Private Reception and Artist Talk

21 March 2010, 6pm, Cambridge Public Library

Opening Remarks by Kimberly Sansoucy

Director, Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women

Good Evening, Everyone. Thank you for being here and welcome to Cambridge’s newly renovated library.

While the entire library is cause for celebration, tonight the Women’s Commission is pleased to have all of you here to celebrate a particular part of the library that’s very significant and very special to us, to the City, and to the women it honors. Filament/Firmament is the result of the first collaborative effort to create a piece of public art commemorating the impact women have made on city life in Cambridge—and we’re excited about it.

Before I walk you through the beginnings, the why, of Filament/Firmament, I would like to extend the Commission’s thanks to the City Manager, Bob Healy, and the Deputy City Manager, Rich Rossi, for their support of this project. As well, I’d like to thank our partners who logged long hours to help us to bring this piece of art to you. Jason Weeks, Director of the Arts Council, for his enthusiasm and commitment, and to Susan Flannery, Director of the Cambridge Public Library, for her willingness to welcome and incorporate this project into the new and long-awaited building. We also extend our gratitude to Ellen Driscoll for working in such close collaboration with so many varied city departments, as well as the public; Ellen gathered the wishes of many, translated it all, and then, ultimately, created an installation full of meaning and beauty.

I’d also like to specifically acknowledge the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project, a collaboration between the Women’s Commission and the Historical Commission, but whose dedicated members are mainly volunteer. Directly related to Filament/Firmament, and the result of the early stages of research and discussion, the Women’s Heritage Project is an archive of women’s history that identifies individual women and institutions for women and captures the way these women have shaped the life of the city for close to 380 years. And you can search that web-based archive later tonight, upstairs, as there is a permanent computer station set up in the corridor next to Filament/Firmament.

My Commission is here tonight and I want to thank and acknowledge them for their dedication and service, not only to this project but to the many that the Commission oversees. My thanks also to Emily Shield, our project coordinator; she took on the bulk of the preparations for this evening’s event.

Finally, there’s someone else that I want to acknowledge tonight and that’s Nancy Ryan, former director of the Women’s Commission. Nancy retired in 2006 but not before for her vision for a public art piece honoring women had taken hold. We would not be here tonight celebrating the first site-specific, permanent, commemoration of the contributions of women to the City of Cambridge without her efforts.

We are here to celebrate the completion of Filament/Firmament. But we only arrived at its completion after a long, engaged, open, researched, and sometimes challenging process. And here in Cambridge, as many of you know, we tend to love our process. But in public art, it has been said that process actually makes perfect possible. Well, we had a lot of process and we’re fortunate to have the result be pretty close to perfection.

Given that a public art piece of this kind had not been done before in Cambridge, process was actually essential. Inspired by the wish for a public art piece to commemorate women, the Commission envisioned an interactive, city-wide process to develop the theme, the content, if you will, of the piece so that it reflected the lives and visions of the diversity of girls and women in Cambridge—past and present. What emerged almost immediately was a sense that the stories of women’s lives and accomplishments from the past should be interwoven with the contemporary.


The multi-year effort began in 1998, when the Women’s Commission and the Arts Council first began to ask the questions; questions that would lead us to the creation of the artwork we’re here to celebrate tonight. Some of the first questions we asked were:

And from the early research and discussions, themes and images emerged, too. Such as:

Then, beginning in 1999, the collaboration between the Women’s Commission and the Arts Council expanded to include the Historical Commission and the Public Library. By 2001, the Arts Council’s Public Art Commission convened a jury of art professionals to select an artist for this project. Literally hundreds of artists around the country were surveyed. As we all know, Ellen Driscoll was selected and Jason Weeks will speak more about Ellen directly in a moment but clearly we know that the jury’s choice was a wonderful one.

With Ellen participating and a site for the project identified, the process moved forward. The collaboration between the Women’s Commission, Arts Council, Historical Commission, and Ellen, now worked to put the lives, images, creations, events, works, and institutions of Cambridge women in the new library.

Women from all over Cambridge were invited to public meetings to gather and record the stories and accomplishments of women throughout the history of Cambridge. Imagine it: women gathering stories about other women in Cambridge—who we are, what we’ve loved, what we’ve fought for, what we’ve built. These meetings were held for Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, and Haitian Kreyol-speaking women. They shared and explored the historical events, individuals, and groups of women from every age and culture that created and changed Cambridge.

From the start of this project, we were interested in more than those women famous enough to have their lives cataloged in the Schlesinger Library or the Women’s Center archives. We were interested in the stories of slave women, of immigrant women, of women who worked two jobs to get a degree in the 1920s only to find their access to professional fields limited, of women who organized childcare co-ops, of women who showed up on the back porch steps—casserole in hand—when hard times came to a neighbor. We were interested in those women. We all know them.

These meetings mined the memories and experiences of women and served as a background, as a vehicle, for themes of women’s experiences that would eventually lead Ellen to create—remarkably and beautifully—the form of Filament/Firmament.


It’s important to recognize that during the twentieth century, Cambridge has been shaped by continuous immigrant settlement, the coming and going of blue collar industry, feminist organizing, intellectual ferment, cutting edge technological development, student rebellion, and more. In each aspect of civic growth and change, women have played major roles. Women of all race, class, and ethnic backgrounds have made great contributions to Cambridge life. Filament/Firmament honors them; it commemorates women like:

At the heart of Filament/Firmament is a story: a story of women’s lives, of our contributions—the visible and the invisible—and of our connections to one another. Weaving, the cables, naming the roles of women, the textile designs etched onto the glass circles; those designs come from all over the world—the same way the women who settled and are continuing to settle in Cambridge come from all over the world. It is the weaving together, the connecting, and the making visible of women that Filament/Firmament ultimately achieves.

I am thrilled to be here tonight with you as we celebrate the completion of Filament/Firmament and its tribute to the impact women have made on the City of Cambridge and to the world beyond.

And now I’d like to introduce Jason Weeks, Director of the Arts Council, and turn it over to him.