Photos by Ryan Mooney
You won't find their work at the Salem Arts Festival or the Peabody Essex Museum, and it's not for sale anywhere, but even a passing glance at the brick façade across the street from the Peabody Street Park in Salem is evidence of the enormous talent within this group of local artists.
On Thursday they presented their first work of public art - the latest addition to the growing public art movement in the Witch City's downtown district - a 16-by-12-foot mural on the side wall of an apartment complex near the intersection of Peabody, Ward and Congress Streets in the Point Neighborhood.
The first-time muralists, 20 kids between 10 and 12 years old - all members of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem - worked for nearly a year on the vibrant piece under the theme of "Community Pride."
"It's awesome, the most beautiful thing we could expect," said Megan Pendleton, the youth programs coordinator at the Peabody Essex Museum.
For eight months, the kids studied other forms of public art in the greater Boston area, heard from guest speakers - such as artists Joshua Winer, a muralist based in Cambridge, and Laura Smith - used community feedback to develop a theme for the piece, took photos, put together collages, and sketched their ideas on paper in preparation for the painting.
While honing their skills along the way, the young artists also managed to raise $1,000 dollars toward the project's expenses selling wristbands throughout the community.
"I made sure to keep it a very in depth process," said Taylor Nelson, director of arts and education at the Boys and Girls Club. Nelson partnered with the Peabody Essex Museum and North Shore Community Development Association to oversee the endeavor. "The kids were involved in every step of the way, from the design, from the community outreach, to the fundraising, to the actual painting of the mural, transporting of the panels.
"I think it's really amazing that they continued, even though they didn't actually paint the mural until April. I guess it speaks to the kids that we have here."
The commitment paid off with a celebration of music and dancing at an official unveiling during the second annual "Youth Get to the Point" day, a community event organized by the North Shore CDC. The event is aimed at bringing together Salem's many youth agencies and celebrating the positive aspects of the often disparaged neighborhood from which its name derives.
"A lot of times I think this neighborhood gets a bad reputation," said Kristin Anderson, director of community development at the North Shore CDC. "And so we decided to have this celebration as a day to highlight all the community service projects."
The event included a number of initiatives - such as cleaning up and planting flowers at Mary Jane Lee Park, an anti-litter march and an anti-bullying presentation - involving 10 local youth groups like the Salem YMCA and Diva Girls Mentor Group.
"The organizations all really took a lot of initiative and really pushed these projects to a whole new level, and the young people pushed these projects to a whole new level," Anderson said.
An African drum procession led by activists Aaron Katz and Callie Lipton, a two-piece band well known throughout the Northeast as The Dejas, and the musical flow of DJ Julio Sanabia of Move It Music also helped attract more people than could comfortably fit into the Peabody Street Park for the days final event.
"I think it was bigger and better [than last year]," said Anderson.
Then, of course, there was the mural itself, standing tall across the street in the glow of an early summer sun.
"I think it's fantastic," Anderson said. "The thing to remember, too, this was 10 to 12 year olds who did this mural, and they learned everything that they needed to learn to do this and they went through a whole community process to make this happen, and I think it looks fantastic."