“I moved to Holyoke when I got married, and worked in a bank for a number of years. A customer came in and suggested that I volunteer at the library. So I did. Now I’m an employee, specializing in interlibrary loans, which I love. It’s so much fun tracking down books for people. I love Holyoke – there’s no where else I’d rather live. I have lots of friends and family here, and everything you could want is close by. We’re close to Boston, New York, the Berkshires – it’s the perfect place. I’ve enjoyed seeing the city evolve over the years.”
Anne Gorman, Library Assistant at the Holyoke Public Library
In 2013, the city of Holyoke, MA was rich in potential, but struggling to find its footing. Over the previous half century since the mills had shut their doors in the 1950s, poverty rates had continued to climb, and divisions among people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds had become entrenched. Many organizations and groups were working to move the city forward, but connections across groups were not strong, making each step forward a slow and solitary one. For Holyoke to meet the challenges it faced (a poverty rate of 28.4%, a high school dropout rate of 45%, and slow economic development), community leaders needed to work together in new ways, reaching across boundaries, finding common ground, unleashing their inherent intelligence and creativity and building lasting relationships that form the basis of a strengthened social fabric. With the success of a grassroots campaign to elect Mayor Alex Morse, Holyoke had shown that it has what it takes to turn things around.
Art At Work’s program Holyoke At Work addressed the substantial problems caused by a lack of communication between city, community, and leaders from multicultural groups. Holyoke At Work brought together municipal leaders (city councilors, police, public service, social service, fire and EMS workers) and community leaders representing the city’s growing diversity for a four monthly civic engagement workshop. Thirty participants explored civics, history, life stories, demographics, and the state of the city. To achieve the project goal of increasing interconnection and collaborative spirit, participants created and shared artworks generated with local artist instructors during these workshops and then shared and exhibited them with city workforce and community residents at three Holyoke At Work potlucks.
This project was made possible with support from Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Art Angels, Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the City of Holyoke.