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Arts Remembrance: Art and Technology Guru George Fifield – artsfuse.org

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November 13, 2022 16 Comments
By Mark Favermann
The new media advocate, curator, and artist mentor passed away at the age of 72.
George Fifield, founder of the Cyberarts Festival and Boston Cyberarts, curator, scholar, arts administrator, creative mentor, videographer, educator, and a major champion of fusing art with technology, passed away on November 11 at the age of 72 from complications that followed a devastating fall that occurred at his Martha’s Vineyard home early last summer. Fifield was a larger-than-life character, a gentle bear of a man who was kind and generous to all who encountered him. He was a Johnny Appleseed for the new millennium, sowing the seeds of the virtues, appeal, and potential of art and technology. He also was responsible for assisting hundreds of artists through his development of venues whose exhibits spotlit visually compelling and often technically provocative artwork. He was a major presence in Boston, New England, and the world’s cultural communities, and his presence and vision will be sorely missed.
Fifield was born in Wisconsin. His interest in cutting edge art was ignited by his father’s collection of Pre-Columbian art. Thus began Fifield’s lifelong fascination with history, anthropology, and popular culture. Progressively educated at an experimental college in Florida, he became fascinated with how the wonder and magic of the creative spirit could be expressed through visual beauty. His dedication to aesthetic serenity infused his personality: he was that rare individual who had no hard edges in his interactions with friends and strangers. There was a lyrical sweetness to his sensibility. To many artists, his full beard and baritone voice became signs of his artistic benevolence, his generous embrace of a vast array of creative expressions, including digital art, light art, lasers, pioneering analog technologies, video, animation, projections, virtual reality, augmented reality, sound art, biological art, and holograms. Highly knowledgeable about the intersection of art and technology, Fifield maintained a keen eye and ear for the next technical advance and its potential aesthetic application.
In a 2015 Arts Fuse interview, Fifield told Debra Cash that “animation, storytelling, dance, nature, every type of variety thrills me. The thrill is watching how artists will take the brand-new technology and make it their own, explore it, and sometimes even break it.”
For 18 years, he served as the curator of New Media (art and technology) at the de Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln. A prolific writer and international lecturer, he was an inspiration to emerging artists, curators, and arts administrators throughout the United States and the world. Fifield was a longtime adjunct professor at the graduate programs at Boston University and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
To introduce the explosion of art and technology to a wider audience, Fifield founded Boston Cyberarts. He launched the Boston Cyberarts Festival in 1999. This biennial gathering, which was hosted across a range of indoor and outdoor venues, proved to be a culturally beneficial but complicated effort to produce. The festival included numerous discussions and exhibitions: music, dance, and theatrical performances; film and video presentations; educational programs; and lectures, demonstrations, and symposia. The festival was produced seven times until 2011. “The purpose of the festival was to make art institutions and the art-going public comfortable with new media,” he told the Arts Fuse. “By 2011, we could declare victory and go home.” “Home” became Boston Cyberarts Gallery, located above the Green Street MBTA Station in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood: it is the only gallery in the US that is located at a subway station. The goal was to support and encourage experimentation in the arts by having a space for exhibitions, events, educational programs, and collaboration with like-minded groups. Fifield used this location to successfully promote a strong sense of creative media and digital literacy — locally, regionally, and internationally.
Because of Fifield’s leadership, Boston Cyberarts consistently brought together members of the new media artistic community while at the same time outreaching to the general public. Established as well as emerging artists could count on firm support.
Over the last decade, Boston Cyberarts’ public art projects inaugurated by Fifield included the Harbor Islands Pavilion Project (with the National Park Service) plus several other temporary and permanent programs. Boston Cyberarts and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority teamed up to create Art on The Marquee, an ongoing program that commissioned public media art for display on its 80-foot-tall multiscreen LED marquee in South Boston. Dozens of media artists participated.
Recipient of several awards, including recognition as a prestigious Commonwealth Award honoree from the Mass Cultural Council, Fifield also served on several local, national, and international visual arts boards and commissions. These included many years as a member of the Boston Art Commission and, most recently, participation in culture/Now, The Museum Without Walls.
On its website, Boston Cyberarts states that the organization is about “uniting the worlds of art and technology since the last millennia.” Fifield embodied this forward-looking, purposely open spirit. In 2015 he told the Arts Fuse, “My joy is picking a concept and actually using it to learn about something I never knew about before.” He infused this groundbreaking gusto into all who worked or collaborated with him. Fifield’s creative passions, his enthusiasm and curiosity, were contagious — a source of uplift and joy to the Boston arts community and beyond.
Plans for a memorial service celebrating George Fifield’s life will be announced.
Mark Favermann is an urban designer specializing in strategic placemaking, civic branding, streetscapes, and public art. An award-winning public artist, he creates functional public art as civic design. The designer of the renovated Coolidge Corner Theatre, he is design consultant to the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Program and, since 2002 has been a design consultant to the Boston Red Sox. Writing about urbanism, architecture, design and fine arts, Mark is contributing editor of the Arts Fuse.
Filed Under: Commentary, Featured, Visual Arts
Chris Fitch says
November 13, 2022 at 3:00 pm
What a sad day for the arts in Boston. George created a space that will be hard to replace. He will be sorely missed.
Charles Giuliano says
November 13, 2022 at 3:59 pm
A big man in every sense — George cast a broad shadow. His accomplishments were immense.
gene gort says
November 13, 2022 at 4:20 pm
We miss him already. What a terrific guy.
