Story by Chris Ricci
Photos and Social by John Andrews/Social Palates
To say there are many different forms Salem takes as you journey across the city is an understatement. (It’s no secret/There is no question that Salem is a city of many forms…) From the student-heavy Lafayette Street area to the bustling artsy downtown area, it sometimes feels like Salem is comprised of many little cities united under a single banner. As a community, Salem is working hard to bridge the gap between its many parts, and sometimes this bridging happens literally
Ruben Ubiera, known nationwide for his Post-gaffism urban murals, was called upon by The City of Salem to work with both the North Shore Community Development Coalition and the Point Neighborhood Association to help with reaching out to an area of Salem that is experiencing an artistic renaissance: The Point. In 2013, the Point Neighborhood Vision & Action Plan was created by the partners mentioned above and has been working tirelessly to help improve The Point in various manners. “ Ruben Ubiera happened to be the artist which the Public Art commission and the NSCDC thought could be great for kicking off this project” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya. “Ruben has strong ties to Salem, more specifically to the Point and is an established public art creative professional. Those things were clear throughout the process.”
Mickey Northcutt, Chief Executive Officer of the North Shore Community Development Coalition, has been deeply involved in working with The Point for years. “North Shore CDC has been involved and located in the Point neighborhood for over 30 years. I am lucky to have been here for almost 10 years now.” The Point Neighborhood Vision & Action Plan, though still in its infancy, has had a tremendous response thus far. “There is so much happening in the Point - it has one of the most active neighborhood associations in the city, there is a really strong sense of community here, and there is tremendous momentum towards investment in this neighborhood” said Mickey. “ We want to see the Point thrive in the way the rest of downtown has thrived over the past decade while still maintaining the great character that it already has.”
Improvement, of course, comes in many different forms, but it’s amazing how much impact something like a public art piece can have on a neighborhood that has an urgent desire to change, and Ruben Ubiera knows about this first-hand. Ruben, who was born in the Dominican Republic, relocated to the Bronx at the age of 15 with his family, where he was exposed to towering examples of graffiti-based artwork which left a permanent impact on his work. Despite the Bronx having a major impact on him, The Point also served as a memorable point in his early career. “I used to live in The Point neighborhood. It was an amazing place” said Ruben. “I fell in love with my own country more because of its people.” Returning to the point has proved to be a fascinating experience to Ruben. “I was lucky enough to be given a private tour of the Point I once left and found stuff I don't even know it existed when I lived there” he said. “The way the buildings are laid out, the way and direction the sun shines on them... It's a little city with alleys filled with ancient discovery.”
Rosario also works for the North Shore Community Development Coalition and, like Ruben, shares a deep passion for the arts. This passion followed her through school and, eventually, to her work with the CDC. “When I was an undergraduate student at SSU, I was engaged in community outreach and resident engagement through a local volunteer organization. Most of the work was focused on engagement to the local Latino community of the Point” she said. “Together with what it was at that time was Salem Harbor CDC (which eventually evolved to become North Shore CDC), we developed a program funded by the United Way of the North Shore to engage local youth in an art project. This project led to the art murals displayed in NSCDC properties on Peabody Street and Congress Street. This was 1997.”
Post-graffism takes the ideas behind urban graffiti and adds a whole new level of intrigue and post-modernism to it. The world, for most Post-graffism artists, serves as a living canvas that changes continually, and the only way to improve the integrity of artwork in this modern age is to evolve with it. Though the project was clear from the get-go, there were some uncertainties with the project as a whole. “ What was uncertain had more to do with the logistics, and materials: how fast it takes for this kind of paint to dry (traffic signal paint), how are we going to coordinate the time for police detail? what are the limitations with the design?” said Rosario. “ Logistically, what was more challenging was to work around the need to have one side of Peabody street opened for traffic at all times and also, most annoyingly, the leaves, all those leaves that we didn't think of.” Despite the logistical issues, the project went by without a hitch. “From our Mayor, to other public officials, to kids, to residents, to business owners, there was a lot of engagement and excitement about this project” she said. “The paint ended up working fine; the weather couldn't had been more gorgeous; volunteers were easy to engage; community residents and businesses in the area were happy to participate, and the theme from the project developed organically.
All this being said, the idea of a public installation that serves as a walkway stands out on a deeper level, and the citizens of The Point caught on to this very quick. Before the first dab of paint hit the pavement, people surrounded the Dodge Street area with a sense of both intrigue and a desire to be a part of this living piece. “I was amazed by the buzz and positive energy that was created during the installations by people passing by” said Mickey. “Over and over again, people walked by, and what was going on brought smiles to their faces.” A wide range of people decided to take the smiles brought to their faces and apply that to pavement alongside Ruben. Students, ranging from elementary school kids to college graduates, joined forces with various community organizers, local artists, delivery men, and retirees that came to the area to help bring a vibrant air to The Point. As I stood there watching the conclusion to the second sidewalk, a man (who chose to remain anonymous) walked up to all those standing around the crosswalk and shake each hand individually. “We need him to stay here” he laughed as he pointed to Ruben. “That’s the stuff that keeps us alive.”
