If the city of Worcester were ever to look for a head cheerleader — someone whose job is to celebrate local art by throwing a really huge party — it would have to look no further than Tina Zlody. Not only would she readily accept that position, she’s already created it. The only unpredictable element would whether her hair color — which switches from red to blonde to brown several times a year — would match her uniform.
Zlody is the ultimate arts enthusiast. Fittingly, she spends her workdays with creative types, assisting Clark students and faculty artists, photographers and musicians, as program/events coordinator in the Visual and Performing Arts Department. At home she gets to spend her time with photographer-husband Louis Despres.
“I truly respect the faculty, their dedication to their scholarly work, to the students and to the greater Worcester community. I am proud to say that there is a core group of staff here that are my friends. We have a great bond and it is part of why Clark is so important to me,” Zlody says.
She credits her mom, Maureen Zlody, with introducing her to the Worcester art scene. A collector, painter and pianist, Maureen made sure her children knew about the art that was being displayed in public areas and behind museum doors. Zlody remembers her mother slowing down the car so her daughter could appreciate the World War II Eagle monument and statue on West Boylston Street designed by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles.
“Artists, musicians, actors, poets, writers all see and hear the world their own way and then interpret that in a way I can’t really comprehend. It amazes me,” she says. Zlody claims that most of the artists she spends time with, both at work and in her non-Clark life (and there is a significant overlap) “have wonderful senses of humor, are slightly wacky, and have the truest hearts I have ever known.”
Zlody’s love of art prompted her to attend a public meeting in 2002, where there was discussion about Worcester’s proposed arts district. When the news came that it would take years to get the district off the ground, she and many of her artist friends were disappointed.
“I just happened to be sitting at a table of artists and organizers who didn’t want to wait,” she recalls. “We wanted to put art on the street, so we did.” And stART on the Street was born.
As co-director and founding member of stART, Zlody has helped bring a day-long roving arts festival to the city over the last decade. The first three events were held in Main South. After a brief hiatus, the planning committee brought the festival back with a bang, relocating to Park Avenue.
Given the rising attendance figures, residents clearly have a hunger for it. The 2002 event attracted 3,000 to 4,000 attendees, and by the fall of 2011 it was drawing an estimated 40,000 people. Two hundred fifty artists and crafters displayed and sold their wares in tents along Park Avenue, from Highland Street to Pleasant Street. Over time and with the city’s ongoing support (closing Park Avenue for a day is no small feat), Zlody and her crew have added a large food court, and four stages featuring more than 30 acts including indie rock, belly dancing, string quartets, poets and folk singers. Each year, Clark students participate as artists or volunteers.
“People say to me at our events that they ‘have never seen Worcester like this,’ with music, art, food, and so many people. And they are all getting something wonderful from the experience, whether it’s a person seeing a living statue for the first time, or being brought up on stage to play an African drum,” Zlody says.
“The secret to stART’s success,” Zlody says, is “good leadership and the ability to work within a team. All nine individuals on the event’s organizing committee have individual strengths that mesh well with everyone else’s abilities. A sense of humor is a MUST!”
stART is so popular, Zlody added a December edition, stART at the Station (at Worcester’s Union Station), and this June she introduced a spring version on Green Street.
It’s easy to tell Zlody is proud to be uniting thousands of people in their common appreciation for Worcester art and culture.
“Truth be told, I would love for someone with as much passion and drive as the current directors have to take it over in a few years,” she says. “I would love to attend an event I helped create purely as a spectator. I hear it’s a wonderful experience.”