Down a one-way street, near a mural that says “You Are Loved,” Coraly Rivera recently waited to begin a single-float parade. Her mission that day was to spread a public health message through Spanish speaking-communities about the importance of wearing face masks.
Yet there was one small problem: her car ran out of gas.
“It was running great through the highway," Rivera said, "and then we got here and it completely stopped.”
She drove a 1957 Dodge Coronet hauling a massive 10-foot metal head sculpture with a crown and cloth mask through Chelsea, one of the cities hit hardest by the outbreak. Known as “The Corona/Crown Project," it's a traveling public art piece meant to encourage communities hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic to wear face masks. The project is a collaboration between The Revolving Museum and ArtSpace Maynard.
“When I heard that Chelsea was so in bad shape and I'm thinking I need to go out there because I’m a teacher, but I'm also an arts activist," Rivera said. “So you know, I think anything that gives people a smile and hope that other people are pulling for each other. I think people will never forget seeing this.”
Even the old car with its layers of original paint was decorated with what she called “cure cells” meant to represent antibodies made and donated by some of Rivera’s students, droves of other artists and community members.
In Spanish, corona means crown, a term that Rivera wants to reclaim.
“The crown is obviously kind of funky, but he represents the people that we want to honor," Rivera said. "We don't want corona to get the word. We want the world back and put it on the first responders, the essential workers. We want to take back that word.”
As she waited for her husband, Jerry Beck, to bring a can of gas, pedestrians pulled out their phones to take pictures. So did Mildred Santos. The longtime resident peered out her upper floor window at the massive orange head with big eyes.
“Hola. Que esta pasando aqui?" Santos asked.
"Hi. What’s happening here?" Santos asks in Spanish. The 54-year-old had a front row seat to the traveling arts installation while quarantined. She said she’s been relying on her daughter as she has health problems.
“I haven't been out. I have been inside two months since this started. I have gone out a little here to the store and stuff. But I'm very careful about this because I do listen to the news all the time and I know what’s going on, and Chelsea is one of the hot spots," Santos said. "It's frustrating, but we gotta do what we gotta do. Cause we don't do what we gotta do. This is never gonna end. So how are we gonna get back to normal?”
Jay Morrissey, a tattoo artist from Tattoo'd Tearz, brought the gas can to the couple after their car broke down. Morrissey watched from the sidewalk. He hasn't been able to work with social distance requirements in place.
"I guess Woodstock was like 50 years ago. [The sculpture] reminds me of that," Morrissey said. "It sends a powerful message."
Soon enough, Rivera and Beck filled the tank, revved the engine twice and the old Dodge was back up and running. The couple realized a quirk about their art-mobile: the fuel gauge is broken. I sometimes appears to be half full even when it’s not, said Beck.
“All right, so when we're gonna drive around and it's a beautiful day," Beck said. "So thank you very much for coming."
He stays positive even in these unpredictable times. A lesson and perspective they plan to keep in mind as they drive their creaking metal head on wheels through New England over the next two months. As they pulled onto the road to head toward Chelsea's City Hall, passersby in face masks immediately take notice. Some cars beeped in support. He said he was glad to see that most people in the street that day were already wearing masks. And when they got stuck and were stopping traffic a lot of people were willing to help them out. Their next stop that day was Lawrence.
"You know, wherever you go, people are always willing to be generous in trying to support people in trouble," Beck said. "Now it's time to go out and inspire the public here in Chelsea and see what we can do to bring some joy, some creativity."
This segment aired on May 25, 2020.