Artist Steve Locke joined GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen recently to discuss his career, the role that art plays in our every day lives, which includes his his recent installation for Massachusetts College of Art and Design's 150th anniversary.

In Locke’s latest work, bright pink neon lights up part of the MassArt building’s facade, emphasizing the word “NORMAL” emblazoned on the wall. Locke’s goal, as he says, was to highlight the school’s history as a place of furthering public education: “I wanted to highlight the fact that MassArt is a teacher’s school. It’s a school that trains teachers, and it’s a public school, and I wanted to affirm the value of public education.”

Having grown up going to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, Locke understands the importance of accessibility in the arts. “Every year we went to the museum and someone, a museum educator, actually met with the kids and talked to them about what art was and what it could do,” he said. This inspired Locke to become an artist himself. However, in recent years, as Locke claims, the arts have lost their esteem in the public eye, with wider audiences seeing artists “not as public intellectuals, thinkers, people who shape the culture,” but as “just people running around splashing paint.”

In his work as an artist, Locke has explored America’s troubled history with anti-Blackness and the lasting impacts of slavery. It was public opposition to his proposal for an installation outside Faneuil Hall recognizing the role of the building’s namesake, Peter Faneuil, in the slave trade that eventually led Locke to leave Boston in 2019. While he doesn’t like to focus on that moment, he says that “I never claimed to make public art. That’s never been my thing. I’m much more interested in memorialization, and that’s a little bit different than public art. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not trying to activate space, that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to do something that says ‘a big thing in history happened here, and let’s mark this spot.’”

With “Normal,” the installation at MassArt, Locke said that the piece “is about identifying the thing that we see on Huntington Avenue every day. [...] It’s to really bring everyone’s attention back to the history of the school.” Commemorating the history of the institution is a means of showing that the value of an arts education goes well beyond those who become artists themselves: “everything in your life was designed by a creative person—an artist or a designer. The coffee cup you drink out of, the shirt you wear, all the apps on your phone [...] all that stuff comes through the arts.”