Stephanie Benenson HARBOR VOICES light show #GloucesterMA | immigration, conversation & acts of generosity manifest as public art

Stephanie Benenson, artist studio, discussing 2017 Harbor Lights 20171122_091510

Stephanie Benenson, artist studio, discussing Harbor Lights, GIF 1122091429
from a studio visit with Stephanie Benenson Nov 2017

You can join in Stephanie Benenson’s fascinating big vision, Harbor Voices, a public art and cultural piece that’s made from light, sound and community participation. Part of the project is a  large-scale and temporary LIVE light & sound installation which will happen on ten minute loops from 4-8pm on Friday December 8th, and Saturday December 9th, one of many featured events for the 2017 Middle Street Walk. Harbor Voices will be held inside the Kyrouz Auditorium in City Hall , 9 Dale Avenue, Gloucester, MA.

Come experience a sweeping ocean of sound, stories and light, drawn by the voices and acts of generosity of neighbors and friends.

Benenson, a Rockport native and North Shore based fine artist, received a prestigious and competitive RISD grant to create Harbor Voices. Benenson collected over 100 stories in eight languages of recent and ancestral immigration to Cape Ann. For the past year she led (and continues to lead) practical and creative storytelling sessions and workshops at area schools like Veteran’s Memorial and Gloucester High School,  as well as community organizations and centers such as Sandy Bay Historical Society. Students talked with Benenson about “their ancestors* and families bringing cultural heritage to Cape Ann.” She said that kids mentioned “family members that started businesses here (like Jalapenos, Sclafanis, and other cultural destinations on Cape Ann)…and how meangingful that was to them…and people that they had deep respect and admiration for…” They discussed “family recipes, music, food and how immigration historically has made American art and culture come alive.”  Mayor Romeo Theken was the first story collected. Other Cape Ann storytellers outside of the schools and non profit partners include: Jean Testaverde (Portuguese fishing ancestry), Ingrid Swan (Swedith quarrying ancestry), Heather Lovett (descendent of Roger Babson), Sal Zerilli (Awesome Gloucester and Rockport), Jan Bell, Buddy Woods, Susannah Natti (Finnish and descendent of Folly Cove designer), Rich Francis (GHS teacher), and Celestino Basille (GHS teacher).

Depending upon age and preference, stories were written, recorded, or drawn. All were mixed into materials and audio that will choreograph connections directly into the light installation, and an enlarging community. At first, Benenson thought the light might guide any audio. Instead voices continue to guide the light.

Every story and act of generosity is linked to the installation and transformed into light.

Blurring the lines between public art and social sculpture, LIVE happening and virtual action, Harbor Voices emblematically presents stories, shared connections and actions. Participants of all ages are encouraged to interact with the project and its installation– to bathe so to speak in a community of vibrancy and waves of interconnectedness and support.  Benenson adds that from 4-6PM during the two days of this installation iteration, “children will be offered a small flashlight to engage with this artwork, allowing them a tangible moment to consider their part in this interconnected network of community and local history by creating their own beam of light.” Also, before the installation opens to the public, one hundred Gloucester High School students –including some who have already added into the piece– will come to City Hall to experience Harbor Voices.

Benenson’s promotion for Harbor Voices launched in September. Leveraging attention for this remarkably ambitious project is an essential component as more involvement means more impact. Straight away it fostered community and brought opportunities. For example, Benenson spoke about the project and shared audio of the stories with Rose Baker seniors, Gloucester Rotary and the Cape Ann Museum’s Red Cottage Society. Someone from Beverly has already underwrittten  support for a class at Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School. She spoke about the project with Joey as part of GMG podcast #253

As a third generation Cape Ann artist, Benenson is especially excited to “create art and conversations around our cultural heritage and our contributions to the vibrant mix of people that live on Cape Ann.”

See more pictures and read more about the artist

About the artist:

American artist, Stephanie Benenson (b. Rockport, MA), resides and works on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Her artistic practice is a cross disciplinary blend of social practice, drawing, painting, installation and sculpture. Benenson earned an MA from RISD in Teaching and Learning through Art and Design in 2017 and a BA from Tulane University. In addition to Harbor Voices, prior works include mixed media on Yupo drawings and an interactive project based on Dogtown.  Benenson’s own family history is a natural inspiration for Harbor Voices. She grew up in Rockport, part of an esteemed arts family going back generations. Both her father, John Terelak, and her maternal grandfather, Martin Ahearn, brought her often to Gloucester, part of their regular plein air excursions. Benenson’s aunt, Peggy Chick, owned An Artful Touch Gallery in Rockport. Her cousin was one of the original co-founders of Tree Top Yoga. Benenson even worked on Rocky Neck–five summers at Madfish Grille.
Instagram @harborvoices
Facebook @harborvoicescapeann

Stephanie Benenson- artist in her studio. On the wall examples of this project and other series. Tangible and intangible materials comprise Harbor Voices. The yarn crisscrossing the wall aids Benenson’s Map of Connections “visually revealing the interconnectedness between community members, past and present. The Map is then visualized into a temporary light and sound experience, and community action.”

Harbor Voices “materials” include community partners

non profits

From Benenson Harbor Voices website:

“From age 6 to 86, in eight languages from five continents, Harbor Voices has successfully reached our goal to collect over 100 stories of immigration to Cape Ann’s harbors. Now let’s celebrate!”

*and a sample storytelling prompt from Harbor Voices:


“So today, for example, you might think back on a story of your own personal history and feel a connection to a local non-profit that supports people the way your ancestors were once supported or involved. And if just thinking of YOUR story compels you to be a little more involved than you already are, the moment of support or activism could become a beam of light in our Harbor Voices installation. The installation will demonstrate, in mass, that every small act creates a brighter future.

Every donation for a local non-profit received through our website,, and every story collected becomes a beam of light in our exhibition at Gloucester City Hall auditorium on December 8th & 9th.  Stories can be written and submitted through the website or emailed to me personally.

The audio that we have collected in over eight languages will be blended and mixed to create an audio experience that accompanies the light installation and will live on as a separate art piece. We are encouraging participation from the ENTIRE community on Cape Ann. And we absolutely LOVE volunteers, particularly if you have fluency in a language other than English.

So, again, please join us on December 8th & 9th from 4PM-8PM and also follow us on Instagram to keep tabs on our public outreach and future exhibitions.” – Stephanie Benenson

3 thoughts on “Stephanie Benenson HARBOR VOICES light show #GloucesterMA | immigration, conversation & acts of generosity manifest as public art

  1. Very neat indeed gave it a look this morning. Maybe after the first of the years when more $$$ available to donate and tell a story! Right now my fun meter is pegged with helping tackle some other serious issues both locally and stateside. Great post and great job all the way around! 🙂 Dave Born in MA & Kim 🙂 From across the big pond!


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