Alexandra Lee says
November 13, 2022 at 4:42 pm
Such a sad loss, an arts leader and kind man.
Luke Salisbury says
November 13, 2022 at 5:59 pm
Long time friend. One of the best people I’ve ever met.
Jon Goldman says
November 13, 2022 at 6:51 pm
I am crushed. George was a friend, a great sounding board, a supporter and in many ways a torch-carrier for the late Center for Advanced Visual Studies [ and of course, many others} and the artists there on the leading edge of the burgeoning new art and technology field. It was a mutual appreciation society that he created with artists and gallerists like Howard Yezerski, whom he considered a very close friend. I met him in the late eighties at a show of mine at the then Chapel Gallery in West Newton ( Now Boston Sculptors Gallery) and I would go on to be in the inaugural exhibit for the Boston CyberArts Festival, designing the large scale banner for the event. We would always have deep conversations sprinkled with deep laughs, inspiration and historical context. In role of curator/teacher/advocate/spokesman/program developer he was laser focused and a magnanimous visionary at a moment when Art and Technology was blossoming. From his wonderful art-filled victorian house in Jamaica Plain with his actress wife Lynn, he built audiences for new media in Boston, an East Coast tech cauldron rising as high technology became ubiquitous.
He deeply inspired a new audience as a new millennial Diaghilev leaving an accessible legacy with CyberArts in all of its incarnations. His efforts on behalf of the late Aldo Tambellini, one of the earliest practioners of of video art, were remarkable. But he was equally supportive of young artists who worked in new ways and new media to blaze new paths into the zeitgeist.
His work was truly the real meaning of the Hindu notion of avatar: “an incarnate divine teacher,”
I was deeply honored to have known him and his work and will profoundly miss him.
Trish Seeney says
November 13, 2022 at 7:08 pm
I’m so sorry to learn this very sad news. George was a kind and brilliant man. Truly a gentle giant. Sending love to Lynne and family.
Rose OConnor Myer says
November 13, 2022 at 7:21 pm
So sad to learn this. I loved his dedication to the “new” arts.. Coming from a very traditional art dealing & appraising background, I learned so much about video & cyber tech break-throughs in the arts from the 1980s-on from this very knowledgeable and visionary scholar and friend. RIP
Karl Baden says
November 13, 2022 at 9:22 pm
What a loss. Although I hadn’t seen him since Covid began, George was a friend and a resource since the early 1980s, when he was involved with Pull Here Press, and went through the first decade of the millenium as a curator at the Decordova. My heart goes out to Lynne and his siblings/family. He will be sorely missed.
Tamiko Thiel says
November 13, 2022 at 9:41 pm
I’m heartbroken. He was a sole shining light in the dark night of the before times when no one was interested in media art. He supported my early VR work and his Boston Cyberarts Festival awarded me the IBM Innovation Award in 2009 for my Berlin Wall VR “Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall”. He gave our AR artists group Manifest.AR our first invitational show, at the ICA Boston in April 2011, and many more after that. I stayed with him and Lynne for a week in May, and he generously offered his backyard for a garden party and said invite anyone you want. Little did we know … Goodbye George, we will not forget you! Love, Tamiko Thiel
Ginny Zanger says
November 13, 2022 at 10:12 pm
My friend and neighbor of 45 years, George was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and his contributions to the Massachusetts art scene over so many years have been appreciated by thousands.
Will Pappenheimer says
November 13, 2022 at 10:20 pm
As is everyone here, I am shocked and saddened to hear this news! George was a forward-looking curator, a friend and a supporter of many artists work and artistic avenues. It was his support and the opportunities he created that helped move my work forward in the medium of AR which was not easy to exhibit. When he heard about the manifest.AR collective in 2011 he immediately created an extraordinary opportunity at the Boston ICA to exhibit our work. He had unhesitating eye for innovation and interesting artwork and I always was fascinated by any exhibition he put together. He will be greatly missed! I hope there will be a memorial service that we might all attend and share our memories of the gift that he was!
Madeleine Altmann says
November 14, 2022 at 6:04 am
Thank you George for all you did for us artists !!
Heather Kapplow says
November 14, 2022 at 6:14 am
I am so, so saddened to hear this…. George enthusiastically championed kinds of art and artists that others found too far out or not established enough to risk their funding or professional reputations on, and was always ahead of the curve when he did: many of those practices and those people are firmly established now. He encouraged and helped me personally to realize two of the most ambitious projects I’ve done in Boston–one many, many years ago and one just a few years back–and the last time I saw him (maybe 4 or 5 months ago?) he was trying to convince me that I should pick up the thread of one of those projects and go do some curatorial research for him in Finland. His gallery gave so many artists a day job that boosted them to the next level of their creative careers either within or outside of Boston, and he regularly found spaces where there wasn’t art and claimed them for artists (like the marquee in front of the Convention Center, where I hope Boston will celebrate his contributions to the city as a way of honoring him.) Most of all, he was a true character–one of those people who push a whole city’s culture forward by sheer force of will, and by just being themselves unabashedly. We have less and less of these kinds of characters in our city, so I treasure this–his singularity–even more than everything else he did. My heart goes out to his partner Lynne and to his most frequented corners of Jamaica Plain which will surely not be the same without his daily presence.
pattie maes says
November 14, 2022 at 7:57 am
Thank you for writing this piece. A great loss for the arts community in Boston. We will all miss gentle, generous George…
Fred Hapgood says
November 14, 2022 at 10:29 am
What a great obituary. I knew George well and it captures him perfectly.
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