Cruise through Boston and you’ll see an enormous, slightly mysterious billboard in Kendall and Copley squares. No, it’s not a Herb Chambers ad: The billboard showcases public declarations of trust pulled from the day’s headlines, whether it’s Mick Jagger promising to support his eighth child or a company pledging equal pay for equal work. The billboard will stay in each neighborhood for a week at a time, with a twist.

The billboard is Brooklyn artist Paul Ramirez Jonas‘ newest design, “Public Trust,” an interactive sculpture of changing promises. Public Trust showcases these public declarations and goes a step further: Visitors are asked to make a promise too, which also ends up on the billboard.

Jonas is half-Jewish, and many families have made a pilgrimage to the free exhibit to make a New Year’s promise in honor of Yom Kippur. Each visitor can sit down with Jonas himself or a local “artist ambassador” to confess a promise that each artist then typesets, rubs and gives away as a keepsake. A copy of the promise also goes up on the billboard—”I’ll be more present in the moment”; “I’ll do my homework each day”; “I’ll spend more time with my kids”—and a copy is memorialized for an eventual book.

“People love this moment of self-reflection,” says Kate Gilbert, executive director of Now + There, a new non-profit organization devoted to public art, which commissioned the work. “We also get a lot of lurkers or people who are afraid they won’t be able to keep their promises.” Think of it as a free therapy session. The art ambassadors are typically able to coax a vow out of each visitor, and people seem to find the experience liberating.

Jonas hopes people of all ages will pause to consider the nature of promises. An 11-year-old recently vowed, “I promise to have a good life.” Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz promised “to compromise when it does more public good than inaction.” As long as it’s personally meaningful, it’s fair game.
Check it out (and make your own promise!) from Sept. 3-10 at Kendall Center (315 Main St. in Cambridge) and from Sept. 11-17 at Copley Square. Visit Public Trust for hours.

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