If you’ve driven down Main Street in Holyoke recently, you may have noticed some new décor.

El Corazon de Holyoke, or The Heart of Holyoke, is a new public arts display. The placekeeping project features murals created by local artists that reflect the Puerto Rican and Latinx culture of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Cynthia Espinosa, Senior Project Manager of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Holyoke, along with local artists Frankie Borrero and Chelvanaya Gabriel, to hear more about the origins of the project and how they hope others will be inspired by it.

This segment originally aired on June 11, 2021.


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: If you’ve driven down Main Street in Holyoke recently, you may have noticed some new decor. The placekeeping project entitled El Corazon de Holyke, or the Heart of Holyoke, has begun unveiling new public artwork and murals created by local artists that reflect the Puerto Rican and Latinx culture of the surrounding neighborhoods.

I spoke with Cynthia Espinosa, Senior Project Manager of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Holyoke, along with local artists Frankie Borrero and Chelvanaya Gabriel to hear more about the origins of the project and how they hope others will be inspired by it.

Cynthia Espinosa, City of Holyoke: From 2017 and 2018, there was a lot of community engagement to find out what makes a neighborhood Puerto Rican. And that being arts culture, celebration, like festivals, and history, really making it a Puerto Rican and Latinx community.

So, from there, El Corazon, the Heart of Holyoke really came out. You know, that you really showing the heart and thought.

Zydalis Bauer: And what is the goal and vision behind this project?

Cynthia Espinosa: The goal is to really highlight the community that has been here in Holyoke for many years. Also, make Main Street what it is — sort of like what has been — really highlight the piece, bringing more economic development pieces, and highlight the community and businesses that are here, but also celebrate what was already happening in Main Street.

Zydalis Bauer: And speaking of the crowd-funding campaign to support this project, you received over twenty five thousand dollars, which exceeded the original goal of twenty thousand dollars.

How did it feel to see the community really show up and endorse this project?

Cynthia Espinosa: It was a great feeling to go beyond our goal, and what was even beautiful that the grant was matched. So, not only did we receive twenty five thousand dollars, we also received an extra twenty thousand.

Zydalis Bauer: So, this spring, the project was really able to move forward and began unveiling some of the featured artwork on Main Street.

How were all the artists chosen for this project?

Cynthia Espinosa: The goal was to do workshops and kinda be very engaging with our community to select the artists. So, we did that version virtually in the best way we could; you it’s still limiting.

And we had artists apply online and we also give the option of in-person drop-off and all that. And from there we had our committee select local artist based on their application.

Zydalis Bauer: Frankie, you are a self-taught, colorblind artist who has been part of several community art projects in Springfield, including Fresh Paint and the Black Lives Matter mural.

How did your journey with art begin and why has it been important for you to be so involved in community art making projects?

Frankie Borrero: I’ve been working with drawings since…birth. And stuck to it more or less just drew Mickey Mouse pictures and things like that. Cartoons, comics, and then the graffiti era came, breakdancing ,and of course, I was entrenched in that. But that was not my career.

My career was in dentistry, so I had nothing to do with art. It was in 2015 that I suffered a traumatic brain injury, and after that, that’s when I really, really dedicated myself to the art.

Zydalis Bauer: How did you get involved with the El Corazon de Holyoke project? How did you hear about it and what interested you in it?

Frankie Borrero: It’s fascinating because it gives the opportunity to one, you have a voice, but you also get to decorate a city you get to express yourself visually within these cities.

And I want — I– my big thing is to make the community a part of it by helping me paint some of these things.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, your piece for this project is titled Transición de las Antepasadas, or Transition of the Ancestors. Explain to me what this artwork is and what inspired it.

Frankie Borrero: It was Puerto Rico themed, but I didn’t want — I wanted it to be more historical timeline than your basic stars. So I went to work, did research like, 50 hours of research in how the project is going to go.

I started with the pre-Columbus era , with the Indians and the natives. As time goes on, I transition to New York with Rita Moreno. And she’s one of the few that have won a Grammy, an Emmy, Oscar, Tony Award. So, she really put it out there for us.

Underneath her, I put La Gorda de Oro, who is Myrta Silva. I always forget her name, but she was a producer in Puerto Rico and a very famous television figure.

And as we go along, I added Roberto Clemente, the baseball pioneer for our race. He was an All-Star. After that, I put Héctor Lavoe. He was a pioneer for the Salsa and what is called the Cuchifrito circuit.

And after him, I put Pedro Albizu Campos. In the 20s, he graduated from Harvard, but he was also a pioneer and a revolutionary, a lawyer for our culture in the United States. And he spoke six languages. I had to add him to show a little combination of we’re not all just music. We’re a little bit of everything.

Zydalis Bauer: And Chelvanaya you are also a self-taught artist and multimedia art activist with a science background. In your bio, it states that with an Afro-Queer futurist and disability justice lens, you ask whose stories aren’t being told.

Why do you approach your artwork through that lens? And how has this influenced your piece for this project titled I, Shape Shifter?

Chelvanaya Gabriel, Artist: So, I chose that lens because of my own identities. First of all, I mean, it begins with sort of both myself and when I say “I” it’s this person, but also my ancestors, which is part, you know — and that sort of perspective is part of what drew me to this project, you know, honoring the ancestors.

And it’s just very important to me to to bring those voices forward, right? And to do so intentionally and consistently, just like all the time. Not like here’s a day, here’s a month or whatever, but just this is all the time.

And so, to have a public art project where you get to see all these beautiful faces and artwork and our work and voices that are woven throughout those pieces on a regular basis, like, that’s just power right there.

Zydalis Bauer: In addition to yours and Frankie’s artwork, what other pieces of art can we expect to see along Main Street?

Cynthia Espinosa: So, this part of Chelvanaya’s and Frankie’s work was sort of like what we call the phase two of installation.

We’re working on phase three, which is we’re looking to light up and install artwork on four vintage towers that are really pretty much like the gateway to to Main Street. And our goal is to make it a state-wide, recognized cultural district there, and specifically a Puerto Rican culture district, because we have about 95 percent of our Latinos or Latinx residents in Holyoke that identify as Puerto Rican. And we also want to highlight the other Latinx in our inner city.

So, this is a very exciting project that definitely — we definitely can see it from years to come. And it will change in different ways. It can be from artwork to events to new businesses coming in.

So, we’re really excited and open to seeing how it looks. We definitely have a plan of where to install what, but it’s definitely can be changed and adjusted to the needs.