Medicine Wheel Productions is now SPOKE. We’re still the same arts non-profit organization focused on activating the healing power of art in Greater Boston, just with a new look and name.
In 1996, Founder and Artistic Director Michael Dowling began working with a group of 18 teens that called themselves “Southie Survivors” because they had lost so many friends to drug overdose and suicide. Under Dowling’s mentorship, they channeled their grief and anger into public artwork, creating a Celtic Cross Memorial on an abandoned lot called No Man’s Land, a site well known for its drug activity and violence.
The impact of this project on the youth was profound—they were provided with art as a non-threatening platform to heal, express their grief, and in turn, become change agents in their neighborhood. And thus, in 2000, Medicine Wheel Productions was born.
For 20 years, Medicine Wheel Productions served South Boston as a non-profit organization founded on helping youth through addiction recovery. Founder and Artistic Director Michael Dowling recognized the healing power of art through his work, shifting from his life’s work as a painter to a newfound focus on public art installations as a way to connect with the Southie community.
When naming the organization, Dowling chose the name “Medicine Wheel Productions,” drawing inspiration from local indigenous communities in Massachusetts. The symbol of the medicine wheel has been used by various Native American tribes for many generations, and symbolizes all dimensions of healing and the natural cycles of life. As the namesake for the organization, Dowling’s work in the community intended to embody the same healing powers as the concept of the ancient medicine wheel has and continues to bring to Native American communities.
Despite all of the amazing work that Medicine Wheel Productions enacted in South Boston and beyond over the two decades, it was apparent that in 2021, the organization could use a regeneration. After consulting with a local Wampanoag woman via the United American Indians of New England Facebook group, Michael Dowling agreed that a new name and new leadership would give his organization the revitalization that it deserved.
Interim Executive Director Gregory Liakos was hired to carry out the rebranding of Medicine Wheel Productions, and through collaboration with Boston digital marketing firm Visual DIalogue, MWP became SPOKE. This new name cleverly offers a double entendre, while still retaining the imagery of the wheel and the legacy of Medicine Wheel’s work.
Emphasizing that each spoke in the wheel plays an integral role in its movement, “SPOKE” communicates that each member of the community is a valued part of the organization’s work. Additionally, “SPOKE” is also the past tense of “speak,” emphasizing the importance of freedom of expression and giving a voice to young people through art. Lastly, the name reflects the integration of digital storytelling into our portfolio which has traditionally focused on public art. SPOKE offers the organization a not only new, contemporary name and feel, but also injects these ideas into the innovative work that will be carried out in 2021 and future years to come.
Pictured below is our new office and gallery space at 840 Summer Street. Our staff works here every day on behind-the-scenes administrative work, as well as with youth from the Cushing House on art projects. Our SPOKE Gallery is located in this space as well. Come check it out!