Main South Art Installation Latest in Movement to Spruce Up Business Corridor

May 20, 2021 : Telegram & Gazette, by Brad Petrishen

WORCESTER — Business owners and community groups in Main South unveiled a large art installation across from Beacon Pharmacy last week, the latest in ongoing, state-supported efforts to spruce up the neighborhood. 

“I love Main South,” the large, colorful installation reads, with a heart symbolizing the word "love." 

The project was funded by a state grant awarded to the Regional Environmental Council in 2020. 

The REC, a city nonprofit that works to increase access to healthy foods, partnered with multiple groups on the project, including the Main South Business Association. 

“We want to put out the message, 'Together, we’re stronger,’ ” Laura Perez-Garcia, president of the association, said Tuesday. 

Main South business leaders partner with state for business association

Perez-Garcia, owner of Voltage Fashion Boutique at 834 Main St., is one of several local business leaders who’ve partnered with the state to get a business association going. 

The state, in consultation with the city, dedicated a full-time fellow to improving the area’s business climate in 2018 through a program called the Transformative Development Initiative. 

MassDevelopment, the state agency that runs the TDI program, awarded the REC $40,000 for the project, which was commissioned by the business association. 

Orlando Perez, the association’s art coordinator, designed the installation, which features colorful, handmade wooden letters. 

While the project is currently propped up against a fence, more permanent wooden supports are being fashioned, Perez-Garcia said, and flower planters will also be installed. 

Gov. Baker impressed with project

Gov. Charlie Baker came for the unveiling of the installation last Tuesday, she said, and was impressed with the workmanship.

Garcia-Perez thanked longtime local developer Frank Zitomersky for allowing the installation to go up on his property, an undeveloped plot that Zitomersky has also been offering up for holiday lights installations. 

“This is (part of efforts) to make sure the neighborhood and the Main South community is looked at in a different light,” Perez-Garcia said. “We want to continue to work toward the community being a walkable, vibrant place.” 

Trying to shake stigma from Main South’s struggles

Main South’s struggles with social disorder and crime have led to a stigma that the state and business leaders have been working to shake. 

The state’s TDI fellow, Ivette Olmeda, spearheaded the creation of the Main South Business Association. What began with Perez-Garcia and a handful of business owners meeting in a local restaurant two years ago has grown to 30 dues-paying members, Perez-Garcia said, adding the group will soon begin work with a lawyer to become a nonprofit. 

Perez-Garcia said annual dues are very modest at this point — $35 — out of a desire to help the many small local businesses participating. 

Businesses, hit hard by pandemic, boosted with grants from Main South CDC

Businesses in the area, a mix of smaller grocers and shops that serve largely local traffic, have been hit hard by COVID-19. Baker in March granted businesses in the TDI district $60,000 in emergency relief money to help out, with the Main South Community Development Corporation administering the grants. 

The Main South CDC and Executive Director Steve Teasdale have been enormously helpful to the fledgling business association, Perez-Garcia said, helping it navigate the workings of government as well as renting it affordable office space in his headquarters. 

Goal to improve neighborhood for businesses and residents 

Perez-Garcia said the ultimate goal is to grow the organization to include as many local businesses as possible, so that they can together work to improve the neighborhood for businesses and residents alike. 

It plans on adding planters to local streets in coming months and would like to work with the city to beautify the business corridor, she said. 

Olmeda, whose work in the district has been extended to June 2022 following an initial two-year appointment, is working on plans to help businesses improve their facades, Perez-Garcia said. She thanked the fellow heartily for her dedication. 

“We are very thankful to MassDevelopment for sending her to us,” she said. 

Post-COVID grand reopening of Main South June 25

Perez-Garcia said the association is planning a post-COVID grand reopening of the area on June 25. 

“It’s going to be a huge, all-day event,” she said, that will include a giveaway of backpacks stocked with school supplies for kids, face painting, food and activities for kids. 

There will also be competitions, including a barber competition, along with a dominoes tournament, she said. 

Neighborly responsibility

Perez-Garcia said the association hopes giving back to the community will help increase the sense of neighborly responsibility in the area. 

“If we continue to do things for each other and just put forth that train of thought,” she said, relationships will hopefully improve. 

Other organizations with a hand in the art display include the Main South CDC, Clark University, neighborhood representatives, the city, YMCA of Central Massachusetts and the Main South Beacon Brightly Neighborhood Association, the state said in a news release. 

Projects highlight local partnerships that make Main South great

Grace Sliwoski, director of programs at REC, said the projects highlight the local partnerships that make Main South great. 

“The REC is grateful for the opportunity to support more public art in Main South and to partner with the Main South Business Association, as well as POW! WOW! Worcester and Susan Champeny, the other artists supported through this grant,” she said in the news release. 

The grant program that awarded the funds, called the TDI Creative Catalyst program, was made possible by the Barr Foundation, which awarded MassDevelopment $1.8 million from 2019 to 2020 to create new arts-based programming in TDI districts across the state.

Other projects in Main South supported by the grant include a POW! WOW! mural on the REC’s YouthGROW Farm and a recycled fence mosaic art installation at the community garden on Oread Place.