Right before the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2019, our office entered a raffle to win a guided walking tour of the murals and artwork on display in the Punto Neighborhood of Salem. This tour was hosted by the North Shore Community Development Coalition (NSCDC), whose mission is to invest in neighborhoods to help communities thrive. Their goal is to invest in low-income communities around the North Shore of Massachusetts to improve the quality of life for its residents. There are over 80 large-scale murals in the North Shore area because of this project, including a rotating annual exhibition highlighting local artists.
This ongoing project falls under the category of beautification. Beautification is the process of improving the appearance of a place, which these murals are helping to do. Many of the murals are strategically placed in alleyways of Salem’s Point neighborhood, places that were once considered dangerous and somewhere to avoid. By adding murals to these once avoided places, the community draws attention to them, changing the narrative and suggesting that there is no longer a need to avoid these spaces. Public art is a tool that can be used in placemaking, which is an important aspect of helping a community feel more comfortable in their own space.
One of the important distinctions to make when looking at housing projects is the difference between affordable housing and subsidized housing. Affordable housing is made possible by the housing authority, which owns the building and acts as the landlord. Subsidized housing is owned and operated by private owners who receive money from the government to put towards housing costs to bring the cost down for low-moderate income tenants. The North Shore Community Development Coalition has created over 400 affordable homes by investing in the community.
Our tour was led by the Community engagement manager, Shantel, who had a very touching story about growing up in the Dominican Republic and moving to the Punto neighborhood of Salem, MA. She mentioned how aspects of the Dominican community in the Punto Neighborhood helped remind her of home. Many of the mural artists also include aspects of their communities that may remind them of home, helping to create and enforce the sense of placemaking.
This first mural shown here lives in the NSCDC’s courtyard, where we had catering from a local restaurant, Spitfire Tacos. As a part of the tour, it was great to highlight a delicious local spot where we enjoyed tacos, chips, guacamole, and street corn. The next photo shows Courtney and Lis pictured in front of another one of the murals in the NSCDC courtyard. Every courtyard wall had artwork on it, making us feel extremely welcome and excited for the rest of the tour. It felt like we had been transported out of Salem, Massachusetts, into a downtown courtyard surrounded by beautiful artwork.
After some time, we began our walking tour of the murals in the Punto neighborhood. The first mural we saw was this one at the corner of Lafayette Street and Peabody Street. We learned that the murals were made by different artists, but they were put together because they were found to complement each other. The man shown in the mural resembles Salvador Dali, a famous Spanish artist. As we continued down Peabody Street, we passed historic buildings with plaques marking their territory and explaining their significance.
As we continued on our tour, we followed the trail of murals in front of us. Many of the murals have artistic mentions to different communities in the area.
Finally, each of the murals in the area has an artist plaque showing the artist’s name and the artist’s social media handle, as well as when the art piece was commissioned and a photo of the work itself. Additionally, each work has a QR code which you can scan to learn more about the piece of art from the same tour guide that we had. She is extremely knowledgeable about each artwork, and we highly recommend checking it out for yourself if you are in the area!