Three Holy Cross Alumni Help to Bring Murals to Downtown Worcester

This summer, POW!WOW! Worcester, a 10-day mural festival committed to making Worcester a more culturally dynamic place by activating spaces, engaging in the arts, and generating pride in the downtown area, heavily involved the work of three Holy Cross alumni: Che Anderson ’11, John Vo ’09, and Sarah Valente ’16.

The festival, which has visited locations including Taiwan, Long Beach, Hawaii and Washington D.C., held its first east coast event in Worcester, resulting in 15 new murals throughout the city created by local and international artists, as well as a week filled with artist talks, art fundraisers, musical performances and outdoor celebrations in downtown Worcester.

Che Anderson ’11, project manager of the city of Worcester, felt the drive to remain in Worcester after graduation and, as one of the main organizers of POW! WOW! Worcester, recognized the positive impact that public art could have on the community.

“One thing I noticed was that nationally, some cities were embracing public art as a means of community development: increasing walkability, enhancing public safety and awareness, generally adding a layer of vibrancy, and I believed Worcester had the creative capital and capacity to join the ranks of Austin, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Miami,” says Anderson, a political science major with a peace and conflict studies concentration at the College.

He began to put this idea into action in 2014 through his involvement with the mural “The Block Player” by Caleb Neelon on the Denholm Building in downtown Worcester. Going from helping to organize one mural over 14 days to 15 murals in seven through POW! WOW! Worcester is an experience Anderson won’t soon forget.

“It was surreal; it was exciting; it was a proud moment because I had such a great team of people that came together to do something amazing in the city of Worcester,” he shares.

A part of POW! WOW! Worcester’s operations team, Sarah Valente ’16 felt equally excited to work with others dedicated to the city’s revitalization efforts.

“The city's positive energy the week of the POW!WOW! Worcester festival was both inspiring and contagious,” Valente shares. “I witnessed people from all walks experience the murals and add to the excitement. It was satisfying to see multiple locals' efforts come together to support this event!”

Through her work on the Magafan Mural Project at Holy Cross, a student-led initiative to conserve the four murals painted by Jenne Magafan at Worcester East Middle, Valente became more aware and interested in the Worcester art scene, collaborating with local art professionals and enthusiasts, including Anderson, who introduced her to POW! WOW! Worcester.

“I was inspired by the project's mission and having worked with the mural at Worcester East Middle School, I was excited to continue working with the city's art collection,” says Valente, a chemistry major, and visual art history and visual art studio double minor at the College.

Valente’s relationship to the arts in Worcester began when she was awarded a research grant to study the Magafan murals through Holy Cross’ Weiss Summer Research Program.

Anderson also connects his engagement with POW! WOW! Worcester back to Holy Cross.

“This project was done as a means of community engagement and development which obviously stems from my desire to be a ‘man for, and with, others,’ explains Anderson.

John Vo ’09, a philosophy and visual art studio double major at the College, was a member of the events team for POW! WOW! Worcester. He recently opened a private fine arts gallery, Nine Dot, on Main Street in Worcester and in 2010, was awarded a Fulbright grant to paint and study contemporary and traditional Vietnamese Art in Vietnam.

Due to their substantial and impactful local involvement, all three alumni have been presented with keys to the city of Worcester.