‘Art on the Menu’: Northampton Restaurant Worker Music and Art Show

Photo courtesy of PVWorkersCenter.org | The Restaurant Worker Music and Art Show will take place on Oct. 21.

Photo courtesy of PVWorkersCenter.org | The Restaurant Worker Music and Art Show will take place on Oct. 21.

Becca Damante ’17
Arts Editor

On Oct. 21, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center will host its second annual Restaurant Worker Music and Art Show at the Parlor Room in downtown Northampton, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The event, aptly titled “Art on the Menu,” will showcase visual, musical and performance art from over 25 Northampton restaurant workers.

The art show promises variety, with lots of different mediums and styles as well as representation from many restaurants in Northampton. The show will feature a wealth of visual art, including pencil drawings, painting, collage, pottery and photographs. As for music, Smith alumnae Hannah & Maggie will be performing, as well as Bess Hepner ’16, an intern for the Center and a waitress at Zen Restaurant. Hepner plans to perform a few mariachi songs with a worker from Mosaic Café, who will sing while Hepner plays guitar.

A theme running throughout the show is that many pieces of art relate directly to the participants’ experiences as restaurant workers. For instance, Lincoln Lin from Zen Restaurant will showcase photographs he took of restaurant workers doing their jobs in an effort to show what restaurants’ working conditions are like, while another participant will perform a monologue about their restaurant work experience.  

The focus on restaurant work experience is something that is woven throughout the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, an organization that aims to create a sustainable local economy that supports employers, farmers and workers. For instance, the center has started a storytelling project that will feature portraits and interviews of restaurant workers and has been working on a restaurant workers bill of rights that they ultimately hope to take to City Hall.

The center itself is also a breeding ground for new relationships among restaurant workers. Lin said, “I’ve worked at Zen for over eight years, but [until I went to the center] I never knew other people from other restaurants who work in a restaurant just like me.” Hepner agreed and hoped that the art show would allow workers to meet, which is important when so many waiters and waitresses work such long hours.

Ultimately, the art show aims to have community members understand that waiters and waitresses are more than just their restaurant jobs. According to one worker who participated in last year’s show, who wished to remain anonymous, the event had affected him in his work life, as he felt a difference in the respect he was granted and the tips he received after performing in the show. This becomes extremely important as, for many of the participants, restaurant work is the primary means through which they support themselves.

In highlighting these themes, the show aims to celebrate restaurant workers’ achievements. Director of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center Rose Bookbinder explained, “Restaurant workers are artists, musicians, immigrants, students, parents. They’re all these different things. They’re not just the folks who serve us our food, but they have a lot to their lives that we should celebrate.”

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