Image Credit: Creative Blocks
Story by Joey Phoenix
Artists’ Row is opening back up for the season, and while things are going to look quite a bit different, this year’s artist cohort is developing creative methods to engage with the community while still maintaining safety standards during the pandemic.
For this cycle, the city has also introduced its first ever public art residency, a space which will be occupied by Creative Blocks, who have been brought on to help the community navigate interacting with artists on the row in a way that’s both playful and accounts COVID safety precautions as well. The city has also brought back large-scale installation artist Liz LaManche to help reimagine the space.
Visiting Artists’ Row
The best way to experience Artists’ Row will be to actually visit it. And thanks to the work of the City of Salem, with help from Creative Blocks and Liz LaManche’s team, you’ll be able to do that safely.
But while the Row is technically open as of this week, many of the shops are still taking time to get fully set up in time for the Summerween tourism rush.
“[The Artists’ Row] residents are quasi-open for curbside pickup and some in-shop browsing, but they’re still just sort of getting settled and trying to figure out the best and safest practices for operating,” said Salem Public Art Planner Julie Barry “We’re trying to re-envision what that looks like and how we can engage with the public thoughtfully, safely,and effectively.”
Normally Artist’s Row opens up each year in spring, but when COVID-19 restrictions took place earlier this year, the city took the opportunity to both make some renovations to Artists’ Row and revamp the existing structure of how artists and visitors interact with and use the space. The row has been repaved, new windows are being installed, and the overall look of the space is vastly improved as a result.
“We’ve really started investing a lot of time and money into revamping the units to make sure that they’re safe because they haven’t gotten much love in a while,” Julie said.
A major change the city made was in the length of the Artist Row residencies themselves. Previously, Artists on the Row were in a one year turnover cycle, but starting with this group, it’s been extended to two. The change will allow artists to really be able to settle in and learn to use the space to its fullest potential.
Public Art Paves the Way with Unity Path
Another way the city has decided to update Artists’ Row is in bringing in public artists to help shape and activate the space. The first, Liz LaManche, a public artist from Cambridge whose large-scale installation work has been featured up and down the Eastern U.S. coast, first made her mark on Salem in 2015 during the Salem Arts Festival with Salem’s Connected World, a public art project highlighting Salem’s seafaring history, cultural to inputs and world connections.
She returns to Salem this year with a team of collaborating local artists to spearhead a new installation called “Unity Path,” inspired by Salem’s diverse history and current identity which includes Latinx, African American, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Albanian, Brazilian, Dominican, Afrohispanic, Afro-Caribbean, Puerto Rican, South Asian, and European cultures.
“We’re putting together an inclusive, welcoming, colorful installation on Artist’s Row that will make the space fun for all, and honor the different cultures that came together to make Salem what it is today,” LaManche said.
For this project in particular, Liz will be acting as lead artist and project manager and will be bringing a diverse team of local artists into the process to help fulfill her vision. The team is currently in the design process, figuring out what pieces should go where and how they should be implemented.
Her team includes Black Artist/Educator/Activist Keshia DeLeon, Puerto Rican Designer Eileen Riestra of Depict Brands, Latinx Mural Artist Miguel Cruz, Black Photographer Stephanie “Espy” Espinal, and Brazilian/American Visual Artist Julia Csekö,
“Salem is such a great arts town. It’s known for the Witch Stuff and the tourism industry, but when I was there in 2015 and today, it’s vibrant, there’s just so many creatives,” she said.
Creative Queuing and Safety Reminders with Creative Blocks
Another interactive component to the Row this year comes in the form of a new public artist residency. For its inaugural year, the post will be taken up by Lauren Smedley and Jacob Degeal of Creative Blocks, who describe themselves as “Designers by trade but Wayfarers by nature.”
“Our artwork is in between design and art, in the sense that we’re trying to promote sort of public spaces and the use of those public spaces,” Jacob said. “So this includes parks or plazas, sidewalks, streets, basically anything that’s kind of like a public space and using our work to either communicate a message or create a certain service or a unique feeling with a residence.”
With Artist’s Row, Creative Blocks’s role will be twofold. The first is to engage the community through workshops and interactive art projects to spark new life on the Row. And the second is to create sign posts and art markers from ground, to wall, to ceiling, to lamp post in an effort to help both businesses and visitors to navigate the uncertain waters of shopping and interacting with artists and their art during COVID-19.
“A lot of the work that we do is very participatory with hands-on interaction,” Lauren said. “One of our original ideas for this space on Artist’s Row was making it a maker space for the public with creative reuse/recycle materials, which had a very contact-driven focus. With COVID, we’ve had to rethink all of that.”
One of the biggest challenges is that their actual studio space won’t be accessible to the public, so they’ll have to think up innovative ways to do their planned workshops outside. And while it would be possible to do some workshops virtually, neither of them are keen on the idea.
“I feel like everyone’s getting over saturated with the kind of traditional virtual workshop, so we’re trying to think about what the audience wants, what the public is missing, and how we can provide that for them,” Lauren explained, describing a plan to have a message board outside their studio that asks the public questions and encourages feedback. “We want to take a pulse of what the city is feeling right now.”
Social Distance Dinner and Drinks on the Patio with the Lobster Shanty
The Lobster Shanty has been a much beloved fixture in Salem since the 1970s, and this year they have been more than ready to open their doors since early Spring.
