Monday, April 1, 2013

Sculptor Ann Hirsch and Pressley Associates Collaborate for Bill Russell Legacy Project

Bill Russell's accomplishments extend far beyond his time as a legendary member of the Boston Celtics; he was a true team player, an advocate, activist, mentor, and visionary. The Bill Russell Legacy Project honors the legacy of Bill Russell not only for his accomplishments as a champion athlete, but for his broad-reaching achievements in professional sports, his national leadership in human rights, and his dedication to youth mentoring. The Project incorporates a public art commission as well as the creation of the Bill Russell Mentoring Grant Program, which focuses on quality youth mentoring for the Boston community.

The public art commission is being designed through a thoughtful collaboration between local artist Ann Hirsch and Pressley Associates. The design honors the legacy of Bill Russell and embodies the spirit of the Mentoring Grant Program, urging visitors to draw on the work of Bill Russell to find their own inspiration from within.

Bill Russell is a former Boston Celtics Captain who led the team to a string of eleven championships in thirteen years. He was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player a total of five times. Only two other NBA players have achieved that honor. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the record with six MVP awards and Michael Jordan is tied with Bill Russell at 5.) Mr. Russell is the first African American to coach in any major league sport. He is also an impassioned advocate of human rights and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He continues to advocate for equality, especially as it pertains to youth. He is a founding board member of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. This organization has been the unwavering champion for quality youth mentoring in the US for over 20 years.

The design of the Bill Russell Legacy Project aims to capture this vast array of achievements. A Plaza of Champions will be constructed within Boston's City Hall Plaza. It will be located in the southeast corner of the existing City Hall Plaza, near the Congress Street overlook.

This view looks south toward the location in City Hall Plaza where the Bill Russell Legacy Project will be installed.  The Plaza of Champions will stand in the foreground, currently defined by the open brick paving found throughout City Hall Plaza. The Washington Mall corridor extends beyond with the Old State House visible in the background. (Photo by Pressley Associates)

A rendering shows the completed Plaza of Champions within City Hall Plaza.  Boston City Hall stands to the  north, seen at the left edge of the image with Faneuil Hall visible in the background, to the east of the site. The brick pavers relate to the existing material of City Hall Plaza while the granite pavers and plinths reflect the architectural building blocks of City Hall.  (Rendering by Bill Pardy, Pressley Associates)

The Plaza of Champions creates an interactive landscape for visitors to engage themselves in the accomplishments and visionary leadership of Bill Russell. A field of brick will be installed that reflects the proportions of a basketball court. A larger-than-life statue of Bill Russell will stand atop one of eleven granite plinths, representing Mr. Russell's eleven Celtics championships. Each of the plinths will be engraved with a quotation from Mr. Russell, along with a keyword that embodies the spirit of the quotation.

A computerized model depicts the statue of Bill Russell within the  Plaza of Champions. Quotations and single words are engraved on the granite plinths, conveying messages important to the core of Mr. Russell's work as an athlete, leader, and mentor. (Photo by Ann Hirsch)

The statue itself will depict Mr. Russell during his years as a player and coach for the Celtics. He stands in uniform and is poised with a basketball in his hands, positioned to pass the ball to a teammate. He aims his pass towards a low-standing, open plinth engraved with the word 'Teamwork' on one side; on the opposite side is his quote, "The most important measure of how good a game I'd played was how much better I'd made my teammates play." As visitors step up on the open plinth, ready to catch the pass from Mr. Russell, they become his teammate, not only in a game of basketball, but in continued advocacy, leadership, and visionary thinking.

A clay mock-up shows what the finished statue of Bill Russell will look like. In his late-1960s Celtics uniform, Mr. Russell stands atop a low granite plinth, ready to pass the ball to a teammate - maybe you! (Photo by Ann Hirsch)

Standing up for others to help them be the best they can possibly be is the core lesson of Mr. Russell's legacy as an athlete, a coach, an activist, and a mentor. This core lesson is conveyed to visitors within the Plaza. As visitors move through the Plaza of Champions, around - and over - the plinths, they interact with the setting. As they read and engage with the quotations, they become champions themselves. They can draw from the inspiring words of Mr. Russell and become champions of positive change in their own community. The plinths are an invitation, a celebration, and a declaration of responsibility through mentorship. By standing or sitting on a plinth, a declaration is made: you can be a champion too, you can be a mentor too. The declaration is a promise to believe in young people to help them believe in themselves.

For more information on the Bill Russell Legacy Project, visit:
For more information on artist Ann Hirsch, visit: