This past March, I set up a writing studio at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke. I was delighted to find a writing space that looked out over the canal, and I also wanted to extend my writing practice to include community outreach. The Arts and Innovation district of Holyoke seemed like a good place to begin.
Once here, I discovered there was a lot about Holyoke I didn’t know. For example:
– Holyoke, with its 4.5 mile, multi-level canal system, was one of the first planned industrial cities. This drew textile manufacturers in the late 1800’s, and soon Holyoke became the center of the global paper industry.
– By the 1920’s Holyoke was one of the richest cities in the United States – with cultural events rivaling those of New York City and Paris.
– Holyoke is a Gateway City. As a general term, this means it’s a point of arrival – a new beginning – for many generations of immigrants. As designated by the state of Massachusetts, it means it’s a city with: a strong manufacturing heritage; high poverty rates; and low educational attainment levels.
As with most industrial cities, urban decline is visible everywhere. Across the past six months, people have helped me to see the legacy of art and architecture that graces this city, as well.
Take, for example, Holyoke City Hall – next to the Children’s Museum and two blocks from my studio. This gothic building is beautiful, inside and out. It also has a rare collection of secular stained-glass windows.
…And as the windows are in disrepair, the city is at risk of losing a stunning piece of its heritage.
Which brings us to: “What I did this summer…”
Start with two grants, 13 Holyoke youths and a paid internship at Gateway City Arts. Using an apprentice model, co-owner and restoration expert Vitek Kruta introduced participants to the world of decorative arts, restoration skills, and career opportunities.as
Across four weeks, the youths created a series of murals depicting designs from the City Hall’s stained glass windows. While they developed restoration skills, participants also used creative writing tools to explore aspects of identity, work, and careers with Main Street Writers and local non-profit literacy program Reader to Reader. Several pieces written in the project appear on the murals.
The 80 foot mural was recently installed along the back side of City Hall, where it serves multiple purposes:
– it covers an area of the building awaiting renovation;
– it builds public awareness for the campaign to restore the stained glass windows;
– and it marks an investment in Holyoke’s heritage by Holyoke’s residents. This is a piece of the city that these youths helped rebuild.
So – in 500 words or less… that’s what I did this summer. It takes a while to explain it all, and believe me I could go on for hours and hours. In all, eleven groups collaborated to make this project happen. They’re listed below, and you can see a Springfield Republican article about the project (and great pictures!) here. Take a look…!
Gateway City Arts City Hall Restoration Committee
Main Street Writers Vitek Kruta Restoration
Reader to Reader Mass. Department of Education
Career Point Holyoke Department of Public Works
City of Holyoke Holyoke Restoration Guild
13 Holyoke Youths
I’m from the color purple and the sparkles on the fourth of July.
I’m from Puerto Rico, la isla del encanto.
I’m from loud obnoxious music to slow relaxing tunes.
I’m from easy doodles to beautiful art pieces.
I’m from the poor as I’m from the rich.
I’m from Converses to flats, to Nikes, to heels.
I’m from Sharpies to tattoos.
I’m from whoever made me. I am me.