Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Public Art Installation Finds New Home at City Hall

Today, just over two weeks into an ongoing controversy regarding a local artist’s mural, the mural has found a temporary home the at Holyoke’s City Hall.

The mural, created by local artist David Flores, was designed to resemble a Puerto Rican license plate, and was intended as an affirmation of Holyoke’s Puerto Rican community and culture. The vanity plate reads “Holyoke.” Flores created the mural as part of the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project, a public art initiative that was funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Holyoke Cultural Council.

After closely following the debate surrounding the mural, discussing the issue with HARP organizers and other residents, and meeting with David Flores, Mayor Morse offered to display the mural outside City Hall. Flores accepted the offer, and today the mural was installed on the Dwight Street Wall of the former Police Department and City Hall parking deck. Mayor Morse has offered his support in helping Flores find a permanent location for his mural.

What follows is a statement from Mayor Morse:

“I’m happy to announce that David Flores’ mural will be displayed outside City Hall. This mural is not only an impressive work of art; it is also a fitting symbol of the city’s values and commitments. The story of Holyoke has always been the story of people from varying backgrounds and different cultures making their homes here—a story of diverse people sharing a common dwelling and striving to forge a common purpose. At its best, that’s what the city of Holyoke stands for.

“Today, nearly 45% of Holyoke residents claim Puerto Rican heritage—a higher percentage of Puerto Rican residents than any other community in the United States. And while our Puerto Rican residents have too often been marginalized, and have too often failed to enjoy the full benefits of membership in our community, they have nonetheless contributed to the life and vibrancy of our city in incalculable ways. Puerto Rican culture is just as much a part of Holyoke’s history as Irish, Polish, or French culture, or any of the other expressions of identity that enrich our civic life.

“Our differences should not be denied or ignored, nor should an affirmation of one culture be considered threatening to any other. And if an artist wants to celebrate a marginalized group, that should be welcomed by all Holyokers as an invitation to appreciate difference, to question the assumptions we make about others, and to imagine a more just community for us all to share.

“Over the past two weeks, I have closely followed the debate surrounding HARP and David Flores’ mural. I was saddened and disappointed by what happened to Mr. Flores, and believed—and still believe—that he deserved better. But I also think this controversy and the debate that ensued may provide a valuable opportunity for our community to grow. Very important issues have been raised—issues such as the systemic nature of racism, the problem of assimilation, and the value of celebrating cultural difference—and I would hate for our city to miss a chance to discuss them.

“These issues are complicated and not always easy to grasp. People of goodwill—people who would never intentionally harm anyone else—can sometimes send a message that they didn’t intend. Simple misunderstandings can reinforce harmful ideas about other people. For people who have spent their lives feeling left out of and put down by our community, these misunderstandings can understandably become tiresome, even infuriating.

“Naturally, wringing bias out of ourselves and our city will require open hearts and minds, and a willingness to listen, to admit fault when necessary, and to grow together. In other words, we must be willing to change.  

“In the coming weeks, I will be announcing a series of steps to address, and to facilitate dialogue about, issues of race, class, and culture in Holyoke. For now, I am happy that this mural has found a home, and grateful to Mr. Flores for agreeing to display his art at City Hall.”  

What follows is a statement from David Flores:

“I have called Holyoke home since 2011. During this time, the Puerto Rican/Latin@ community has welcomed me with open arms and pan sobao. Despite their constant struggle to be recognized as more than second-class citizens, there is tremendous pride in Puerto Rican/Latin@ culture and identity. As an artist coming from Chicago, I was immediately shocked at the void of visual affirmations of identity in a community with the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans anywhere outside of Puerto Rico. I created a mural for this community. This mural is more than a piece of public art. It is more than a Puerto Rican license plate that reads Holyoke. It is a visual claim to a space that is already claimed in so many other ways. It not only represents that Puerto Ricans exist in Holyoke; it symbolizes a longstanding struggle to be heard and seen, and the acknowledgment that Puerto Ricans/Latin@s in Holyoke are not going anywhere.

“I would like to thank Mayor Alex Morse for agreeing to temporarily take responsibility for and display the mural at City Hall while he assists in finding it a permanent home. This action speaks louder than any words. It is emblematic of the direction the city is taking to combat a systemically unequal distribution of resources and public space. Securing a home for the mural is only the first step. Through an initiative called Más Color, Más Poder, I will seek to work with existing local youth and artists to build a more visually inclusive Holyoke by creating public art that affirms the identity of almost half of the city’s population. Furthermore, with the help of community members and leaders, I hope to create a Puerto Rican/Latin@ Arts and Cultural Center in Holyoke. Cultural diversity should be celebrated as a valuable community resource rather than stigmatized and/or suppressed. Holyoke’s diverse communities should be able to represent themselves on their own terms. The creation of a Puerto Rican/Latin@ Arts and Cultural center would contribute greatly to efforts toward institutionalizing this celebration of diversity. ¡Que Viva Holyoke!”

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