June 4, 2019

Salem Arts Festival takes its roots in the community

by cns2020

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By Alyse Diamantides

Celebrating its 11th year, the Salem Arts Festival is one of the largest and most widely attended events in the city — drawing in nearly 7,000 visitors and residents. Featuring dozens of performers, gallery pieces and public art projects, this year’s festival kicks off Friday, June 7 and highlights multiple forms of art. The three-day event is made possible by Salem Main Streets and Creative Collective.

Sponsored by Coon’s Cards and Gifts and Phil Richard Insurance

Experiential designer and artist Maia Mattson was selected to design a large-scale art installation for the festival — titled “Roots on the Row” — which is a collection of botanical weavings constructed from plants, bamboo, dried flowers, and other natural materials.

With “roots” being this year’s theme, the artist said she chose to work with phragmites — a type of reed growing extensively across the North Shore. Mattson used each part of the plant to make her intricate five-piece weaving installation, which includes a community weaving workshop on Saturday, June 8.

Sourced locally from parks, railways, and pathways, Mattson said it was interesting working with phragmites and noted the beautiful quality of the reed.

“I never really know how things will work out when I begin,” said the Gloucester resident. “My work has manifested naturally.”

Mattson’s biodegradable public art installation will hang throughout the summer along Artists’ Row, changing and decomposing naturally. Because there’s currently no solution to counter the growth of phragmites, she hopes her piece helps spread awareness of the situation.

Photos by Creative Collective

Each year, the city invites more than a dozen artists to participate in the popular “Mural Slam” — a public art project where artists paint designs on the buildings of Artists’ Row during the festival.

Overseeing the Mural Slam, Luchini described the relationship among Salem Main Streets, Creative Collective and the city. “It’s quite the trifecta,” she added.

Owner George Carey and Director of Operations Serie Keezer

As for the 13 mural artists this year, Luchini said their designs help bring a new, dynamic element to the historic marketplace. Those attending the festival will vote for their favorite mural design, and the winning artist earns a cash prize. The event is also co-presented by the Salem Public Art Commission.

“Salem has a lot to offer for visitors and residents,” she said. From the variety of events to individual performers, “all kinds of culture are alive and well.”

This year, Finz Seafood and Grill is the leading sponsor of the Salem Arts Festival Mural Slam.

Carey founded Finz more than 18 years ago and later opened Sea Level Oyster Bar on Pickering Wharf in 2015. He said his restaurant has previously been involved in the festival and other events, like Salem Film Fest. As for this year’s Mural Slam, Carey said it’s a wonderful way to involve the entire community.


Through its mission of celebrating artistic and cultural creativity, the Peabody Essex Museum is this year’s title sponsor of the Salem Arts Festival. PEM works to increase knowledge and engage the mind through its unique exhibitions, programs, and publications.

“There’s something special about the Salem Arts Festival,” said Paige Besse, executive assistant to PEM’s chief marketing officer. “It brings a certain energy to downtown.”

Serving as a committee member of the Salem Arts Festival, Besse said the thriving arts community and positive environment in the city is one of the reasons she’s moving to Salem.

“It gives people a reason to come and stay,” she said.

Her coworker Jen Close, associate director of advertising and promotions at PEM, said how this community-centered festival continually provides art and culture in diverse ways.


For the 10th anniversary of the Salem Arts Festival last year, festival coordinator and downtown business group Salem Main Streets began a partnership with Creative Collective — a network that provides support and resources to expand small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofits across the North Shore.

“We’re tapping into different audiences with Creative Collective and broadening our reach of performers, vendors and artists,” said Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets. “Having someone tell the story of what we do is incredible.”

Joining Salem Main Streets in 2013, Sullivan said the festival continually transforms the downtown. It differs from other events in the city, such as Salem Film Fest, the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival and the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, in which each focus on one theme.

“Our goal is to incorporate as many artistic disciplines as we can,” said the director.

Salem Main Streets also promotes the Salem Farmers’ Market and Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival as well as other downtown activities during holiday seasons. Sullivan said each event further drives visitor foot traffic to the city, which grows a large artistic commerce in the downtown.

As for residents, she hopes they see the diversity in Salem’s creative scene. Each year, she personally enjoys the Friday night kickoff party with local bands, music and dancing.

“It’s such a genuinely Salem moment,” Sullivan said. “I look around and see people so happy to be there.”The Salem Arts Festival runs from Friday, June 7 through Sunday, June 9 in the downtown. For more information, visit salemartsfestival.com.