The Point’s response to this project has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that the Point Neighborhood Vision & Action Plan hopes to continue these efforts for years to come. Naturally Ruben Ubiera hopes to continue to have a role in helping this mission to thrive. “We spent Friday with Ruben and other artists walking the neighborhood and brainstorming on what will be next” said Mickey. “There are endless possibilities, and now we have a committed team ready to implement them.” “”The love for his work is only matched with his own love for the area, as Ruben made very clear. “The reactions are electrifying already and they're not finished. I believe people will request that this same kind of installation to be done all over Salem” said Ruben. “Maybe I'm daydreaming. But these walkways will serve as bridges between communities. Or at least a conversation. After all, these are actual members of the Point community and volunteers who helped me.”
The walk from the bustling downtown arts district to The Point isn’t a long one whatsoever. Despite this, it can feel like a different world and some people wouldn’t believe that a thriving art scene in The Point exists. The crosswalk project serves as both a literal and symbolic bridging of a gap that, in no time at all, will result in a seemingly endless walkway through this beautiful city.” I think this project tapped into the energy and enthusiasm of our community - young, old and everyone in between, people from the Point and everywhere else, and people who have lived here their whole lives and new immigrants” said Mickey. “Nothing is more representative of Salem, and when we all start working together, the magic really starts to happen.”When asked about her hopes for projects like this in the future, Rosario was very forward. “To engage others that otherwise wouldn't come to the Point to learn about its history, rich culture and current status and hopes for the future. To bridge the gap and bring people together” she said. “My personal hope is for the Point to become the public art district in Salem and to have artists and residents engage in a positive dialog that will bring the neighborhood and the city to the next phase of development.” The differences between the downtown Salem area and The Point, though clear, serve as the canvas for both Ruben’s work and the movement for change. “I believe our differences are what make us stronger!” Ruben said. “It's different and it will be yet another amazing Salem area to keep on exploring. It will bring lights into a dark neighborhood. It will bring consciousness, wonder, and contact between neighbors that don't know each-other because they’re both scared and focusing on the wrong issues.”
Learn more about Ruben Ubiera
By Chris Ricci
The impact that art has on an individual is, at points, immeasurable. Everyone has pieces they love, and the way people express their love can manifest in a myriad of ways. Some people purchase prints, while others take the time to have things they love etched onto their skin in the form of a tattoo. Regardless of the means, it’s hard to deny the global effect that art has had on our culture. This begs a rather esoteric question: how would the Earth show it’s love for art?
Somerville based artist Liz LaManche has not only asked this question before, but is also attempting to answer it in the form of her upcoming installation “Connected by Sea”: an arts project derived from the nautical history of Boston, and transcribed to the form of a tattoo. Funded successfully by a Kickstarter campaign in October, the “Connected by Sea” plans on creating the world’s largest tattoo on the main pier at HarborArts in East Boston. Liz’s creativity doesn’t stop there, as she has proposed a similar project in our own backyard.
It’s hard to deny the vast and diverse history Salem has through the sea, highlighted strongly by the East India Marine Society’s founding of the Peabody Essex Museum. “Salem was settled by fishermen and later grew to be deeply connected to the rest of the world through a thriving commercial trade, which helped to drive the economy and prosperity of the whole region” said Liz in a recent proposal. “The Peabody Essex Museum has long been one of my favorites; it creates an impressive educational journey using cultural artifacts and trade goods to introduce the places and peoples we were connected to by trade.”
What exactly is Liz proposing? It’s quite simple: a companion piece to her successful “Connected by Sea” installation that uses Salem as a canvas. The city-wide tattoo project would stretch through the Old Town Hall area and would draw upon Salem’s ethnic and nautical history. “The museum has a great collection of source material, and I have also done a lot of research on local tribes and their art history. Next, New England Sailors, best evoked through the language of traditional sailor tattoos, which also has a lot of resonance in current popular art and tattooing,” said Liz. “Visitors could walk the pathways throughout the central area around the Old Town Hall, following a progression of motifs or simply discovering one after another. A pamphlet or signage could explain the origin and significance of each.”
The proposed project would last for months and would provide an artistic insight the likes of which Salem has never seen. And, as Liz highlights, this is a project that will give people a chance to understand the history of Salem in a new and provocative way. “This project is aimed at anyone who walks through the area,” she said. “Having signage that will add layers of meaning and background to the piece will be welcome for tourists, students, people interested by the cultural or tattoo art appeal of the motifs, and anyone who wants to explore the area at greater depth.”
Proposal Examples, Actual project will vary
This project is being presented and funded by the City of Salem in association with the newly formed Public Art Commission and with the guidance of the City of Salem public art director Deborah Greel.
Check back with Creative Salem for more information on this project. For more information on Liz LaManche, check out her website below