In addition to serving on the Board of the Worcester Cultural Coalition, Gloria D. Hall is an active member of the arts and cultural community through the City of Worcester’s Public Art Working Group (PAWG), and with two events: Art in the Park Worcester, the biennial sculpture displays in historic Elm Park, and the African American Festival Series, now the Juneteenth Festival. “These two events, both free to the public, reflect my desire for Worcester to be a welcoming city with quality arts and culture activities accessible to all – ordinary people looking for an interlude or community,” Gloria said.
In light of COVID-19, Gloria acknowledged that, “the strengths of public art have shown through: the fact that it manifests publicly means it continues to be accessible to many, even with the current public health guidelines. In a time of isolation, public art creates a shared experience and the opportunity for connection across ethnic and economic lines.” The 2019 Art in the Park works were officially on display from June through September, though a couple pieces remain in Elm Park as of June 2020. “For the 2019 show, we asked artists to create verbal descriptions of their pieces, which visitors could access by calling in to a central phone number. After the quarantine went into effect [March 2020], I reviewed the most recent reports from the 2019 audio tour, and noticed that individuals are still calling in to hear artists’ descriptions of the works that remain in the park from the 2019 show. This data renewed my commitment to continuing the show, and I am excited to use what we are learning through this data to shape elements of the 2021 exhibition.”
Both Art in the Park and the Black Heritage/Juneteenth Festival are volunteer-led, which Gloria noted became a double-edged sword during the pandemic. “The strength of AIP and the Festival are the many volunteers who come together to make these events possible. However, the lack of a centralized organization with human resources during COVID-19 to create virtual online programs posed problems for both Art in the Park and the Festival. Volunteers often work full-time and tend to be highly engaged and involved, which speaks to their commitment to our community, but also means they have limited extra time and bandwidth to take on new projects. This is even more true during a pandemic, as folks are working hard to take care of basic needs. This limits our ability to be responsive to the shifting circumstances; for example, the need for additional human resources and access to technology to create virtual programming was felt with the annual Black Heritage/Juneteenth Festival. Originally scheduled for June 20 , out of concern for the community and in consideration for the governor’s re-opening order, the [in person] event was cancelled for this year.”
While public health guidelines forced Festival organizers to cancel the live event, the Black Heritage Festival is hosting a public online presentation on June 20, from 10am – 12pm. As for Art in the Park, public art audiences can see the works and listen to artist descriptions on its website, and its Facebook page offers articles on various public art topics relevant to the times. For those looking to support either organization, Gloria notes that both organizations welcome donations.
“As both Art in the Park and Juneteenth small programs, I am concerned about the availability of funding for both programs in 2021. I enjoy talking about Art in the Park and continue to be pleasantly surprised during conversation with strangers of all ages in the city and towns in Central Massachusetts how many will say they love Art in the Park, Worcester. We need you to show your love. Help to continue to spread joy. Remember public art is good for the soul.”