Activating a long vacant space in Worcester's Main South neighborhood to create a center for arts, culture, and community.

The daughter of immigrants, Vanessa Calixto grew up in Worcester, spending her formative years in Main South. She recalls the area being filled with activity and music, making her feel at home. Now, Vanessa is bringing her deep love of Main South into Plaza Sábados, a new monthly pop-up community gathering organized by her artist collective, El Salón.

Vanessa formed El Salón in 2019 after experiencing a lack of authentic and inclusive creative spaces that were representative of her community and the people she worked and organized with. Together, the artist collective creates accessible and welcoming spaces for marginalized artists, with a commitment to shifting and moving Worcester’s arts ecosystem toward justice and equity.

Originally, El Salón had a physical home at The Bridge, a building revitalized by the Worcester community. Despite passionate efforts from residents to “Save the Bridge”, the building was sold to a developer in 2021. “Since then, we’ve kind of been floating around,” says Vanessa, including landing a residency at the Jean McDonough Arts Center.

Vanessa calls the JMAC residency a turning point for El Salón, saying that with the financial capacity to pay staff, "we began to understand the potential our organization hold to sustain transformative work in our local arts and culture scene."

Now, El Salón has received support from the Foundation and other funders to launch Plaza Sábados. This free, place-based programming is meant to bring liveliness to the Main South neighborhood through arts, culture, community and play. By activating an overlooked street corner, the artist collective hopes to create a consistent space that blurs the lines between commerce, creativity and leisure, forming a mosaic of potential experiences for participants to create together.

Each block party will include a participatory experience and an interactive workshop led by an artist or nonprofit. Pictured: Saori Worcester

To learn more, follow El Salón on Instagram: @_el_salon_.

This story was originally published in our 2023 Annual Report.