Public Art in Holyoke, Made by Teens

 

This spring, I had the pleasure of working to create public art with some amazing students at Lighthouse Holyoke.

This program was supported in part by a grant from the Holyoke Local Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

 

For the past year, students at Lighthouse have been working with the Holyoke Parks Department to secure state funding to renovate a run-down city park around the corner from their school. The school occupies a suite in one of the renovated mill buildings on Race Street by the canals. Soucey Park is just around the corner on Main Street and is in need of some TLC. The students took this on and secured $60,000 to make improvements to the park. They did community surveys to determine what the neighbors want out of their park. Many of the improvements are still in the planning stages, but one thing they agreed upon was public art.

This is where I came into the picture.

The Holyoke Local Cultural Council awarded me a grant to work with the students to create mosaic stepping stones for the park. The students, for whom it was their first mosaic experience, jumped right in and began creating. We discussed public art and the positive impact it can have on a neglected area, making people care more and take pride in their surroundings. The students’ work depicts imagery ranging from a Puerto Rican flag, to the elements of earth, air, fire, water, to landscapes with trees, to hands reaching out, to rainbows, and a yin/yang symbol of balance. They took to heart the impact that their work can have on this public space. I’ll wait to share pictures of these wonderful pieces, until the unveiling in the park later this summer.

In addition, the students each got to make their own small mosaic. The imagery ranged dramatically, including an impressive self portrait, a chili pepper, and more abstract designs.

I loved the opportunity to get to know these students and to experience the culture of their school, which is vastly different from a traditional school setting. Lighthouse Holyoke is about “self-directed learning” where teens choose their own path and are in the company of others doing the same. The school just finished it’s 2nd academic year and held it’s first graduation ceremony last Friday. I feel honored and thrilled to be a part of such an innovative and diverse community, and I salute all of the graduates, especially Alexis Dias, who was one of my students.

Stay tuned for photos of the stepping stones, once they’re installed in Soucey Park later this summer!

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