Making it – Artists in Worcester

Jason Savio

When you think of popular places for artists and creative people to live, cities like New York and Los Angeles will likely be the first to pop up in your mind. After all, some of the biggest names in the industry have made their way through those areas.

But what about Worcester? Perhaps better put: Why not Worcester?

Sure, New York City might get the attention as the East Coast capital of arts and entertainment, but less than 200 miles away, there is a pulse that is becoming stronger and stronger. The heartbeat pumping that city full of life is a growing group of young and talented individuals. Unlike those other bustling cities, artists say being in Worcester is a unique experience that they wouldn’t trade.


A city of opportunity

Whether you’re a musician, painter, model, photographer or use another medium, Worcester has your back, especially if you’re still trying to find your voice. That’s what you’ll hear when you speak with those inside Worcester’s arts scene.

“What I like about Worcester is that early on in an artist’s career, it’s a good place to grow your chops,” said Giuliano D’Orazio, guitarist and singer in the local band Hot Letter. Along with co-founder Matt Sivazlian, the 25-year-old D’Orazio has been on the Worcester circuit for almost a decade now, having gotten his start playing gigs at the former Lucky Dog. Currently, Hot Letter can be seen performing their brand of classic rock at Michael’s Cigar Bar.

Having been here for some time, D’Orazio calls Worcester his “home” and credits the city as a place that supports young artists and their goals. D’Orazio says that whether you’re a solo act, duo or full ensemble, it’s not hard to get a gig in the city if you put in the work and time.

Sharinna Travieso feels the same way. A painter and muralist in the city, the 25-year-old Worcester native embodies the approach of making the most of being here, having recently decided to focus full time on her art.

“The best thing about being an artist in Worcester is the opportunities that are available, unlike New York, where everyone is doing art (and) it’s easy to get lost in the sea of artists,” said Travieso. “There’s a lot more room for growth here.”

And Travieso is making progress, thanks to that wiggle room, having had her work showcased at The Muse and NineDot Gallery. Lately, she’s been working with local businesses like Accra Girls restaurant and The Cut Coach to bring color and art into their establishments.

“I can honestly say that the city has been really supportive of my work,” she said. “I’m always booked with commission work, and the positive feedback that I receive from people I know and don’t know is so amazing.”


Double-edged sword

There is no denying that Worcester is smaller than cities like New York and L.A. But as some see it, that can work to one’s benefit. Where it’s easy to become lost in the crowd in a bigger scene, in Worcester, you have a better chance of getting known and making contacts that can help further your career. Many of those contacts are other artists in the city who are willing to lend a hand.

Angelina Papageorge, 21, is a student at Worcester State and a budding photographer who is grateful for the support system she finds in Worcester.

“Because Worcester is so small compared to other cities, it’s kind of like the art people are a close-knit group,” Papageorge said. “We basically know who everyone is and what they do and what their art style is like.”

Papageorge said the encouragement of other artists in the community inspired her to pursue photography.

“All my artist friends in Worcester ‑ all the photographers, all the videographers ‑ really inspired me to make my own style,” she said.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of a double-edged sword involved here, too, which can rear its ugly head, according to D’Orazio. With the community being so small, artists can find themselves having a hard time creating enough room to breathe and separate themselves from the pack, which is an almost unfair irony.

“Because it’s easy to get a gig in Worcester, the market is a bit flooded,” D’Orazio said. “I think it’s great that people who have regular nine-to-five jobs can go out and be weekend warriors with their band, and they don’t rely on that for their income so they’re taking gigs that are paying less than what a regular music performance should be paid.

“The downside to that is that those of us who have chosen to make this our career, it is difficult to get paid what we’re worth because there are a lot of people who have other careers and do this as a hobby and are willing to take gigs for little to no money,” he said. “So there is a financial downside to the fact that Worcester has so many opportunities and it’s so easy to get a gig.”

D’Orazio’s idea to fix this problem? He suggests music-dedicated venues where there is little to no cover charge to help support musicians.

Others, like 21-year-old model Widny Bazile, who got her start in Worcester and has since used that success and networking to gain traction on a promising career, has nothing but love for the Worcester arts scene and its unique quirks, especially the family feeling amongst its members.

“Being an artist in Worcester is something that I can say has truly brought me a long way,” Bazile said. “Because Worcester is so small, if you’re doing something dope, then people are going to see you doing it. If you’re doing art (in Worcester), then you know everybody that’s doing art in Worcester. That’s how you become friends; that’s how (tight) Worcester is.”

Comedian Shaun Connolly, 30, who has hosted various shows around town and currently has his Sort of Late Show at Ralph’s Rock Diner, calls the Worcester arts scene “vast” and “weird” but ultimately believes that it has supported him.

“It takes patience, grit and a willingness to laugh at yourself to succeed in Worcester,” said Connolly. “The moment you as an artist start to hem and haw about how you’re not getting what you deserve, then you are failing as a comic. Keep doing what you’re doing and the rest will follow.”


A helping hand

A big factor in boosting the surging WooTown arts scene are groups that support it, such as Arts Worcester.

A non-profit organization, Arts Worcester is the hub for hundreds of emerging and established artists in the area. It offers opportunity and education to its members, including workshops that focus on everything from the business side of being an artist, such as copyright and intellectual property rules and grants to fund artists’ work, to the chance to take part in exhibitions and get their work seen.

Juliet Feibel is the executive director of Arts Worcester and says that the organization is “pivotal” for creative people in the region.

“Part of what we do is not only encourage people to start but give them a real opportunity,” Feibel said. “We believe very strongly that our job is to give artists the professional credentials that they need to advance their career. We work hard to give artists those resume lines, those achievements.”

Arts Worcester isn’t just focused on traditional paintings, either. New media, video, conceptual and all other approaches are supported and encouraged by the group. All forms of expression are eligible for prizes that include a solo exhibition or cash to fund the artist’s work.

Arts Worcester proudly showcases the work of its members at various locations across the city, including its home and main gallery at the Aurora, 660 Main St., Worcester. If you stop by, don’t be surprised to meet the creator of the work you’re looking at, said Feibel.

“This is a close-knit community, and chances are if you come here and the artist isn’t here then they’ll be here very soon or I can arrange to have them here in an hour,” she said. “To understand that the person who made that art is your neighbor or the person standing across the room and you can ask them questions is really electric.”


A growing community

Taking a look around Worcester today, you’ll see that the town is enjoying an upswing in growth and innovation. New businesses are popping up and, with that, the potential for an exciting future. The arts scene itself is woven deeply into the fabric of this hip new getup that WooTown is flashing, and the days ahead are looking more and more positive.

Even though Bazile is currently trying out her luck in Los Angeles, she has faith in the future of the Worcester arts scene and believes in its continued innovation.

“The arts scene in Worcester is building more and more, and it’s getting beautiful,” she said.

D’Orazio, for his part, has no plans to move out of the city anytime soon, citing a comfort level and familiarity that best suits him and his band.

“We grew up here, so we have connections and opportunities to play that keep us here,” he said. “There is a new art scene emerging here and a small business scene that actually really does support the music. So there is a lot of good.”

A large portion of that positive energy comes from artists who are willing to reach out support each other. Travieso believes it is important to be open and welcome artists in Worcester to express themselves and get out there.

“I think the art scene is a work in progress,” said Travieso. “Art is a very inclusive thing, so it’s important that we are providing opportunities for all of our artists in the city.”