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Flipping the World Upside Down

Cicely Carew ‘05 BFA Painting
  • Alumni
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Cicely Carew on transforming one’s creative passion into a fulfilling career — and maybe sparking a bit of wonder along the way.

Prolific multimedia artist Cicely Carew has shown her work across Massachusetts and around the world. She was awarded the prestigious James and Audrey Foster Prize by Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 2023, in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the city’s art scene. Many of Carew’s larger installations are multimedia “flying paintings” constructed from layers of painted mesh and other found materials. She says that through her work — which is characterized by seemingly spontaneous abstract forms and vibrant colors — she aims to evoke a sense of “radical joy and liberation” in all who experience it.

Your art’s been displayed in many public settings — from Boston’s Prudential Center to Peloton storefronts in New York City. Why is it important for art to be shown in public places?

Art needs to be everywhere because art is for everybody. Institutions can be cold and intimidating. And some people are kept out and they’re told they don’t belong. When we take art that’s been shown in museums and share it in more public settings, it helps create a sense of belonging. It allows wonder to exist in very ordinary moments, which then seeps out into the world. And why not make the world more beautiful?

What advice would you give to a MassArt grad hoping to pursue a creative career?

I’d tell them the path isn’t straight or narrow. You’ll need to be self-directed and committed to your practice. But if you’re leading with your heart and if you’re willing to ask for help, doors will open. Community is everything and your people are out there.

You’re going to pay your dues first. You’ll have a lot to learn when you leave MassArt, and that’s okay. Life is learning, so stay curious. Learning how you fit and how you can flip the world upside down is what prepares us to challenge the status quo — it’s what makes us important as artists.

When you think about the future of MassArt, what makes you most excited?

I remember seeing some MassArt students on Project Runway shortly after graduation and thinking about how MassArt turns out some big names in the art world. So I can’t wait to see what future generations of MassArt grads can do and how their work intersects with new art forms and technology.

And I’m excited to see the College embracing a more interdisciplinary curriculum and helping students develop a broader practice. Students are learning about the business side of things and how to support themselves. They’re learning how to create the professional experience that they want while contributing to our ever-changing world. When I visited recently, I noticed a lot of consciousness and connection happening on campus and a very active student body. I’m really hopeful and excited for them.

Any final thoughts?

Art is a lifelong practice, and MassArt instills that in you. MassArt helps you understand your value, know your worthiness to practice what you love, and see yourself as a necessary component of society. MassArt reminds you that creative minds are needed everywhere. You matter.

Learning how you fit and how you can flip the world upside down is what prepares us to challenge the status quo — it’s what makes us important as artists. Cicely Carew ‘05 BFA Painting
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