Have You Seen This Van?

community art center

Meet “Vincent Van Go,” a multicolored, multipurpose machine bringing art, music and healing to the streets of Cambridge. 

Today, whether it’s cruising city streets or parked in Green Rose Heritage Park, the van is a swirl of psychedelic colors—greens, purples, blues, oranges. Pulsing pink hearts and geometric patterns dance along the side panels; splashy, graffiti-style letters, painted in reddish hues that recall a fiery sunset, read “Port Art” and “CAC.” In the rear window, there’s a decal: “Fresh art, delivered to your door!”

In its former life, Vincent Van Go was a humble food truck. Not the case after the Community Art Center of Cambridge got its hands on it.

“It’s been quite a process to get it to where it is now, looking so pretty,” laughs CAC community programs director Amanda McGarrity, who trekked to upstate New York earlier this summer to pick up the vehicle.

Why make a mobile masterpiece like this? Glad you asked.

Laura Chadwell, CAC’s events and marketing manager, says that the idea for the van was inspired by Boston-based artist Cedric Douglas’s Up Truck, a mobile “creative lab” named for Uphams Corner in Dorchester. Douglas’s project was meant to engage neighbors and collect community feedback, encouraging residents to engage in the arts while developing a permanent installation for the corner.

Chadwell explains that the CAC’s Home Port Public Art Project has many of those same goals. With popup events and public art, the organization is working to strengthen community ties and collect stories from the people who call Cambridgeport their home. (“That’s what we named it that,” she adds, “as a nod to the Port, but also acknowledging that this is a place where a lot of people live, a place that people come back to. It’s very residential.”)

When the multi-year initiative launched last year, it did so with three projects in mind: a fashion brand for the Port neighborhood, a community gateway kiosk with information about the area and an art trailer that could travel throughout the Port, promoting creativity. The former food truck, furnished with shelving units and adorned with a piece designed by local artist Liz LaManche and painted by graffiti artist Andrew Schill and CAC teens, was purchased with the help of funding from the city and local businesses and, recently, a National Endowment for the Arts grant.


CAC teens worked with community members to design a Port-specific fashion brand.

The clothing brand, complete with a Port-specific logo designed by CAC students and residents, is also off the ground. “They took their ideas and their design to different workshops in the community, different places, different events, to really get community input on the design itself, to make sure that whatever was chosen was going to really represent the community and the members of the neighborhood,” McGarrity says. It’s been printed on snapbacks and tees, and stickers and hoodies are in the works.

You can get the merch online in exchange for a donation, but the CAC is also selling it out of the truck, which you can often find parked at events throughout the Port and Kendall Square. And while you’re at it, teens will happily give you a tour—inside, it looks like an art studio, with a workspace, shelving for apparel, tons of art supplies and a lounge chair. “It’s really dope,” laughs McGarrity.

All of this is aligned with the philosophy of “radical healing” popularized by author and activist Shawn Ginwright. The idea is that with culture, activism, relationships, meaning and achievement (CARMA) social activists and youth workers can build equality and community integrity, and help heal a community from negative events.

“Obviously, this summer, we were really focused on … your vision of the world, and how we can talk about that in a local setting and in a global setting as well,” McGarrity explains. The truck, the clothing brand—it’s more than a set of wheels or a cotton tee, it’s a platform for kids to speak their mind and identify issues they want to change, and to give them the tools with which to do that.

“They really felt empowered,” McGarrity adds. “Not just by the project, but by the actual concept—that this is our truck. It’s all of their ideas.”

CAC’s summer programming wrapped up this week, but you can find the van at upcoming events including PARKing Day on September 15,  follow along with Vincent on Instagram at @vincentvangocac and learn more about the Home Port Public Art Project here.