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#shareHerStory – Salem Arts Association Welcomes New Director and Artist in Residence

by Joey Phoenix
Images courtesy of Salem Arts Association

This month, Creative Collective is celebrating Women’s History Month! Follow along as we tell the stories of women small business owners and woman-led organizations.

Salem Arts Association has welcomed Heather Stewart (she/her/hers) as President and Sara Ashodian (she/her/hers) as Artist in Residence in 2021. The first exhibition of the year will feature Ashodian’s work alongside the work of Paul Nathan (he/him/his), who formerly called the space on Derby Street his gallery home. Paul Nathan- Collage Paintings and Bookettos and Sara Ashodian – Objects of Desire will be on display from this Saturday, March 6th until April 18th. 

Inside the Galleries at Salem Arts Association

2020 was an exciting year for the Salem Arts Association (SAA). They had secured a new home in the William May building at 159 Derby Street in Salem and were planning a season of dynamic arts programming and the launch of the first exhibition of the new year in the new space. And then the world changed. 

“Now we’re in this beautiful building next to the national park, filled with beautiful art and merchandise… and we can’t open the doors,” said former president James “Jim” Bostick, in an May 2020 Salem News article

Fortunately, with Bostick at the helm, the Association was able to pivot to a hybrid gallery space where the exhibits could be viewed virtually and the shop was made accessible online. These early actions were able to keep SAA’s virtual doors open and the public engaged through the end of 2020.  

Flash forward a year later, on the threshold of the one year anniversary of the advent of COVID-19, the Association has brought in a new President, established a new Artist in Residence, and are making big plans for programming and exhibitions in 2021. 

“Salem Arts Association is Arts, Plural”

Heather Stewart (she/her/hers) has been a longtime SAA artist member and board member. This year, she has stepped up as President to lead the association into its exciting future. Despite the challenges of the last year, she’s hopeful about the possibilities that lie ahead. 

“I’d like to open it up more to other types of art,” Heather said when asked about her hopes and plans for the year. “We’re supposed to be arts, plural. And I’d like to see us have more in the way of music and poetry and other artistic disciplines.” 

Heather’s artwork has appeared in solo and group exhibits throughout the United States, including exhibits at the National Arts Club, the Bunting Institute at Harvard University, and the Boston Center for the Arts. She has also acted as juror, curator, or critic for exhibits at Harvard University, Arsenal Center for the Arts, and Salem Arts Association prior to her new role. 

“SAA Grand Opening” – Paul Nathan

“Becoming President could’ve been a difficult transition but Jim [Bostick] really made my job much easier,” she said. “He set up virtual tours, figured out how we could have virtual exhibits,  and how we could stay connected and engage with our members and our community.

Heather, who also has connections to both the Fort Point Artists Community and the Galleries at Lynn Arts in Lynn, is excited about what’s happening this year in Salem in particular. Over the years, Salem has developed a reputation for having big city talent with a community feel – which many find somewhat surprising, and she believes that it still has untapped potential. 

“I think the Salem art scene has both the charm of a community of artists and has the talent that you’d see in a larger art scene,” she said. “One of the early exhibits that I attended at Salem Arts Association, the juror said that this is not the type of artwork that you would necessarily see in a small community gallery like ours. 

“There’s a breadth and scope to the work [here in Salem] that you wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere in a city of the same size.”

Artist in Residence Sara Ashodian 

Sara Ashodian (she/her/hers) has set up shop for the next three years in the studio at Salem Arts Association, a space she affectionately refers to as “The Nest.” A long time member and exhibitor with the association, Sara’s interdisciplinary assemblage work is vibrant and a bit chaotic, as her process is also discovery-based and undefined. 

“When I do my paintings, those are experiments. I’m learning the viscosity, learning how opaque or translucent certain paints are, and then mixing them with different materials to see what happens,” she said. 

Sarah Ashodian – “Diamonds and Pearls”

Her work throughout the years has included pottery, printmaking, and mixed media – but her work is guided more by the materials she finds than by a commitment to any one medium or style. 

As a Derby Street resident of Salem, she’s also really excited about having a space that’s more convenient and accessible for her to conduct her experiments. 

“I had a studio in Gallows Hill where Jim Bostick also has his studio,” she explained. “It was freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer; but the hardest part was that it was a 30-45 minute walk for me to get there because I don’t have a car, and I didn’t get there as much as I wanted to. So I’m really happy to have this space.” 

Prior to Gallows Hill, Sara also spent time making art on the fourth floor of Lydia Pinkham building in Lynn, a space she described as “slightly run down in the best of ways,” and Brickbottom Arts in Somerville. But although her location and her creative process has followed a similar pattern. 

“Music really informs how I’m mixing things and how I make art,” she said. “I’ve created a few paintings for the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, because when I listen to jazz or whatever I’m in the mood for I see lines and shapes and things just make sense. Every piece of art is like a song in my head, either if I’m making it or looking at it on a gallery wall or in a museum.” 

A Place for Art, Interdisciplinary Artists, and Art Appreciators Alike

Salem Arts Association’s first event of the year opens this Saturday, March 6th, a joint exhibit featuring Sara Ashodian and Paul Nathan, and Sara has been using her residency to prep new pieces for the show. When asked what she was working on, her response was “jellyfish,” but provided very little else in terms of detail – encouraging visitors to check out the gallery online or in-person on Saturdays, Sundays, or by appointment. 

But, one of the things which has been helpful to Sara’s process throughout the years she hasn’t had access to recently – namely, interaction with other artists and art lovers. And she looks forward to a future at the galleries where she will have access to this again. 

“I would eventually like to be able to have people come up to visit me and have conversations about life and about art,” she said, wistfully. “There are a couple projects that I’m contemplating post-COVID that would involve the public a little bit more, some things that are community building that would help activate the space.” 

Heather also shares the hope for activating the galleries and making Salem Arts a hub for community art, engagement, and activity. She also encourages artists from every discipline to join, no matter their experience level or chosen medium. 

“I see this future with the Salem Arts Association where we have big events with music and art fair and other interdisciplinary art and performance, but also opportunities for incidental connection and community building where people come and go,” Heather said. “Even simple conversations over cups of coffee creates chances for collaboration and for ideas to spread, and I want our space to be able to offer that.” 

While no one knows what this year will bring, for Salem Arts Association, at the very least, art will continue to happen. You can learn more about Salem Arts from their website https://salemarts.org/ or by following them on Facebook and Instagram


Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.


This month, Creative Collective is celebrating Women’s History Month! Follow along as we tell the stories of women small business owners and woman-led organizations.

And make sure to use the hashtags #shareHERstory, #shareTHEIRstory, #shareXYRstory (or other pronouns), and #shareYOURstory to highlight the women, the femmes/fems, and the non-binary/genderqueer individuals in your community who have and are continuing to inspire you.

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