Mayor leads bike tour through Holyoke to spotlight local murals and more

Nearly 50 cyclists, as well as the mayor of Holyoke, gathered in front of the "Father and baby moose" mural found off of Clemente and Crescent streets during a bike tour on Monday, May 13, 2024. Artist Bordalo II and others worked to make the piece a reality as part of a collaboration involving the group Beyond Walls.
James Paleologopoulos / WAMC
Nearly 50 cyclists, as well as the mayor of Holyoke, gathered in front of the “Father and baby moose” mural found off of Clemente and Crescent streets during a bike tour on Monday, May 13, 2024. Artist Bordalo II and others worked to make the piece a reality as part of a collaboration involving the group Beyond Walls.

Dozens of cyclists and the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts pedaled through the city’s downtown and canal district this week. It was part of a tour that featured murals, projects and other developments as riders made their way through part of the city’s center.

For a second year, the mayor and a group of bike riders took part in a “Tour de Holyoke” that went from city hall and across the canal to see parts of the city that continue to develop while sporting works of art.

Organized by the city’s Holyoke Biking & Pedestrian Committee, the event featured an hour of bike riding with Mayor Joshua Garcia and other city officials, with special stops to see some of the many murals that gone up in the area over the past few years.

Committee member Kristen Sykes took part in Monday’s ride.

“They’re scattered all throughout the city, all the way as far as Holyoke Community College, and it’s part of this thing called “Beyond Walls,” and for the last couple years, they’ve actually been working with artists from all over the world, a lot of really well-known artists, to put together murals in Holyoke and to help highlight the vibrance of the city,” Sykes told WAMC.

The city teamed up with Beyond Walls, a non-profit devoted to bringing art into public spaces.

The end result – a collection of vibrant, bright pieces found along the tour, many designed by Puerto Rican artists that celebrate the heritage found in many of the city’s neighborhoods.

"Iguana-Boina," by the artist Rafique. Found at 363 Main Street in Holyoke.
Beyond Walls / Beyond Walls: Holyoke Series
“Iguana-Boina,” by the artist Rafique. Found at 363 Main Street in Holyoke.

“A lot of murals in that area, particularly, deal with sort of Latino identity, cultural identity – [there were] images we didn’t get to see, of women – really sort of the matriarchy, especially in Latino community – the [mural] of the rooster right by that, so again, sort of highlighting that culture,” said former state representative and current Director of Planning and Economic Development Aaron Vega.

Beyond Walls / Beyond Walls: Holyoke 2023 Series
“La Danza” by artist David Zayas. Found on 57 Hamilton Street in Holyoke.

“I think it’s important for us to recognize that these neighborhoods have a long history of immigration and migration, but who’s here now and who’s been here for the last 40 years is a strong Latino community,” he said.

Vega also took part in the ride, calling attention to how some of the pieces came together, including “Father and baby moose” off of Clemente and Crescent streets.

The massive piece features the animals standing and spanning multiple floors of a building side, all while incorporating discarded plastic, which pops off from the wall.

"Tun Cutum PA" by artist Don Rimx, found at 147 High Street in Holyoke
Beyond Walls / Beyond Walls: Holyoke 2023 Series
“Tun Cutum PA” by artist Don Rimx, found at 147 High Street in Holyoke

The ride also highlighted how bike riding figures into the city’s development plans.

Acknowledging Holyoke has more work to do when it comes to bike accessibility, Mayor Garcia spoke with WAMC while riding, noting that whether it’s by foot or on a bike, investing in pedestrian infrastructure remains a priority.

“One of the things that we have to make sure of as we continue to invest in improving community safety is being sure that we’re being mindful of, you know, like, for example, I don’t ride bikes regularly, so I don’t know the culture – but I have a community that does, and doing these things like this help open up our eyes a little bit,” he said.

One rider who was part of the experience was a Swedish artist who goes by the name “Clark Mountain” and now lives in western Massachusetts.

“It was an extremely exciting experience because you get to see two of the things I love most – I love street art, and graffiti and stuff – I lived in New York for many years, and for me, it’s like being back in Brooklyn,” he said. “There’s a lot of similarity from the street art scene to Holyoke, so I love that.”

The ride also provided an opportunity to plug projects under way in South Holyoke and the canal area.

Vega took time to point to various housing developments that have either gone up or are in the process of being built, including the South Holyoke Homes project near Carlos Vega Park, named after his father.

Vega added that housing and attracting companies remain a focus as officials work to build up the city of just under 40,000 people.

“We’re looking at companies that are focused on energy production, focused on reducing carbon emissions, and, really, kind of capitalize on the sort of green technologies,” he said. “We’re looking at building a lot more housing in Holyoke – not just low-income housing, but all the way through workforce housing and market-rate housing. We want to bring back a community that is walkable, people can work in the community maybe even walk back to work, like they used to back in the day.”

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