An Unforgettable Weekend at the Salem Arts Festival

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What a fun-filled whirlwind of a week it has been, and it all started with the Salem Arts Festival! I was in Salem, Massachusetts for the three-day long festival, an annual June event that brings together artists of all forms and the Salem community for a weekend of beautiful and eclectic art, exciting live music and theater, activities for families and so much more. Thousands attend each year, and I could certainly see why! I was happy to be one of the many enjoying everything the festival had to offer for all three days.

Day 1: The Salem Arts Festival kicked off Friday evening with a reception and juried gallery in Old Town Hall. When I arrived around 7:30, the doors were open, letting live music from the Squeezebox Stompers filter through the space and add to the lively mood.

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I stopped by the Salem Main Streets table as I walked in. Salem Main Streets is the main organization involved with planning and putting on the Salem Arts Festival. They are a non-profit who serves to promote and invigorate Salem’s downtown and support the city’s local businesses and individuals doing awesome things. I paused to admire the stickers and pins featuring their brand new logo designed by Elissa Von Letkemann Art & Design. Afterwards, I headed towards the wine table where, to my joy and surprise, I found out it was FREE as I went to pull out some cash. To me, there’s not a better way to celebrate a Friday night than with free wine and an art gallery in a historic setting.

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I strolled around the space, taking in each and every work of art – so many different mediums, so much talent.

fri collage

As I stepped back outside, the evening was the perfect temperature and the sight of a large crowd of happy people enjoying the music warmed my heart. There was a lot of dancing going on; couples dancing with each other, parents dancing with children, kids dancing with other kids. Good vibes filled the atmosphere and everyone appeared ready for all the excitement yet to be had that weekend.

Day 2: Saturday marked the start of the Street Fair as artists filled Front Street and Derby Square with tents and tables featuring the fruits of their creativity. People filtered in and out of the Artists’ Row buildings, admiring and purchasing the unique pieces available inside. Items for sale ran the gamut from fine art to photography, handcrafted jewelry, candles, ceramics, cards, kids’ toys and, well, the list is pretty endless.

I was repping the wonderful Creative Salem organization at the festival, speaking with different artists about their work and why this event was important to them as creatives within the Salem community. It was clear to me, speaking with a variety of people on this second day, that the Salem Arts Festival is of such larger significance than just something for people to do on a nice day. This festival links the entire city. Salem is a creative hotbed, and this festival brings artists of every style together, allows them to connect as a vital community and aspect of the city’s economy, introduces them to one another and hopefully paves the way for some incredible collaborations…exactly what Creative Salem is all about.

Just some of the many people who took time to speak with me about their festival experiences! From left: Sabin and Pamela of Double Exposure, Heather Reid-Barratt of Heather Reid Studios, Jamie of Roost, and Laura Henkin of LnK Designs.

Besides connecting artists with one another, the Salem Arts Festival links these artists with the greater community at hand, those who may not be artists themselves but seek out the beauty of the work, and events that allow them to support and participate in the creative scene. This is also part of the mission of Creative Salem. The festival helps to generate customers for the small businesses and restaurants that surround the festival space, and brings attendees into what may just become their new favorite cafe, store or lunch spot. I did not see a single frown on a face throughout that Saturday, and I saw lots of faces. This sense of community is what I missed in my few years living away from Salem, and I am happy to say that on Saturday Nick and I found out that we have been accepted into an apartment there!

Although my main goal was to speak to different artists, I obviously couldn’t help doing a little artistic shopping myself! Between a lot of new handcrafted jewelry and beautiful painting prints, collages and nature photography, I’ve definitely built quite the little collection. My plan is to decorate our new apartment in this one-of-a-kind local art.

other art

Day 3: If possible, Sunday appeared to have even more people out for the festival than the day before! The variety of live music by the Salem and North Shore-based bands kept everything upbeat, and there were some awesome street performances, theater productions and fun activities for kids. I continued my mission for Creative Salem of speaking with different artists to learn what the Salem Arts Festival meant to them, and I continued to receive nothing but absolutely positive answers and thankfulness that an event like this exists to connect the community.

I, myself, am thankful that Creative Salem provided me the opportunity to share the message of these talented artists and get to know them on a deeper level. On this third day, I spent more time inside the Artists’ Row buildings meeting those who set up shop there for the season and admiring all that they had to offer. As the City of Salem’s website explains, “Artists’ Row is a seasonal program that provides rent-free space for artisans interested in building their audience through daily engagement with residents and visitors to Salem.”

