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El Punto

Public art initiative promoted socioeconomic equality

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
El Punto
Le quedo Bufeaito by-Don-Rimx

Referred to colloquially as “El Punto,” Salem’s Point Neighborhood is only a few blocks from downtown, but those short streets feel like miles. Built originally as factory worker housing, and historically occupied by immigrants, the neighborhood has long been isolated from the economic prosperity of downtown. The North Shore Community Development Coalition created Punto Urban Art Museum to use public art as a way to reconnect the neighborhood with the rest of Salem.

The open-air museum features more than 50 large-scale murals within a three block radius. Eighteen world renowned street artists and 20 local artists contributed and the collection is continually growing.

On the Web
Punto Urban Art Museum murals:

“Anacaona,” by Ruben Ubiera, depicts a legendary Tiano queen.

Photo: Celina Colby
“Anacaona,” by Ruben Ubiera, depicts a legendary Tiano queen.

Karrie Brawn, a Salem-based abstract artist whose mural is on Peabody Street, says the project was a great way to get artists out of their studios and working together. While many of the works are created with spray paint, Brawn used her typical acrylic paints on the concrete surface. “Art doesn’t have a set of rules,” she says. “It’s a bridge to bring people together from all walks of life.”

Rapid growth

Two major characteristics set Punto Urban Art Museum apart from similar public art initiatives. The first is scale. The museum has exploded since its genesis two years ago with a crosswalk mural collaboration with Dominican artist Ruben Ubiera, who came of age in El Punto. In 2017 alone, 27 murals were added to the museum. This rapid-fire growth is in part due to wall access. North Shore CDC owns 50 buildings in El Punto, which means 50 walls worth of art space. 

The second standout feature of the museum is its commitment to El Punto’s culture. Often public art signals the start of gentrification. A crucial part of the museum’s mission is to maintain the current residents’ living space while beautifying the neighborhood and bringing economic opportunities to immigrant owned businesses through foot traffic. Every single mural in the museum’s catalogue is on or adjacent to rent restricted buildings.

In an informational video about the project, Mickey Northcutt, CEO of North Shore CDC says, “If we can create this really beautiful, innovative district and debunk that myth that a neighborhood is negative, then hopefully it will make folks think about whether their perceptions of the people that live there are also a bit of a myth.”

Positioning this enormous treasure trove of urban art amidst one of New England’s most historic, Puritan cities, illustrates how the past and present can merge to create a brighter, more equitable future. 

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