The demise of the Worcester Center for Crafts

By Rosalie Tirella

The Worcester Center for Crafts’ demise is heartbreaking for some – but not for me or most inner-city folks. Sure, I would go to their exhibits and their craft shows (once in a while), but I was too poor as a kid to have it a part of my life and too frugal/harried as an adult to take classes there. To me the Craft Center (located off Park Ave/Grove Street) was a place where mostly West Side matrons coverged to discover their inner-potters after their kids went off to college or they divorced their husbands or retired from their jobs. Hey, anything to stave off an ugly mid-life crisis! And if they found themselves in the midst of an existential funk they could not see their way through, they at least had some funky brooches to show for their angst.

Who cares?! Did the center touch the lives of people in Green Island, Main South, Piedmont, Vernon Hill, Grafton Hill, Oak Hill or Quinsigamond Village? Hardly.

So I was surprised to learn that the Craft Center was started in 1856 as a school for IMMIGRANTS – a place for them to learn/sharpen craft skills so they could pay the bills on their three-deckers! My Bapy (Polish for grandmother) and Grandfather would have been right at home there, I guess. I remember my grandfather (also from Poland) loved to work with his hands: he made a great wooden swing set for us kids, foot stools for my Bapy to rest her arthritic ankles on… He even fashioned little tin cups for me. I still have one, and when I hold it and feel its rough beauty (made from the least expensive material – its handle was a door hook!), it puts me in touch with my grandfather’s (all immigrants’, really) ingenuity, work ethic and American dreams.

So what the hell happened, Craft Center? Why did you go bust?

Maybe things would have turned out differently if the Craft Center stuck to its populist roots – and continued to serve immigrants for a modest fee. What would have happened to the Center if it had made its classes affordable for the grand kids of the immigrants it once nurtured? Instead of handing out a few scholarships to poor, “deserving” kids, maybe they should have made all their classes affordable for all Worcester kids – poor, lower-middle class, working class, etc. They should have charged $50 or $60 a course – like a Nite Life course (plus costs of materials) – and watched their enrollment explode! Those $60 fees would have added up wicked fast! The place would have been humming with life! People from all corners of Worcester – the world – would have been there exchanging ideas and life experiences, becoming friends as well as classmates. Isn’t that what a true “education” is all about?

No, not, in Worcester, I guess. Here’s hoping the Worcester Center for Crafts revisits its mission, broadens it and thus saves itself!

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