When The World's On Fire
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15 May 2018
By Lee Walton
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When the World’s on Fire, Collaboration with Jon Rubin, 2017

We Are The Common, Public Art Work, Cambridge Commons, Cambridge, MA


I was invited by curator Dina Deitch to create When the World’s on Fire for Common Exchange, a series of art installations, performances, and exhibitions in and around the Cambridge Common. Adjacent to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge Common was the site where George Washington first assumed command over the Continental Army in 1775. The public park has hosted musical protests and political gatherings in the 200 years since then.


Motivated by the city’s redesign and rebuilding of the park, and subsequent celebratory reopening, Common Exchange highlighted the historic green as a place where people come together as a community.


Inspired by the history of the area and the increasingly intense and unjust political climate of the moment, Jon Rubin and I created When the World’s on Fire. The title is an homage to the folk song of the same name popularized by the Carter Family in 1930.


When the Worlds on Fire was an anachronistic public performance in which 2 musicians clad in American Revolutionary War attire wandered Boston’s historic Cambridge Common playing contemporary protest songs on drum and fife. The performance lasted 2 hours and repeated consistently every day for 30 days from noon-2pm.


Professional musicians were hired to march and perform. Historically accurate American Revolutionary War costumes were rented from Salisbury, NC with guidance from a Civil War historian. The anachronistic songs were intentionally selected for their lyrical meaning, popular recognition, cultural representation, adaptability to drum and fife, and potential to have an immediate impact on an unsuspecting public audience.


Documentation for this performance was helped reach audiences beyond Cambridge, MA. We documented the project through printed announcements posing as “classic rock” posters, photographs, and a commissioned short film by a professional production agency.


Songs List

What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye

I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor

War - Edwin Starr `

Get Up, Stand Up - Bob Marley and the Wailers  

They Don't Care About Us - Michael Jackson

Fight the Power - Public Enemy

American Idiot - Green Day

Killing in the Name - Rage Against the Machine




Learn more about the public art series here: Common Exchange

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