Fruitful Resilience

Island End River, Plan of the Lands of the Winnisimmet Co. and Others in Chelsea & Malden, 1846.
Artist Ruth Henry leads an opening circle with the artist team

Land/waterway acknowledgement:

This project takes place in the City of Chelsea, which was originally known as Winnissimmet, and was the traditional and ancestral homeland of Pawtucket, Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) and Massachusett people, as well as countless species of plants, animals that have been displaced. The Mystic River is a modified form of the Algonquin name “MissiTuk,” meaning “great tidal river” in reference to the Mystic’s tidal waters. This acknowledgement offers recognition and respect to the original inhabitants of this land and their descendents today, especially since the Indigenous history of our region has been largely erased for the last 400 years.

The Island End River is a small tidal tributary off the Mystic River close to where it empties into the Boston Harbor. At its terminus sits the New England Produce Center, a sprawling wholesale regional food market that is an essential part of the entire surrounding region’s food distribution infrastructure. This low-lying area built atop a salt marsh and tidal floodplain remains extremely vulnerable to flooding, and was identified as a priority area in the City of Chelsea’s 2018 Municipal Vulnerability Plan.  As the City of Chelsea works to address coastal flooding through a redesign and improvement of the Island End River Park, the City is also focused on improving park accessibility and placemaking, enhancing the natural shoreline, and providing equitable waterfront access to its diverse communities, which have been among the hardest hit in the state by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fruitful Resilience is intended to lift up resilience efforts that have been spearheaded by the Cities of Chelsea and Everett, as well as nonprofit organizations Mystic River Watershed Association and GreenRoots. 

Slide from Island End Park Virtual Open House, hosted by Mystic River Watershed Association and Green Roots. Island End Park is the darker green area in this schematic. Visit Island End Park Resilient Design to learn more about the design process.

As part of this effort, the City has been working with Lead Artist Carolyn Lewenberg and with a team including artists Ruth Henry and Eileen Riestra and six youth from the La Colaborativa. The team recently completed a giant pineapple sculpture at Island End Park, using absurdity to get people’s attention and draw people into conversations about climate resilience, and stories of personal and community resilience. The pineapple form was chosen for its visual interest, and also for its association as a symbol of welcome.

Youth working on their stencils

A trail of stencil art designed by youth with support from the artist team leads people from the Mystic River at Mary O’Malley State Park along the Island End River to the site. Youth are exploring themes of personal and community resilience in their designs and there will be a self-guided walking tour that explains what the stencils represent about their experiences of resilience. The stencils begin behind the tennis courts at Mary O’Malley State Park and end at the giant pineapple at Island End Park, and the tour will launch in early May. 

The finished pineapple at Island End Park!

This project is meant to be in service of healing. In our process, we acknowledged the mistreatment of people and the land, and the need for more self-affirmations and self-love. We approached this work as the creation of physical evidence of our commitment to be resilient and keep moving forward, more in balance with ourselves, the Earth and each other. In the process of learning about pineapples, it came to our attention that the pineapple is a racial slur against Black People interested in Asian culture, and Filipinos. It is with a heavy heart that we now know that this symbol is associated with the degradation of some people. The pineapple teaches us that even the most well-intentioned and thought through projects can still cause harm for some people. We hope that the story of this pineapple will enter people into the conversation about resilience, and how we can reclaim symbols with negative messaging and associations. We imagine the pineapple is saying, “Now that I have your attention…” and different people might fill in the blanks in many different ways. What do you think the pineapple is saying?

This project is supported by the Chelsea Cultural Council – Chelsea Heritage Celebrations Grant Funding.

Mystic River Watershed Association is providing administrative support.

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