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  • Words & Photos by John Domine

On the Road: Salem, MA

First thing that comes to mind when you think of Salem, Massachusetts is probably witches. And you wouldn't be wrong; the city has them in spades. In fact, TV's most beloved witch, Samantha Stephens, from the 70s sitcom "Bewitched" (now in syndication on TV Land), is even featured in bronze right near the train station. But what you might not know is that just a couple blocks from this unique, and somewhat controversial, statue is a neighborhood which has recently undergone a bit of transformative magic of its own. Thanks to the North Shore Community Development Coalition and their Punto Urban Art Museum, the neighborhood just got a bit of color to match the spirit of its residents. And it's been a long time coming.

The Punto (or Point) neighborhood, was originally built as factory housing for French-Canadian immigrants in the district and quickly became the densest neighborhood in Salem (10% of Salem's population lives in the Point). Today, it is largely comprised of an immigrant Dominican population, of which 80-90% are living in affordable housing, thanks to the efforts of the Affordable Housing Coalition via the North Shore CDC.

Unfortunately, the Point has not always maintained the best reputation, and there is something of an invisible barrier between itself and the rest of Salem, with outsiders viewing the area as dangerous or unseemly. It's high time that perception changed. During my visit, I had nothing but the warmest of greetings by the locals, who seemed to take pride in the beauty I was soon to discover.

The North Shore CDC owns 50 buildings in the neighborhood, which they have strategically purchased in order to continue to provide affordable housing to the residents who require it. In addition, Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, the organization's Chief Program Officer, happens to be the sister of Ruben Ubiera (Urban Ruben), an incredible artist who grew up in the Point before making his way to Miami where he now resides. This marriage of access to walls and access to world-class artists had the makings for a project to bring a sense of pride to this underserved community.

And so it began, initially with a sidewalk mural by Ruben, which was well-received by the residents, and eventually to the curation of a huge mural project, the Punto Urban Art Museum, this past summer.

Large-scale murals from 2017

With the creation of a gallery of 15 large-scale outdoor murals on the walls of its low-income housing buildings, as well as 12 indoor murals within the North Shore CDC office loft, and a long wall (owned by the National Grid) along Peabody Street dedicated to work by local artists, the neighborhood has immediately been put on the global urban art map, rendering that invisible barrier obsolete, and allowing visitors the opportunity to set aside their misconceptions to explore the beauty of the Point, as well as the beauty of those who call it home.

Murals inside the North Shore Community Development Coalition Loft

The long wall by local artists

And the beauty doesn't stop there. This year, more walls are slated to be painted in the neighborhood, along with several opportunities for the public to witness live art and entertainment in the Point.

Mark your calendars for these events you won't want to miss:

April 14th (THIS Saturday)--Art Party from 8pm-Midnight at North Shore CDC, with live art by Urban Ruben in the loft

June 13th-24th: 1st round of artists (roughly 10-12) painting murals in the Point

September 12th-23rd: 2nd round of artists (roughly 10-12) painting murals in the Point

September 22nd: Block Party 3pm-8pm on Peabody Street (across from the North Shore CDC office)

And when you do visit Salem and the Punto Urban Art Museum, be sure to stop in at Celia's for some delicious Dominican comfort food! You won't be disappointed!

If you would like to learn more about the Punto Urban Art Museum of the North shore CDC, check out their website, or better yet, pay them a visit and contribute to their cause when you are exploring the beautiful walls in the Point!

They are located at 96 Lafayette Street in Salem.

So, if you are in the Boston area, do yourself a favor and take the train 15 miles north (30-45 minutes) to explore all the beauty that Salem has to offer! What are you waiting for?

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