Nourishing the Arts | Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA

From the Worcester Art Museum to art education centers, performance art festivals, and multiple live music venues, here are some of the best things to do in Worcester, MA, for culture buffs.

By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

Mar 13 2018

Worcester Art Museum remastered gallery-9-2013

Visitors in the Worcester Art Museum’s [remastered] gallery.

Photo Credit : Courtesy of the Worcester Art Museum
Worcester, we’d heard, was enjoying a renaissance of the arts. Curious about what was happening in this often-overlooked hub in central Massachusetts, we set out to explore and create a list of some of the best things to do in Worcester, MA, for culture buffs. First, we asked Michelle May, founder of Worcester’s Cirque du Noir, about her city’s arts scene. “People keep talking about the ‘Renaissance of Worcester,’” Michelle explained, “but so much has existed this whole time. In my opinion, we aren’t getting there—we’ve been here all along!” And she proceeded to tick off on her fingers the places we should look; she ran out of fingers before she was halfway through. The choices ranged from Cézanne to poetry slams.

Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA | Arts & Museums

Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA
Worcester Art Museum’s [Remastered] Gallery | Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA
Photo Credit : Courtesy of the Worcester Art Museum
Anchoring the fine art scene is the highly respected Worcester Art Museum, whose collections total more than 37,000 works of art dating back as far as five millennia. Along with notable collections of European and American art that include paintings by Monet, Gauguin, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Whistler, and Winslow Homer, the museum houses a medieval monastery chapter house and the largest Roman floor mosaic of any museum in America. Its collections were recently increased by the addition of arms and armor from the now shuttered John Woodman Higgins Armory Museum. Impressive as it is, WAM is not the only place in Worcester to admire works of art. The Sprinkler Factory is a non-profit exhibit and art space set, as the name suggests, in a former sprinkler manufacturing plant. Its changing exhibits feature solo and group shows by local artists, and all its exhibitions are free. Opening receptions are held on the first Saturday of every month. ARTS Worcester is the city’s largest formal arts program, with solo, small group, and juried exhibits of works in all media by local and nationally known artists. Exhibits are displayed in the 1897 Classic Revival Aurora Hotel and across the Main Street in the Hadley Building, as well as in the early 1900s Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts. The Hanover is Worcester’s venue for touring entertainers, Broadway companies, and large-scale local performances. [text_ad] The line between art and craft isn’t one to draw too finely, as we discovered at the Worcester Center for Crafts. The center offers large studios fully equipped for photography, metal, ceramics, and glass crafts shared by working artists and used as teaching space for public workshops and courses. The Craft Center’s Krikorian Gallery displays and sells the creative work of local artists and craftsmen—fine art prints and cards, pottery, enameling, blacksmithing and other metal arts, photography, blown and fused glass, jewelry, and textiles. The rapidly expanding WorcShop also provides studio space, and its active calendar includes live model sessions for artists and amateurs, metalworking classes and workshops, photography classes, fix-it nights, free BYO-craft work nights, and even a monthly Philosophy Roundtable. Like the Worcester Center for Crafts, it’s becoming a magnet for Worcester’s creative community. Along with shows and exhibits held by these and other organizations, periodic and annual art events like stART on the Street and Pow! Wow! Worcester bring art to locals’ everyday lives. 2017’s 10-day Pow! Wow! Worcester attracted 50 mural artists to add color to the cityscape as locals and visitors watched them work. Combining art, music, and performance, stART on the Street is a festival that features more than 300 artists and craftspeople who work and show in Union Station, and free performances of everything from jazz to belly dancing.

Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA | Live Music

Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA
Worcester Chamber Music Society | Best Things to Do in Worcester, MA
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Worcester Chamber Music Society
Festivals like stART on the Street have a lot of local performing artists to draw on. If enjoying live music is one of your favorite things to do in Worcester, MA, you’re in luck. The Worcester Palladium, where audiences have listened to the likes of Bob Dylan, Prince, rapper 50 Cent, B. B. King, and alternatives like My Chemical Romance, draws big names, but almost any night you can find live music somewhere in Worcester. On weekends, you may have several choices. Since its first concert in 2006, Worcester Chamber Music Society has played to sell-out audiences. Its lively style, Neighborhood Strings program, and summer music camps, coupled with affordable tickets, have built a younger audience base than is usual for classical music. The Salisbury Singers perform everything from Bach to Sondheim at Mechanics Hall, local churches, and other venues. Mechanics Hall also hosts out-of-town performers, including international symphony orchestras brought here by Music Worcester. This group also sponsors performances as diverse as the Boston Brass, Dublin Irish Dance, and the annual Handel’s Messiah by the Worcester Chorus—a 100-member chorale formed in 1858 to celebrate the opening of Mechanics Hall that have been singing ever since. The Sprinkler Factory’s small black box theater hosts plays, poetry, and music, including the Worcester Folk Orchestra, an instrumental group known for reels, jigs, waltzes, and contra dance favorites. This has also been the venue for Cirque du Noir, a blending of art and music to celebrate local culture. As founder Michelle May explains, “It started with me saying, ‘Imagine if we could get all our artist friends together and have an event celebrating the talents that most people just don’t see.’ The simple idea was that I loved art and music and Worcester for all the magic that happens here. I wanted to pull people together to experience this. So it began!” Much of Worcester’s art scene plays out in smaller, underground places where music lovers rendezvous for whatever vibe they rock to. For blues and rock, it’s Vincent’s on Suffolk Street, so small it feels as though the musicians are sitting at your table. Live music by Boston Music Award winners is half the appeal—the meatball sandwiches are the other. Nick’s, on Millbury Street, is the place for live jazz and cabaret; when there’s no live performance the jukebox spins out classic tunes. The bistro at the Bull Mansion, an ornate Victorian Gothic on Pearl Street, features jazz and cabaret. Ralph’s Rock Diner draws fans of rock and punk, as well as comedy, and on Monday nights the spoken word rules with The Dirty Gerund Poetry Series. Poetry is hot in Worcester and this popular series brings in big names, but it’s not the only poetic act in town. The Raven draws a younger crowd, and the Worcester County Poetry Association hosts big slams. On Sunday nights The Poets’ Asylum, active in Worcester since 1991, has readings by featured poets and open slams. It didn’t take long for us to see that Michelle was right: Worcester’s arts renaissance is simply a long-overdue realization of what’s been there right along.