Reflections On Public Art And The Community Text Size

You may have seen, on the side of the City Hall parking deck, a new piece of public art. The mural, created by local artist David Flores, celebrates the contributions of Holyoke’s Puerto Rican community. I was happy to offer David a home for his mural, and grateful that he accepted. It looks very nice; go see it for yourselves!


The mural was installed less than a week ago. But already, I can tell that it’s doing what public art is meant to do: adding vibrancy to its community, and inviting residents and visitors to join a conversation about values, history, and traditions. Anyone who has followed the story of this mural knows the lively conversation it has sparked. If David’s mural is indicative, it is clear that future public art installations will prove valuable to our neighborhoods and our civic life.


When I announced the new location for David’s mural, I wrote, “…if an artist wants to celebrate a marginalized group, that should be welcomed by all Holyokers as an invitation to appreciate difference, to question the assumptions we make about others, and to imagine a more just community for us all to share.” Not all public art installations will so explicitly deal with these concerns, but they will call us to contemplate our community; they will call us to consider how the old relates to the new, how our history relates to our future.


Public art contributes to our sense of community. It shows that we care about our public spaces. It challenges and celebrates, embraces and questions. It lends vitality to our neighborhoods. And it’s nothing new in the city of Holyoke. For many decades, public art has adorned the streets and parks of our city. We have all been to the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, formerly of the Mountain Park amusement park; most of us have seen the Lady Liberty statue in Veterans Park. City Hall’s beautiful stained glass windows have helped tell our city’s story since their installation in 1876. The John DiNapoli statue in Heritage Park still celebrates a life, honors the men and women in blue, and helps our community mourn a tragic loss. Art has always mattered to the city of Holyoke, and it likely always will.    


Public art can include static and kinetic sculpture, new media art installations, and artistic lighting design; it can be temporary visual art, performance-based, or participatory. Possibilities abound.


“Probably the most important thing about public art,” says Navae Fenwick Rodriguez, co-chair of the Holyoke Local Cultural Council, “is that it’s accessible to everyone. It’s there for everyone to enjoy.”


Today, from our downtown to the Highlands, we can see new and innovative public art projects throughout the city. And there’s more to come.


This fall, work will begin on “Arrivals,” the selected proposal for the Mosher Street Underpass Art Project. This project, proposed by the Center for Design Engagement (CDE), will seek to capture Holyoke’s rich immigrant experience—the myriad experiences of “arrival” that have made us who we are. In its effort to fully and accurately depict Holyokers’ experiences of arrival, the project will include input sessions with the community. Whether your family arrived in Holyoke in the 1890 or 2009, the artists from CDE want to represent your story.


The Mosher Street Underpass Art Project is yet another example of what public art does for a community. When completed, the “Arrivals” project will have the effect of making this heavily-traveled pathway better lit and more inviting. For folks traveling from the downtown to the flats, it will provide something educational and interesting to look at. And it will say something essential about the community we all share, tying today’s efforts to the efforts of a long and fascinating history. It will remind us that we’re part of something far greater, and far more enduring, than ourselves.   


In Holyoke, we are fortunate to have no shortage of gifted artists who are willing and able to install their work around the city. As I’ve often said, Holyoke’s renewal is in the hands of Holyokers; the government exists always to help and never to hinder. Where artists want to make our city a better place, the government stands ready to support them.


I look forward to future installations, and for new opportunities to celebrate art’s unique capacity to captivate and inspire.


Posted on October 17, 2014 by