One of the most innovative ways to bring literacy to the community is happening at ArteSana, an amazing organization in Holyoke, Mass. that is forging a compelling combination of arts, entrepreneurship and educational opportunities.
Women from the community work together to create beautiful accent pillows with handwoven covers made from up-cycled T-shirts. (The Spanish word artesana means a female artisan, but arte and sana in Spanish also mean “art heals.”) From there, sales of pillows generate income for the women who produce the products – while also generating funding for ESOL classes offered for free to the people of Holyoke and surrounding towns.
The idea for ArteSana was born in 2013 when founder Katy Moonan – an artist, educator and native Spanish speaker – was working as an ESOL teacher in Holyoke. The program grew out of her desire to integrate creative activities into her ESOL program. Today, the three looms in the workshop are threaded with a rainbow of colors, while the adjacent classroom is decorated instead with whiteboards and learning materials.
ArteSana has become a place of learning and expression for Latina immigrants. One such woman, Erika, came to Holyoke after being forced to flee Honduras. Erika had worked as a seamstress in a Hanes T-shirt factory in Honduras, and upon arriving in Holyoke she struggled to find her way: searching for a job, accessing daycare for her son, seeking an ESOL program. She was eager to start learning English so that she could pursue the goal of starting her own clothing business.
Erika found long waiting lists at adult and family literacy programs throughout the city, and without a social network and without speaking English, she started to feel depressed and isolated. That was when she heard about ArteSana’s weaving workshops and decided to stop by. On her very first day, she met women who understood her journey and offered her meaningful support.
Today, Erika is a leader in the workshop and an active participant in ESOL classes. Her growing English skills allow her to be a confident representative of ArteSana in the community and at trade shows. She is an illustration of the mission of ArteSana, building skills, confidence and opportunity in one place.