Artists’ Row participant Sibel Alpaslan of Ceramics by Sibel
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Salem – Artists’ Row in Salem continues to evolve in its 14th year. While its season formerly opened in late-May, this year it began April 1 and will run through Saturday, Nov. 3, at 24 New Derby St., across from the Old Town Hall and Derby Square. Also new this year, plans are underway to schedule performers to complement the visual artists and an already-existing music festival.
Serving since summer 2014 as the city’s first public art planner, Deborah Greel of Salem strives to work with the Public Art Commission to attract residents and visitors to Artists’ Row. She draws upon eight years’ experience as executive director of the Marblehead Art Association and five years of leading the Salem Main Streets organization, whose mission is to promote the city’s downtown revitalization.
“Knowing that the city is very supportive of the public art initiative, I was intrigued by the idea of taking on the challenge,” she said. “It’s more than just about loving art; it’s also how we play in our spaces.”
Artists’ Row is a pedestrian walkway with four small buildings housing several artists specializing in various media. Occupying a fifth building is the restaurant Lobster Shanty. Features added last year include an artist in residence placemaking program, and a community table for all ages to gather for creativity and conversation.
“We wanted a place for residents to engage on a regular basis,” Greel explained. “As much as we absolutely love tourism in Salem, we also understand how much residents enjoy living in this city.”
The multi-use plaza is also the site for activities such as the annual Jazz and Soul Festival. Last spring, students from Lesley University College of Art and Design rebranded Artists’ Row’s infrastructure, Greel noted.
“They chose different colors, new doors and bigger windows, and put supergraphics on the buildings,” she said. “We made an investment to change the physical environment to show that something exciting is happening there.”
The downtown plaza’s environment has also been enhanced in recent years with a Mural Slam conducted the first weekend in June during the annual Salem Arts Festival. Designs are painted on 10 primed plywood sheets mounted on brick walls at Artists’ Row. Last season’s murals can still be viewed. New murals will be painted during this June’s festival.
“This will be our third year doing the Mural Slam,” Greel noted. “Before we did the murals, you’d drive up and see a brick wall; now, you see the murals. It has brought awareness to an area as a creative place.”
Earlier this year, Mayor Kim Driscoll and the Public Art Commission released a statement announcing the inaugural Performers Series in Artists’ Row and Derby Square. According to the statement, the Performers Series will take place “one or two weeks between [Monday,] June 18 and [Monday,] Sept. 24. … Final selection [of performers will be] announced [Monday,] May 7.”
Greel is hopeful that Artists’ Row’s season will once again get extended.
“We received a grant from the state to make some improvements and we’re looking at winterizing the buildings, so that we can have a 12-month season,” she said. “If we’re successful in being able to put some heating units in there, then we’re hoping that they’ll be open all year-long starting in November.”
The Artists’ Row hours through Tuesday, May 15, are Thursdays to Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m. Beginning Wednesday, May 16, through Sunday, Nov. 3, the hours are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m., and Thursdays from noon to 7:00 p.m. For updates on the Performers Series, visit facebook.com/ArtistRowSalemMa or creativenorthshore.com.