I was able to speak with Nikky Bergman, who creates very artistic jewelry thanks to her background in both Fine Arts and Metals. She shares a building with Liz Frazier who makes all-natural soy candles for her business, Witch City Wicks, and Bridget Alexander of The Pack Paper Co. who sells beautifully designed paper products, such as wedding invitations. I told Nikky how much of a cute boutique style shop they had going there in Artists’ Row and she agreed. It seems like fate that they were all accepted into the same space, as their products go so well together. As Nikky stated, if you’re a bride, it’s basically one stop shopping – custom rings, invitations and wedding party favors all in one place!

artists row collage

After chatting with Nikky, I made my way into the building across the street to meet and talk with Sibel Alpaslan, an artist who creates gorgeous ceramic pieces in earthy tones, many with a splash of turquoise color which is my favorite. I learned that Sibel is from Turkey, and got her beginnings in ceramics while attending art school in Istanbul. She explained how at her school in Turkey, students would take a test to determine which medium the school believed best suited them individually. She thought she would be a painter, but they placed her in ceramics and it seems like they had the right idea! Her pieces that I saw were functional yet intricate, with what her husband called “whimsical” designs, and I agree.

In the same building was Karen Scalia from Salem Food Tours, holding spice tastings at her table and getting people acquainted with her tour business. I loved speaking with her and literally cannot wait to sign up for one of her food tours. These tours take guests on a journey through Salem’s diverse culinary scene while combining modern day foods with the history of the spice trade, a prominent piece of Salem’s past.

While talking with Karen, a fellow foodie approached with a sample of chocolate chip cookies from her business, Good Chemistry Foods out of Exeter, NH. Her products are all gluten-free as well as dairy-free. While I am not either of those, I can never resist a treat. I could not tell the difference in her cookies! I ate three of them right away…oops. They tasted exactly like the chocolate chip cookies I’ve known and loved my whole life.

My last stop and purchase on Sunday was at Deanna Jacome’s tent, my fellow Creative Salem member and an extremely talented artist who recently graduated from Montserrat. Deanna’s art is of many varieties, but she was selling her Turkish marbled pieces at the Salem Arts Festival. Turkish marbling makes for incredibly eye-popping patterns and designs that you can’t look away from!

Deanna’s first sighting of this art form was in the flyleaf of a book at the Harvard library. After much research, she taught her self the traditional process of how to create it. Now she is marbling everything from book covers to frames, t-shirts to bookmarks and much more using her own twist on the style. Through Deanna, I made my first purchase for my new kitchen, a marbled wooden spoon and fork set. Deanna was also making and selling pretty floral crowns at the festival, and I spotted many a person (women, men and children!) wearing them while walking around. Right next to Deanna, another of Creative Salem’s own, Joey Phoenix of Salem Pet Photo and Joey Phoenix Photography, had an adorable pet photo booth set up. I popped by to see how the pictures of furry friends were coming out.

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By Sunday’s end, I was sad that the Salem Arts Festival was all over until next year. I had an unforgettable time getting to connect with the talented, dedicated and incredibly welcoming artists of this community. As a creative professional, moving to Salem is so significant because of how cared for and supported those like me are here, thanks to the wonderful organizations like Creative Salem that give us an outlet to be uniquely ourselves, sharing our work with each other and inviting the greater public in to be a part of it all. Although the Salem Arts Festival may have wrapped up, there is so much more on the city’s schedule for the summer. I’m thinking my next stop will be the fabulous Salem Farmer’s Market that just opened for the season! For more information on all the creative goings-on in Salem, visit the Creative Salem website.

Special thanks, in no order, go out to John Andrews, Joey Phoenix, Deanna Jacome, Mayor Driscoll, Kylie Sullivan, Catherine Bertrand, Jamie (of Roost), Theresa Wall Duggan, Laura Henkin, Bill Laforme, Morgan C. Leshinsky, Heather Reid-Barratt, Sabin and Pamela, Nikky Bergman, Sibel Alpaslan and Karen Scalia for all taking precious time to speak with me for my Creative Salem piece and this blog, and letting me into your background and thoughts. I appreciate each one of you. 

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