SALEM — Lawyer-turned-artist Paul Nathan was looking for a partner in the arts, and the Salem Arts Association was looking for a new home.

What they got thanks to COVID-19 was something entirely different.

The Arts Association, a nonprofit organization formed in 2007 to bring more of the arts to Salem, recently took over the William May building at 159 Derby St. The two-story yellow building, first erected in 1782 by May, directly borders the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Derby Wharf.

The building is owned by Nathan, who bought it in 1987 and ran a law office out of the space until his interests started to shift.

"I don't know why this happened," he said. "Eight or nine years ago, I slowly drifted away from my law practices and began to do something in the arts — and it mushroomed."

Last summer, Nathan converted the building to an art studio and attempted to run it solo, but he found the task to be too great for just him — a now-retired 71-year-old — to tackle.

"So I have this facility, the building, and I wanted to continue staying in the arts. But why not share it?" Nathan said. "Jim shows up one day and he goes, 'You know, we're looking for a new place,' and I hear that and go, 'This could work.'"

The two came together, only to have their plans fizzle at the last minute. They had planned an April 1 opening after doing renovations for two months and planning fundraisers, but had to cancel.

""Now we're in this beautiful building next to the national park, filled with beautiful art and merchandise... and we can't open the doors," said James Bostick, president and one of a handful of volunteers behind the Association. 

Today, the building contains nine galleries spread across two floors, with the bulk of the galleries on the second floor, but no way for the public to pop in. Enter the Internet and the power of used technology found on eBay.

"I have a bit of a technology background and (purchased) some equipment used on eBay so we could start creating these virtual tours, like you see on real-estate websites," Bostick said. "It seemed like our best opportunity to give people the opportunity to see what this place looks like inside and enjoy this artwork we have from all these great local talents."

The result is a lineup of virtual galleries, including a portion of the Association website — SalemArts.org — dedicated to providing a full 3D tour of the entire building. The virtual galleries launched over the weekend.

The site includes a full, entirely virtual gallery for Young at Art, a 2020 exhibition for the Association that focuses on creations from local teenagers. All artists depicted in the gallery are from Salem-based public, private and charter schools, and members of city organizations between 13 and 19 years old. 

"As people have been cooped up, one of the things we enjoy is either being creative or being inspired. I hope that being able to share this with our community helps people really see the depth and breadth of talent that surrounds them," Bostick said.

"Art has a healing effect in general. When you see something you love and can enjoy it for a little bit, I think that helps anybody's mood."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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