Kari Kline's Artists Dialog 1:

When artists meet, like most craftspeople, they talk a different language. Artists speak heart to heart, eye-to-eye, disregarding cultural, age or least of all, state boundaries.

It is the hope of this column that it will become a dialogue between artists groups, and artists as individuals, whatever their discipline. It a the fondest wish of the editors of Journays that this dialogue will broaden vision and ignite creative fires, and touch hearts and souls. Least of all, it is envisioned that this column will begin a sincere dialogue that broaches time and distance, to bring together the artists of Southern New England in a new, exciting venture as a group, with collective power and push, and most of all, promise.

For this first column, we went to Worcester, the place where the Blackstone River originates. The river was the source of power for the early Industrialists. But for artists, the Blackstone River is inspirational for its beauty, nourishment and effervescent life-giving support. Today the river still inspires both artists and naturalists to do more to preserve its ever-flowing beauty. The River has never known any boundaries between states or political aspirations. So this column will take a tip from the River and cross man-made boundaries as it hopefully will serve as a force for unification.

An old mill city built at the beginning of what has become known as the Blackstone Valley Corridor, Worcester became important during the industrial age, and now has many old mills standing vacant in its midst. 36 Harlow Street, the address of one such mill building, the Sprinkler Factory, is abuzz with artists. Today it is the home of the Worcester Arts Group, the Blackstone Print Studio and Fireworks, a group of twelve ceramists, plus other individual artists and a theater group upstairs.

Artist Nina Fletcher who maintains a print studio in the Old Sprinkler Factory feels there’s definitely been an increase in profile and visability in the arts during the last five years.

Ms. Fletcher talked about the proposed arts district that was recently redrawn by the Mayor.

“You don’t have to have an arts district,” she feels. “Artists scattered throughout the city are fine with me.

“The city has been slow to really put their money where their mouth is,” she added. “Artists need a benevolent government or a benevolent landlord. Artists can’t pay high rent. Worcester has lots of buildings and lots of space. It takes a landlord with some vision to put something together. Everyone complains that there’s no umbrella organization. Everyone dreams of an art district. But somebody has to anti up.”

Another area of town that is becoming affiliated with artists is Quinsigamond Village, on the southeast of town.

Pastel and monoprint artist Kathy Murray maintains a work space at One Ekman Street in the Village. She says her building is 101 years old, and formally the home of the Swedish religious group called the Vasa Society. Building owner, Mike Keating, originally offered free studio space to instructors at the Worcester Art Museum, of which Ms. Murray is one. There are now five instructor/artists with studios in the building. Bill Griffith, who taught Mr. Keating, now has a studio in the building. Master Printmaker, Kerry Manahan, and painter, Randy LeSage, make up the five artists who currently share the space.

Ann McTigue, Director of Arts Worcester which is located in the Main South area of town, keeps a very active member and artists mail list for people desiring to purchase artists work, as well as grants, or artists just wanting to connect with other artists. The Center hold various workshops on how artists can make it in the business world. In the words of Ms. McTigue, “How to grow as artists.

“Art shapes life,” she adds.

Director since 1998, Ms. McTigue says she’d like to see a lot more collaboration between cultural organizations.

Main South is the area that the City of Worcester had designated as its cultural center. Ms. McTigue says, “Main South area is blighted, it is a repository of vice. Lots of low income families live here. Forty one percent don’t speak English, so they don’t vote.

“There are currently very few artists working in Main South. Somebody has to support the concept of a cultural district. Somebody has to buy into the vision. You get back what you give.”

Arts Worcester has its own 2,000 square foot gallery, which Ms. McTigue says hosts new shows every six to eight weeks, including both artist member and non-members.

Built in 1856, the Worcester Center for Crafts is the oldest school for crafts in the country. Today the Center holds classes in ceramics, wood, metals and jewelry, weaving and fiber arts, and photography, and also has a gallery and retail shop. They also have visiting artists’ workshops, and an artist-in-residence program.

Ceramic sculptor, Joseph Fastaia, is currently serving a ten-month artist in residency program at the Worcester Center for Arts and Crafts.

He calls the program “fantastic” and “great” and Craft Center as invaluable, due to the available equipment, time commitment and cameraderie with other artists.

He likes to sculpt what he calls “earth moving vehicles”, which include dump trucks, graders, road construction, and any machines that literally are used to move the earth.

He says he likes to study the relationship people have to their landscape. “How we associate ourselves with places we know. How geology and humanity shapes us.

He sees trucks, in his work, as an extension of human’s hands.

“Growing up in New England in a rural suburban area, where there were lots of hiking opportunities, railroad tracks and grist mill foundations this became ingrained into my mind. This was my place identity. I used to think about what lives were led by the people who created these stonewalls for instance. It’s a snapshot in time.”

“Its not everyone who would choose this uncertain of a lifestyle,” he says. “I find it’s something within me that needs answering. Whenever I’ve worked for a paycheck, I’ve been dissatisfied. I always felt like there was something else I should be doing.”

Although he feels there are lots of really good artists working in and around the mills in Worcester, he identifies the need for more awareness as the most pertinent to the survival of the arts in the area.

He definitely feels there is a need for some sort of public education that could lead to a more keen awareness about the area arts.

“There aren’t any fine art galleries in town (Worcester). We need more of that,” he says.

We need a venue, he said, and people who could coordinate that so that the public could experience the wealth of talent that exists underground.

He refers to former Mayor Cianci’s help to the arts in Providence, RI, as a good example, and figures the members of the city council and directors of existing facilities and area colleges could coordinate some city wide events.

Although the Worcester Center for the Arts has a gallery, he feels that the general public does not really attend the shows.

As an artist, he says, if he were to go to find a good show, he’d head either to the Rhode Island School of Design or the Chelsea area of New York City right now.

But there are good sites to be seen in Worcester. All the colleges in Worcester, for instance, have good galleries, and this includes Clark University, Quigsigamond Community College, Holy Cross, and the Worcester Polytechnic School. Additionally, the Worcester Art Museum has rotating exhibits, and hosts classes. The Worcester Public Library also displays the work of local artists.

A visit to this city shows that change, both artistic and geographic, is prevalent. The city of Worcester, is a mass of construction, with new connectors, and far-reaching proposals which include a new Visitors’ Center and the Worcester Historical Museum both moving into the old Washburn & Moen wire-making factory in Quigsigamond Village. Soon the Blackstone River, today hidden between industrial sites, will again emerge and be visible to all. The City at the beginning of the mighty Blackstone, is clearly once again in flux, changing, and reshaping its destiny. The river itself, however, will still continue to flow as it has for many, many decades carrying with it memories of humankind’s past, and hopes for the future.