Dog-guided walk considers place, man's best friend

Feb 24, 2018

When University of Massachusetts Dartmouth artist Roz Crews thought of "place," two things came to mind: downtown New Bedford, and dogs.

The university’s first artist-in-residence invited close to a dozen dog owners to a “dog dérive” in downtown New Bedford on February 24. The walk was unique in that it wasn’t humans guiding the group, but rather the dogs themselves.

It was all for one of Crews’ many artistic endeavors, an examination of “placemaking” and its effect on people’s emotions and behavior through performance and participatory art.

“It means a lot of different things, but to me it’s sort of about how people in a place engage with that place,” Crews said.

Crews soon came up with the idea of hosting a dérive - an unplanned journey through an urban landscape intended to draw people into the terrain they find themselves surrounded by. To draw the public in, she decided to incorporate man’s best friend into the artistic journey.

“Well, I love dogs, and a lot of other people love dogs, so we thought we could have a dog-led journey through downtown New Bedford.”

Joining the walk was two “dog professionals,” Brooke Goldstein and Dan Everton. Goldstein runs a walking and sitting business in Rhode Island, and was on hand to teach owners how to encourage exploration with tips like keeping pets on a looser leash to encourage movement, how their pets’ sense of smell works.

“It’s a different way to connect with your dog and allow your dog to explore the world,” Goldstein said.

Among those who brought their pooch to the stroll was Ashley Occhino, the New Bedford Art Museum executive director, which was where the walk began.

“I look forward to any event I where I can bring my dog,” Occhino said. “This is a great opportunity for people to come have a mix of different pleasures - art, the beautiful weather we have today, and our companions.”

Using smell and curiosity, pooches guided the walk south on Pleasant Street from the museum, along the outskirts of downtown New Bedford and into historic downtown. Walkers passed by landmarks like the UMass Dartmouth Star Store campus before entering Custom House Square, where the walk ended.

The final destination was decided by Aaron and Alicia Souza’s dog Ollie.

“He just followed his nose,” Aaron Souza said. “He’s pretty well socialized too.”

The project was one of several Crews is working on in her position as UMass Dartmouth’s first artist-in-residence. The program was created as a collaboration between the Center for Visual and Performing Arts and Housing and Residential Education departments after Crews initially applied to a teaching position at the university.

She was previously an artist-in-residence at Portland State University in Oregon. She lives on campus with first-year students, and works with both art students and the wider community through outreach with area artists and organizations.

“My position is to create socially engaged art with the students and the communities of New Bedford and Dartmouth,” Crews said.

Through her position, she heads the Center for Undisciplined Research, a temporary decentralized center that forms a collaborative and multidisciplinary artistic research collective and learning community.