A little down Dodge Street, the yellow line marks the spot and draws attention to the odd dead end that is in fact used by many pedestrians. Some comments plead for the path to be “plowed” and others use the chalk outside the box – this is inspiration for a much grander installation!
On my daily walk to the train station, my route includes two pedestrian only portions.
The second path follows the Salem tourist trail, a red painted line inspired by Boston’s Freedom Trail that leads me up Artists’ Row, around the Old Town Hall, and down Essex Street. Salem prides itself on its pedestrian friendly streets; many residents cite the city’s walkability as a significant factor as to why they live in Witch City.
The first pedestrian way I follow, however, is off the tourist circuit. It is a fragmented asphalt hill that connects Dodge Street to Washington Street. Impossible to traverse in the wrong footwear, it is a small short cut is taken by many. It is not a friendly pedestrian way – it is a Street Interrupted.
Its significant use value for the many that do use it prompted a small project to inquire into how the path may better serve its users. We asked two simple questions to understand how people use the path, and how they would like to see it improved.
During the months of May and June, Salem Public Space Project collected stories from Point residents and people who have spent some time in the neighborhood. The good memories shared in the stories encourage people to go to the neighborhood – so close to Downtown Salem, yet perceived as such a distant destination.
During the Salem Arts Festival, Salem Public Space Project shared these experiences through an installation that feature postcards to take and share in turn. On Saturday, June 8th, Salem State University students launched the installation through a dramatic performance of storytelling and map drawing of the little known Salem neighborhood. The stories happened in parks, on stoops, down streets, and through open windows. SPSP snapped shots of eleven of the most compelling stories and locations. Explore them all through the growing interactive map.
If you missed the project, you will have another chance to read stories and collect cards during Salem’s Heritage Week – exact time and location to be determined. Contact us for more info.
(A big thank you to Matt Caruso at Salem Main Streets for all his help, and all the other organizers and volunteers for the festival!)
What is your story?
Get to The Point: Neighborhood Narratives is an installation by Salem Public Space Project showcasing memories experienced by Point residents in their neighborhood. The installation commences with a performance on Saturday, June 8th at 11am, in which the stories are shared with the public as the neighborhood becomes the stage. The interactive project will be located at the top of the Old Town Hall Square through Sunday.
Submit your stories and photos to SalemPublicSpaceProject@gmail.com!
What is your story?
Intervening is complicated. Were we intruders entering a neighborhood? Were we bringing some sort of lasting influence to the park? Were the people who used the park involved enough in our spectacle? Who might use the chairs that we brought there, and in what capacity? The park itself has little seating because, ironically, authorities do not want people to congregate, especially after dark, for fear of the drug deals that might occur there. At the same time, the park is one of the only places in the Point for smaller children to play. Relatives often watch from open windows looking down from above. It is, certainly, a complicated space with many competing narratives.
Last fall, Salem Public Space Project gathered in Mary Jane Lee Park to read poetry and sit on blue chairs. We had found these chairs in a variety of places – online, on the street – and had painted them blue, a color that for some reason consistently reminded me of the United Nations. At the same time, it was also a playful, stand-out color that would be hard to miss in the landscape there. Each chair was given a name by the person who carried it to the park, where they were placed in a semicircle. After the reading was complete, the chairs were dispersed throughout the park to places where it seemed that a chair might belong. Children gathered for the reading and also helped to distribute the chairs. They seemed fascinated by this burst of color and activity in their park.
We returned several times over the subsequent week to check on the chairs. The first time, they had all been moved into a single line by the younger children in the park. We met one of the girls who had been at the reading, and she said that they had done so to “protect” the chairs from the older children, who had either been attempting to shatter them, or use them to bring them that much closer to doing a slam dunk on the netless basketball hoops nearby.
When we returned again, the chairs had vanished. On closer inspection, we only found fragments scattered throughout the park.
It was a sad moment. The questions about intervention returned. Was this destruction itself a message the older children were relaying to us? Was it a sign that we were not wanted there? How had the chairs been destroyed, and when? Ideas of Orwellian surveillance went through my mind – how could one know the wheres and whens of destruction? Why was it so important to know? They had scrawled graffiti on the shards we found – names, sexual suggestions, and the rather memorable “Devil’s Sword” on a particularly sharp section of chair backing. It was as if they had taken the time to spread the pieces as far apart as possible, ranging across the park, some hidden behind cement roadblocks or trash-bins. It seemed almost studied – a total destruction. I imagined them fighting with the pieces. They had themselves made use of the chairs for their own forms of play, of expression.
Nearby there’s another small park, which the city of Salem only completed several years ago. It sits on the edge of the Point, and the city hopes that this park will encourage more dialogue between the more frequented parts of downtown Salem and the Point itself. As if to proclaim this fact, a large wall-mural was placed near the park last year. I did notice on a recent visit, however, that many tiles that have been placed by a local artist along one of the park’s retaining walls had been removed. Had they not been properly attached, or had they been pried off and carried away, to adorn walls or be ground to dust, or something somewhere in between?
Things are broken, taken, and destroyed for a variety of reasons. We don’t always know why, and there are a range of possibilities: frustration at a limited range of options, resentment at interventions that don’t “change” things, or just plain destructive, adolescent fun. In a certain sense, these destructive acts are their own form of artistic intervention. They are also a form of communication that must be heard.
Months later, we encountered some of the younger children that had attended the poetry reading. Claudia mentioned the destruction of the chairs, and one of the girls told her that they had not, in fact, all been destroyed. They had themselves “saved” one and still had it.
Intervention involves breaking things. It involves breaking in, changing, moving, disturbing the flow and, perhaps, reconfiguring it. Things are saved, things are destroyed. But it’s a form of dialogue that does not involve words, but actions within space.
For the Salem Arts Festival, we want to collect at least 10 of these stories, each with an image showing where it happened in the neighborhood. We will make an installation that will show off all these stories on postcards on a large map drawn on the ground in the Community Arts Room of the Festival. If you have a story, or think you may have a story, use the sheet below, fill out your story, circle the location on the map and send it to us: SalemPublicSpaceProject[at]gmail.com