed projects that celebrate values of volunteerism and civic engagement, environmental stewardship, social justice, and cultural diversity. Highlights include two public artworks created in collaboration with the community: Ripple, a series of trees wrapped in colorful knitted panels created by Adria Arch and the Arlington Knitting Brigade and Persistence, sculpture crocheted from thousands of single use plastic bags by Michelle Lougee and hundreds of community volunteers and hanging in trees along the Minute Man Bikeway through October, 2021.

 

Cecily is a member of the Public Art Commission for the City of Cambridge, where she resides, and a member of the volunteer organizing committee for the annual HONK! Festival of activist street bands in Somerville, MA.  For HONK! she has focused on developing a participatory artmaking area that has provided a platform for artists concerned with issues of racism, treatment of immigrants, the climate crisis, and grassroots resistance to the right wing policies of former President Trump.

Watch a 20 minute video about the Elm Street Art Area at the HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands.