For the past ten years, the block of Race Street in Holyoke between Dwight and Middle streets has become a burgeoning hub for arts and entertainment in the area. This is thanks in no small part to the addition of the Gateway City Arts complex and all that it entails.  

But there are several other artists contributing in their own unique way, including artist Debra Dunphy. Join Brian Sullivan as he attends one of Dunphy painting classes, and chats with students – some of whom have been committed to their instructor for nearly 20 years! 

Learn where Deb Dunphy gets her artistic inspiration from a digital exclusive clip. 

Read the full transcript:

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: It’s late morning, early afternoon on a Wednesday at 80 Race Street in Holyoke. And while Mary Ann Bends quietly puts the final coat of glaze on her ceramics next door, it sounds like there’s a party going on — albeit a very well-behaved party.

The units in this building are home to several local artists who tend to keep to themselves. But here at Deborah Dunphy’s Art Studio and Gallery, it’s a place where people not only learn to paint or learn to paint better, but also have fun and enjoy the camaraderie in the process.

Debra Dunphy, Owner of Deb Dunphy Art Studio & Gallery: I wanted a place where people can feel welcome and safe, and, you know, I wanted people to feel good about themselves and be productive. You know, have fun, meet people and learn something.

Brian Sullivan: It’s been a long journey from her days of working in the fishing industry back in New Bedford to establishing herself as the kind of artist with a waiting list of people wanting to take her classes.

And so far, the retention rate is pretty high.

Berry Ferrero, Art Student: I’ve been here about seven years. We’ve been — found Deborah, at the Windsor Palette and Brush Club when she came and did a demo for us. And we liked what she did at the club, so we decided we would sign up for painting lessons.

Brian Sullivan: But while Betty and her husband have been regulars in class for several years, Dunphy does almost no advertising for her classes. So, if they’re going to be any new members, it’s usually through word of mouth or happenstance, as it was in the case of Bruce Gendron.

Bruce Gendron, Art Student: There’s a framing shop in West Springfield, and he had different painted animals and he had a couple of portraits of dogs up there, and her card was there.

So, we started talking and, you know, he said, “Yeah.” He said, “She’s very good. She has classes.” And that’s where I heard about her.

Brian Sullivan: The workspace may be elbow to elbow these days, but there was a window of time when things looked bleak. It was during this time that these students showed that this is more than just some class. This is their community.

And Deborah Dunphy is the reason that they keep coming back.

Debra Dunphy: You can do it. You can do it. They’ve been so great. They’ve been very helpful to me during the — the pandemic, because I had to close my group for a while. So, that was really tough.

But they were — they were right there for me. They were still sending me checks, you know, to keep the classes going because they wanted to make sure I was still here. And I don’t know it’s just…I love them all and I’ve had them here for years. My oldest one, not oldest person, but the one that’s been with me the longest is Bernadette, and she was with me for 20 years.

Brian Sullivan: And that 20-year run in western Massachusetts started right here in this section of Holyoke for Dunphy, just not on this side of the water. For the longest time, the building just on the other side of the canal here, served as the arts hub in town. In fact, Debbie Dunphy was there for ten years before coming here in 2013.

And just within the past few years, this little stretch of buildings here on Race Street has become the new hotspot.

Berry Ferrero: This is the best class we’ve had in a long — that I’ve had in a long time. I mean, it’s very friendly. We learn a lot. She takes interest in each student and how they progress, and she’s keyed into every student no matter what level you are.

Brian Sullivan: There does appear to be one element serving as the thread that ties this community together, and it’s not proper brush strokes or use of negative space. Its sounds emanate from this little device here, and it often sets the tone for the entire class.

Bruce Gendron: Debra always has music on, so if it’s something that, you know, we’re not all the same age, but roughly within a century or two, you know. So, when something comes out and the heads start nodding, they recognize this tune right away. All set to belt out the chorus, you know.

So, it’s fun!

Berry Ferrero: If you come in and you’re all worked up and tight, it just every…by the time you leave here, you’re feeling good.

Debra Dunphy: I want to feel fulfilled, like they came and they got something out of it. I want them to walk out half an hour later and still feel good about it and not feel any bad vibes. I just want good, good vibes.