Liz Vizza was promoted to president of the Friends of the Public Garden during the nonprofit’s 50th annual meeting, which took place virtually on Thursday, Aug. 6.
“Liz has been such a driving force for not only our parks, but for all park in the city,” said Leslie Singleton Adam, chair of the Friends board, of Vizza, who has served as the group’s executive director for the past 11 years.
The annual meeting had originally been scheduled as a traditional in-person event for April, Adam said, but it was postponed and took place virtually last week instead due to the pandemic. “When we started talking about it as the 50th anniversary, we never anticipated having a virtual Zoom meeting in August,” she added.
In commemoration of its milestone, the Friends has launched a $4.6 million capital campaign to fund three major projects, one of which Vizza said would “rejuvenate” the Arlington Street entrance to the Public Garden by making the fountains depicting children on either side of the entry operational for the first time in decades, as well as adding new benches and plantings to the site.
For the second project, all the statues on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall will be illuminated, Vizza said, finally making a dream of longtime Friends board member Margaret Pokorny that dates back 30 years a reality.
The third project would bring a temporary, interactive art exhibit called “What Do We Have in Common?” to the Boston Common next fall, Vizza added.
The Friends group, meanwhile, has also partnered with the City of Boston, the Museum of African American History and the National Park Service on an approximately $3 million renovation of the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial on the Boston Common, which is now underway and should be completed by the year’s end.
Upcoming programming planned in conjunction with this project includes “Reprise of the Monument” on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m., which Vizza said would feature Renée Ater, a public art historian, and David Blight, a Sterling Professor of American History at Yale University.
Besides its work on the Shaw 54th Memorial, the Friends will take a “year off cyclical care” of the other statues on the Common, as well as in the Public Garden and on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, because they received sufficient maintenance last year, Vizza said.
In anticipation of future development, the Friends has commissioned a sunshine topography study that shows how tall each building can be downtown, block by block, without casting any new shadow on the Common or the Public Garden.
“A lot of development can still take place downtown,” Vizza said, adding that the Friends has shared the study with the Boston Planning and Development Agency and the city is now considering adopting it.
The Friends is also now among the stakeholders working with the city and the Reading-based environmental firm Weston & Sampson to draft the new Boston Common Master Plan, details of which will be shared during a Sept. 16 virtual meeting, Vizza said.
In addition, the Friends is providing input on the Kenmore Mall Master Plan – a plan to revitalize the last block of the Commonwealth Mall near the Bowker Overpass. “The Parks Department has money in its budget for construction documents,” Vizza said.
Kate Enroth, chair of the Governance Committee, welcomed six new members to the Friends board of directors for three-year terms – James Bordewick, Claire Corcoran, Anne Mostue, Jeffrey Mullan, Brent Shay and Eugenie Walsh.
Departing board members include Allison Achtmeyer, Katherine O’Keeffe and Allan Taylor, Adam added.
The Friends also released a “Statement of Solidarity” in early June to oppose racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, Vizza said, and the group is now in the process of creating a “strategic plan” to ensure diversity within its board and staff, as well as among its partners.
Bill Clendaniel, who is stepping down after eight years as treasurer of the Friends, said the organization was in a fortunate position, thanks its nearly $23 million endowment, which meant that not only did it not have to start a new campaign in response to COVID-19, but it was also able to keep all its employees on the books during this time.
The Friends group has reduced its budget by about one-third due to the pandemic, Clendaniel said, and it also received some much-needed revenue when some chose to donate the cost of their tickets to the annual Green and White Ball to the organization after the event was cancelled this year.
Meanwhile, Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods recalled how well the year began with a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Friends and the city in January that finally formalized their partnership after 50 years of working together caring for the common, the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
“It took many, many years, but Liz and Leslie drove the project and got it through,” Woods said, calling the Friends of the Public Garden “by far the leader” of 160 similar nonprofits now operating throughout the city.