“We were finally fully-staffed after years of always being one or two people shy, we got a new POS system and ran new soda lines, we had an ambitious new menu and the crew was energized,” Owner Diane Wolf said.
Then, in a story too often told, COVID happened.
One of the things the Lobster Shanty has always done best is gathering Salem townies together for “warm beer, lousy food,” and a healthy dose of community belonging. It’s the kind of restaurant where everyone knows your name, and takeout didn’t really fit into that picture. And while being able to offer takeout at all was “good for morale,” it wasn’t helping the restaurant turn an actual profit.
“I’m grateful to the city for working with us to change our outdoor seating area so we could serve enough guests to at least break even,” she said. And while the covered deck now has six properly distanced tables, the extra seating on Artist’s Row between the deck and Front Street has allowed them to serve more diners safely.
“Our previous seating area on the Row can only fit three tables when properly distanced, instead of six, so the extra four tables were really needed. We’ve gone from 80 seats down to 54 and so far we are making it work,” she added.
Sound Practices with ChagallPAC
Chagall Performance Arts Collaborative (ChagallPAC), run by directors Diana Norma Szokolyai and Dennis Shafer, has been drawing visitors to the Row through sound, lights, and art since October of last year. Named after the interdisciplinary Russian-French artist Marc Chagall, who lived and worked with individuals like Matisse and Picasso, ChagallPAC offers a vibrant interdisciplinary experience with poetry, visual arts, soundpainting, experimental music, and more.
But since gathering during a pandemic is tricky, ChagallPAC started taking their events online in May, offering Interdisciplinary Arts Cabarets on second Fridays and Literary Salons, produced in partnership with the Cambridge Writers Workshop, on fourth Fridays each month – events that can be viewed on Creative North Shore’s Facebook Live Stream. Their Literary Salons have also been benefits for charitable organizations, including the Boston Resiliency Fund in May and Black Visions Collective in June.
Their next event will be the Fourth Fridays Literary Salon on Friday, July 24th.
“One of the challenges of virtual performances or readings is that you’re used to feeling the energy of the audience or being there, It’s an atmosphere you create.” Diana Norma said. “We miss the vibe of performing live, and we miss those conversations with people afterwards.”
So, in addition to their virtual events, Diana Norma and Dennis are excited to get people into the space once it’s ready. “The shop itself will feature visual works, written work, and jewelry from local artists – which is currently available for curbside pickup,” said Dennis. Some of this work includes woodwork by David Caesar, Jewelry by Christine Lucas of Boston Designer Jewelry Imports, and Acrylic Pour Art by Robert O’Dell.
They also hope to activate the space by hosting artist workshops, including acrylic pour workshops, as well as outdoor mini-concerts and poetry readings.
Creative Nostalgia with Shindig!
Shindig! Studios is a Mother and Daughters team of Jack-of-all trades creatives led by Mom, Katy Sheridan. They offer nostalgic, upcycled items – everything from buttons and pins to clothes and furniture – that nod to vintage Americana and pop-culture.
Shindig!, previously a vendor fair and online store business, decided to try their hands at a brick and mortar this year, building off the success they’ve had with the digital market. And while nervous about what foot traffic might look like on the Row in the current climate, Katy is also optimistic about the opportunities having a physical studio can afford.
“I really love having this space within the Row and collaborating with other people. I met Dennis [ChagallPAC] down the way and he’s already offered to help me improve my skills with resin,” She said.
“I’ve also [been working] out of my garage by myself, so it’s nice to have somewhere to go and people to collaborate with.”
Another one of the things she’s been looking forward to is the ability to offer workshops to Row visitors. A former middle school teacher in Lowell, arts education is just something that comes naturally to her. “I miss teaching, and I especially love teaching kids. So that’s going to be a big part of what we do.” And while this year may be too soon to teach interactive kids workshops safely, she’s hoping to be able to do it next year.
Since opening the store on Artists’ Row, Shindig! has also decided to move away from doing purely online sales in an effort to get people to come to the shop. “People need to come on down,” she says. “Come visit us and see what we’re up to.”
Generating Buzz with Beverly Bees
Beverly Bees has been making shoppers swoon over their decadent candles, honey, and bee-themed ephemera at vendor fairs all over New England over the last few years. Like Shindig!, Beverly Bees’ first brick and mortar experience is on Artists’ Row this year, and owner Anita Deely is excited for what’s possible.
“We’re planning to have an observation hive,” she said, something which the City of Salem is working to ensure can happen. “We’re also going to be selling our award-winning honey, beeswax candles, lip balms, and skin care there.”
Another primary component of the shop will be the educational element, and not only will Beverly Bees be demonstrating beeswax candle making later this summer, they will also have information about the care and keeping and habits of bees alongside the observation hive.
Unfortunately, because of the delay of opening the Row, the timing of getting into the space didn’t quite work for the bees however, who tend to be incredibly active in Summer. When running a honey and beeswax business, it’s important to keep the hives happy. Anita hopes to be able to open the shop in late July or early August.
At the moment they are open for online orders and curbside pickup, and you can place your orders on their website.
Joey Phoenix is the Managing Editor for Creative North Shore and the Digital Content Manager for North Shore Pride. They are probably in the middle of reading 7 books or looking through Instagram for pictures of Bobtail Squid. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia or IG @faephoenix