The Beverly-Salem Bridge normally serves as a means for crossing the Danvers River, but this weekend, it will become a fun destination in its own right.
That’s because the first Crossing Water, a weeklong festival featuring arts and entertainment, will open on Saturday at public sites on both sides of the bridge.
“I think this is going to be something that has never happened before,” said Andrew Bablo, the owner of Steez Design in Beverly and one of the organizers. “It’s going to be exciting, and worth it for people to come down and check it out.”
A range of cultural institutions are contributing to the event, with assistance from the city of Beverly and several Beverly city councilors, but members of the Montserrat College of Art community have taken the lead in organizing Crossing Water.
“The college is really trying to engage more with the public than we have been,” said Brian Pellinen, dean of academic affairs at Montserrat College of Art and a resident of Bridge Street Neck in Salem. “We always invite the public to our gallery shows, but this is the first thing we’ve done in a big public way.”
The festivities will begin with the ninth annual Beverly Harbor Fest at 3 p.m. at Glover Wharf, where visitors will be treated to live music from Music Street and food and beer from local restaurants and microbreweries, along with paddleboarding, games and a magic show.
On the Salem side, the Bridge Street Neck Neighborhood Association’s Party on the Bridge will start an hour later, at 4 p.m., at Remond Park.
“There will be music and games and food trucks and some tables for social justice stuff and the League of Women Voters, a Notch beer tent, dancing, and pop-up art galleries,” Pellinen said.
The party will continue on both sides on Sunday with an art market, art-making activities, a fitness walk across the bridge, and plenty of dance and music.
Then from Monday to Friday, the celebration will alternate between Beverly and Salem until a closing celebration is held on both sides of the bridge again on Saturday, Sept. 14.
Along with games supplied on Monday by Bit Bar in Salem and The Castle: A Board Game Cafe in Beverly, Montserrat professor Colleen Michaels will lead an Improbable Places Poetry Tour on Tuesday on the Salem side, to explore the topic of bridges.
A yoga night will be led by Yoga Sakti of Salem next Thursday, and local writers will read works on the theme of building bridges during a storytelling night on Friday the 13th.
That same night, a screening of the silent expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” will be held under the bridge, with musical accompaniment.
But the bridge itself will be hard to miss throughout Crossing Water, because it will be illuminated each night starting around 8 p.m. by LED lights that are each the size of a hockey puck and will be placed on ledges at the base of each bridge pile.
“It will be lit for an hour or two hours, and each night, we’ll light it in a new way,” said Pellinen, who walks over the bridge every day.
He and Bablo, who graduated from Montserrat in 2007 and painted an abstract mural underneath the bridge in 2017, have been talking about ways to focus attention on this structure for years.
The site where it is built served as a ferry crossing in the Colonial era until the first bridge was built there in 1788, Pellinen said. The latest version of the Beverly-Salem Bridge, which is officially named Veterans Memorial Bridge, was completed in 1996.
“We just take for granted that you hop over the bridge, but historically, that point in the river is the closest connection between Salem and Beverly,” Pellinen said.
That’s why rival football teams from Beverly and Salem high schools have met on the bridge before each Thanksgiving contest for around 30 years, to shake hands in a show of sportsmanship.
But when Bablo and Pellinen attended an Arts & Culture Summit that was organized in April 2018 by the Essex County Community Foundation, they noticed there were lots of people whom they didn’t know, in spite of their long associations with various art worlds on the North Shore.
“Montserrat will turn 50 in 2020,” Pellinen said. “We’ve been downtown in Beverly a long time, yet at that event, there were so many people we don’t know.”
The Essex County Community Foundation announced its Creative County Initiative grants at that summit, including one that eventually funded Crossing Water.
So while Crossing Water was conceived as a way to engage local neighborhoods on the waterfronts of Beverly and Salem, it is also seen as a means for uniting artistic communities from the two cities.
“What better centerpiece than the Beverly-Salem Bridge?” Bablo said. “It’s a big structure, prominent in the landscape, and it’s underutilized, but is an integral part of both communities.”
If you go
What: Crossing Water
When: Saturday, Sept. 7, through Saturday, Sept. 14
Where: Remond Park, Salem, and Glover Wharf, Beverly
How much: Free
Parking: During the week, parking may be available on the street at Remond Park and Glover Wharf. Signs will direct visitors to parking at other times. At no time should anyone park at Bill & Bob’s Roast Beef or other private businesses on Bridge Street.
More information: Full schedule of events at www.montserrat.edu/crossingwater