Artists paint Worcester with powerful work
Last week, Aug. 16–23, POW! WOW! Worcester held its fourth annual public art festival, resulting in new artworks on display around in the city by 18 different artists. In previous years, the festival focused on downtown, schools and public spaces. This year, in partnership with the Worcester Housing Authority, the festival centered on the Great Brook Valley housing complex and its surrounding schools.
Almost 1,000 children live at the Great Brook Valley affordable housing complex. “Those kids will wake up in the morning and see amazing public art where they live, and then they’ll go to school and see more,” says POW! WOW! committee member Lisa Drexhage. “This neighborhood is where POW! WOW! thought we could do the most good.”
A number of artists worked directly on the walls of the apartment buildings, creating relationships with the neighborhood kids while they worked. Dominican-American artist Tony Peralta created his first-ever mural in collaboration with Dominican artist Evaristo Angurria. Both artists depict women in curlers, Angurria as homage to his mother who owned a beauty salon and the other strong women in his life, and Peralta as a way to highlight famous Latinas throughout history.
“The majority of people in this community are Latin American,” says Peralta. “It’s very important for kids to see artists of color working on it. It’s important to see representation. If I was 5, 6, 7 years old living here, I would be blown away.” The artists bonded with the area kids, chatting with them about art and answering their questions. Peralta even spray-painted their shoes for a custom look.
The work of the two artists blends seamlessly on the wall, their similar styles rooted in Dominican culture and celebration. “It’s a representation of how we look at ourselves as Latin — the composition, the colors,” says Angurria.
Peralta typically works in silkscreen for his clothing company, the Peralta Project, and paints his famous Latinas on canvas. Angurria is known for his colorful, large-scale murals, which can be seen in Elm Park in Worcester as well as in Lynn and Somerville. Peralta says it was a steep learning curve transferring his work from the canvas to the wall, but with Angurria’s help, he mastered the spray can. “It’s almost like a workshop,” he says.
In addition to the new location, this year’s festival featured live artmaking by illustrators who projected their work onto walls and existing murals around the city for the public to observe. These were part of a large calendar of events and public programming geared towards engaging a diverse spectrum of communities.
POW! WOW! Worcester had already created 116 new pieces of public art for the city prior to this year’s festival. Now there are even more vibrant works to see throughout the community. Most of the murals are permanent, and the artists hope they will continue to have an impact on new immigrants and young people for years to come. Peralta says, “When they step outside, they’re going to see something familiar.”