SALEM — This is a city supposedly in the midst of a renaissance. After all, the developers arrived with bags full of money. Not far behind were the condo owners and restaurants. A new hotel was built, and the museum expanded once and plans to grow again.
It has been a decadelong rebirth with everything but the one thing that made the renaissance famous — good public art.
“Public art is one of those things that has been a missing ingredient in Salem,” Mayor Kim Driscoll told more than 70 people who came out in the rain last night to attend a public forum — really a working meeting — about the future of public art in the city.
The crowd, which included a lot of local artists, came to provide guidance to Via Partnership, consultants from St. Louis hired through a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help Salem take the first steps toward creating a lively, art-filled downtown.
The audience, which broke into a number of small groups, was asked to come up with an artistic vision for the city, possible sites for public art, and short- and long-term goals.
It was a night to let the imagination run wild.
Surprisingly, a lot of attention was focused on unlikely sites, like the tunnel at the train station. One person said it could be full of lights, another that it could be lined with paintings.
“It would make the train ride much more interesting,” said Joy Winkler, who spoke for one of the working groups.
Public art, several people said, can connect different parts of a city and bring neighborhoods together. There was talk of putting lights and fountains along the South River Harborwalk, which borders the low-income Point neighborhood.
“We’ve got a real strong line that needs to be crossed,” said Helen Sides, a local architect.