Connected \\ May 3, 2019

Neighborhood stories

As quite possibly the youngest person to ever serve as a PEM Trustee, at age 37, Stephanie Benenson is drawn to experimental, community-based art and is helping bring exciting public art to Salem. This May, Benenson’s interest in storytelling, cultural diversity and capturing community voices will be on view in Salem’s El Punto Urban Art Museum. The public art project called IM|MIGRATION includes an audio-visual experience, augmented reality and an outdoor photography exhibition featuring the stories and storytellers of the Point neighborhood.

Stephanie Benenson started Harbor Voices

Stephanie Benenson started Harbor Voices to bring communities together through storytelling. Courtesy image

Neighborhood stories

Photography by Jeff Barnett-Winsby

You go down a rabbit hole,” says Benenson. “It’s ‘can I talk to your aunt or your grandmother’ and you go from there. It’s hard because there’s always one more person who wants to share their story.” In fact, she was fielding emails and phone calls weeks after the project wrapped.

In addition to Spanish speakers, she has spent countless hours interviewing the aging French Canadian people whose families established the neighborhood at the turn of the century, as well as residents from Salem’s Albanian community. Those interviewed ranged from six to 80 years old and stories covered about 150 years of history. A World War II veteran who grew up in the Point when it was all French Canadian and a Spanish speaking boy both shared memories of playing baseball in Palmer Cove Park.

Neighborhood stories

Photography by Jeff Barnett-Winsby

It’s obvious that this open and friendly “social practice artist” admires the people she has talked with in their homes and in English classes in the Point and at The House of Seven Gables. “They’ve changed the trajectory of an entire family by taking a risk and establishing themselves here,” she says.

Partnering with Point neighborhood based North Shore Community Development Corporation, the project is funded by the Barr Foundation through Essex County Community Foundation’s Creative County Initiative. The event kicks off on May 11 with a PEM-sponsored picnic in Peabody Park, featuring live music, dancers and Dominican food from Celia’s, a neighborhood restaurant. The festivities will carry on for another week with after-dark opportunities to stroll the alleyways of El Punto Urban Art Museum, with its breathtaking murals by international artists, and take in the light installation and layered voices, along with portraits taken by photographer and social practice artist Jeff Barnett-Winsby of residents in their homes or former residents in bodegas and barber shops.

A collection of the murals on view in the Punto Urban Art Museum

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). IMMIGRATION will take place right here. Photograph by Bob Packert/PEM

neighborhood stories

Photography by Jeff Barnett-Winsby

neighborhood stories

Photography by Jeff Barnett-Winsby

“She has been here 40 hours a week,” said NSCDC’s Marketing and Events Coordinator Ashley Shedd of Benenson, adding that some people visited the funky and art-filled CDC’s offices, in an old French Canadian Club, to tell their stories.

Benenson doesn’t claim to be a historian, but rather views these projects as opportunities to create public art and community. She shared her elaborate spreadsheets of notes from her interviews with categories such as PLACE or FAMILY TRIUMPHS and her criteria for how to integrate and layer them into her work.

Another component of the public art project is an augmented reality experience in the neighborhood’s Alley Gallery that will allow participants to open doors and let multiple languages wash over them. If people allow themselves to get out of their comfort zone and linger, they will soon glean some meaning and experience some shared humanity, even if they don’t understand a word, says Benenson. The door component was inspired by stories Benenson was told about voter registration volunteers knocking on the doors of Point residents and being surprised by the friendly response and hospitality they received.

Benenson created her public art collaborative Harbor Voices in 2017. Initially funded by grant money from her alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design, Harbor Voices quickly caught the attention of nonprofit art and community organizations as well as other artists, designers, musicians and writers, becoming an extensive collaboration. She views Harbor Voices as a living and growing art piece.

The project began with stories from Gloucester immigrants and sort of saved Benenson after she and her husband Clement moved from New York City in 2010, back to Cape Ann and she felt like she wasn’t connecting with local artists. That’s when she began to hang out at PEM.

“It had transformed in the time I’d been away,” she says of the museum.

Benenson comes from a family of Cape Ann artists with a family-run gallery in Rockport. Her father, John Terelak, has work in PEM’s collection and her grandfather, Martin Ahearn, was a watercolor painter.

"I have to figure out what's next," Benenson said, “as I research the intersection between arts accessibility, technology and public art. There were so many lessons learned in this process."

im|migration public voices

Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM

neighborhod stories

Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM

harbor voices

Photography by Ken Sawyer/PEM


Public Voices. Public Art.

Saturday, May 11, 2019 from 6–10 pm

Join us for a community picnic, sponsored by the Peabody Essex Museum, to celebrate the unique cultures of the Point neighborhood. Then view the opening of IM|Migration, an outdoor laser and sound installation created by Harbor Voices, that tells the stories of 100 immigrants, past and present. The event is part of a weeklong public art festival at Salem's El Punto Urban Art Museum.

Location: Peabody Street Park | 34 Peabody Street, Salem

Fiesta De Arte
May 18, 2019 | 9pm-1am | 96 Lafayette Street, Salem | $25/Online, $30/Door, $100/VIP

Join us in North Shore CDC’s historic loft gallery for on of the most fun evenings on the North Shore: a performance art party featuring Harbor Voices, DJ Cito & a host of other artists. Music, performance art, lighting installations, cash bar. VIP Tickets are available but limited, VIP experience: guided tour of Harbor Voices, drink tickets, special gift bag and more. This event is 21+.
*Tickets are $10 for Residents of the Point Neighborhood (Purchase and valid ID required at the door)

For more information on the entire week of events, go HERE.

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