By Rosalie Tirella
Several years back I was driving through Main South and I saw this: a mom and her little girl – the girl was about four or five – walking past the revamped PIP shelter. It was now a free lunch spot for the neighborhood’s downtrodden. This slice of downtown Worcester was truly menacing 15 or so years ago when the PIP was still a wet shelter. Outside the big, multi-storied brick PIP building at 701 Main St. men and women, strung out on heroin, coked-out on coke or just plain drop-dead drunk, lurched and staggered across Main or Charlton street, talking/swearing to themselves words slurred… They were so high/drunk you feared for their lives! You feared for yours! They were craving – physically needing – their next fix, and many would do anything to get it. They couldn’t help themselves! You saw, out in the open, the Main South drug biz. Women offered themselves up for sale so they could buy their drugs – johns paid them 50 bucks (the cost then for a bag of smack) and abused the street girls: I know of one woman konked on the head with a beer bottle because she told her john that pigeons are messy birds, another woman got her hand smashed when some asshole slammed the refrigerator door on it; her face was swollen and bitten up from the bed bugs in the apartment. Sirens, screams, gun shots were all part of the aural scenery on this side of downtown Worcester…
Fast forward to seven or so years ago: Now I was looking at a less perilous area, with the mom and her little girl crossing Charlton Street, walking by the new and improved PIP. It was now a place for the hungry and homeless (addicted or sober) to eat a hot lunch and (oftentimes) be driven to the hospital by ambulance for first aid/detoxifixation.
The one true constant in that ‘hood, the one thing that had outlived the police cruisers, the street fights, the ambulances, the heroin, the prostitution, the old PIP’s angel executive director, Buddy Brousseau, the old PIP’s angel PIP doctor for the homeless and the big-hearted PIP case workers was the lovely mural painted on the Charlton Street side of the PIP. The mural’s tall flowers, its themes of beauty and love, its tropical colors, somewhat faded through the years, STILL gave this tough inner-city corridor warmth, softness … As it always had and always WILL! Public street art – the artist’s urban dream superimposed on the urban reality. For all to experience!
Children are better, braver than adults! It was the little girl, walking with her mom on Main Street, who made me see! She, on catching sight of the mural, ran away from her mom, to the PIP building, to its mural and flung herself at one of the mural’s painted sunflowers. With her arms outstretched over the painted brick wall I could see she was “hugging” the flower! For a long time! She was smiling … delighted! She had found a new friend during her walk with her mom – a yellow sunflower taller than she was! There they were: the painted flower, her petals unfolding, and the little Latina girl, her heart unfolding. Mom, a nice young woman, had adult distractions: she was carrying a grocery bag and pushing a baby carriage, with a little one inside. It was July and crushingly hot. Mom wanted to keep on walking, get home, get out of the heat wave – intensified by all the concrete surroundings. She could’t pay too much attention to the mural that had captivated her daughter, though she was smiling when she walked up to her girl with her cheek pressed against the painted flower and took her by the hand and gently lead her away.
I think of that little girl and her mom often. I remember how the mural had moved the little girl, lifted her straight up off Charlton Street and deposited her on her own little cloud of happiness!
This is what I want for all our city kids – many of them deprived in ways you may not be able to relate to. You think it’s poverty. You think it’s sadness. You think it’s an abusive dad… You think it’s malnutrition. You’re certain it’s a shitty apartment. Often it’s all of the above – entwined, braided … over and over again, through generation after generation sometimes.
And so it is with GREAT LOVE AND GREAT JOY that I SAY: POW! Knock out the hurt and pain! WOW! Look at all that great public art!
WORCESTER’S DOWNTOWN, the hub of our inner-city, the seat of our city govt, is getting a big MAKEOVER. Bright, huge, colorful MURALS will be painted ON THE SIDES AND BACKS OF OUR DOWNTOWN BUILDINGS from August 26 to September 4. By local artists and visiting artists from all over the world. So much art! Such BIG COLORFUL PICTURES – a ton of them! – for all the little city kids to be WOWED by!
This is HUGE, Worcester! This art fest, with so many artists creating street art right before our eyes, is a gift. Everbody – rich and poor; black, brown and white; old and young; college-educated and autodidact – can feast their peepers on our buildings. And enjoy!
Collectively, these murals will be our very own STATUE OF LIBERTY! Yes, the millenials and upper-income empty nesters, people city leaders want to attract to our urban core, can and will enjoy the art, but for me, the murals are for the people. Power to the people! Especially the little kids! … of Green Island, South Worcester, Main South, Piedmont…Our sometimes weary, hungry and forsaken…our immigrants, refugees. Without a lot of dough or connections, they may not be able to eat dinner at downtown’s new pricy restaurants. They may not be able to buy tickets to that special concert at Mechanics Hall. Maybe they are even afraid – intimidated because they are new to America and don’t have confidence in their English or American government! – to enter City Hall.
But the best things in life are free! Like our glorious Free Worcester Public Library. Like all the BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS AND TREES growing in our downtown … And soon the folks from Lafayette, Hacker, Queen, Cambridge, Charlton streets (yes! PIP people, too!) will be able to walk through their downtown look up at its buildings and see “rocking horse people,” “newspaper taxis” … “girls with kaleidoscope eyes” – you name it! There are gonna be a lot of murals!
(Sun)flower to the people!