Connected \\ March 21, 2018

Embracing Salem’s new museum

A NEW MUSEUM has opened in Salem with an ambitious mission: to use public art to break down an invisible barrier that exists between one predominantly Latino neighborhood and the rest of the city.

“It’s no secret in Salem that there is a lot of stigma around the Point neighborhood and directed at the people of this neighborhood,” said Mickey Northcutt, chief executive officer of the North Shore Community Development Coalition. “Our focus is the Point, but we know this is a dynamic that exists in urban America and really all over the world.”

The PUNTO Urban Art Museum, officially launched in September, is a curated arts district with 50 outdoor murals within a three-block radius. Most of the works are painted on affordable-housing properties owned by the NSCDC, injecting the neighborhood with an infusion of color while also giving people a reason to come visit.

The Salem-based nonprofit commissioned 30 global artists to create the large-scale murals on the apartment buildings and invited 20 local artists to paint smaller murals along a neglected concrete wall that surrounds an electric power transformer. PEM staffers Emily Larsen and Kameko Branchaud were among the artists chosen to participate in the project.


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A collection of the murals on view in the Punto Urban Art Museum located in Salem’s Point neighborhood, just a 10-minute walk from PEM. Murals from left to right: Don Rimx, Tiranda con Piquete; Bikismo, Untitled; Silvia Lopez-Chavez, Untitled; and Ruben Ubiera, El Campesino (The Farmer).


“I really liked the idea of an urban art museum — a walkable, community-driven art initiative with a goal to tie all of Salem’s neighborhoods together,” said Larsen, who painted a vibrant parrot from the West Indies. “It was a lot of fun and inspiring to work side-by-side with other local artists each with their own unique styles.”

© 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert


North Shore CDC’s Chief Program Officer Rosario Ubiera-Minaya said the idea of the urban art museum stemmed from the success of two smaller murals embraced by the neighborhood. “We knew this was a small slice of what could happen,” said Ubiera-Minaya, who grew up in the Point and previously worked as PEM’s director of fellowships and internships.

Her brother, Ruben Ubiera, was hired as the North Shore CDC’s first curator, and helped pull in mural artists from across the globe — Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Belgium, Spain and Puerto Rico — to participate.

The organic interaction that developed between the artists and the residents was so beautiful.
— Rosario Ubiera-Minaya


She noted how some residents would open windows to offer a hot coffee or cold drink to the artists working outside on elevated lifts. Teenagers shooting around on a basketball court shouted up suggestions that one artist incorporated into his final work.

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So Pretty It Hurts, a mural by PEM staffer Kameko Branchaud, which tied for first-place honors with Miguel Cruz in the Punto Urban Art Museum competition. All photos by Bob Packert/PEM.


“With this new museum, kids in the Point now live in the neighborhood everyone wants to check out and they can be inspired by this amazing collection of artists,” said Northcutt. “So many people are coming to Salem for art already because of PEM so I think there is a lot of interest we can tap into.”

Northcutt said most of the murals are on buildings with deed restrictions, which means they must remain affordable housing. It was important to have built-in protection against gentrification to prevent real estate developers from making a profit off the new arts district, as has happened in other cities.

In the coming years, there are plans to establish a year-round artist-in-residence program and transform two retail spaces owned by the CDC into a street art gallery and shops.

“We have big dreams,” said Ubiera-Minaya.

Visit northshorecdc.org to learn more.

Help kick off the 2018 Season of the Punto Urban Art Museum at North Shore CDC's office loft in Salem. For more information and tickets to the event on Saturday, April 14, go HERE.

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