International Festival artisans strive for art that educates

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photoAnna Dugan, local artist and illustrator, is one of the artists featured along Artists' Row in Salem. On Sunday at the Peabody International Festival, she will be painting a mural on the sides of balikbayan boxes, or shipping boxes, to shed light on her Filipino-American roots.

PEABODY — For millions of Filipinos living around the world, a balikbayan box is one way they can connect back to their roots. Filled with toiletries and other non-perishable items, these large cardboard boxes are shipped to family members back home in the Philippines.

“The only part of you that gets to go back home is through that box,” says local artist and illustrator Anna Dugan, who is half Filipino on her mother’s side.

During the 36th annual Peabody International Festival this Sunday, Dugan will paint a mural on the sides of these balikbayan boxes. She’ll also be selling customized stickers, prints, tote bags and clothing items inspired by her Filipino heritage at her booth titled, Anna Did A Thing. 

Dugan joins 40 other artisan vendors participating in this year’s festival, featuring works from around the world.

Growing up in a heavily influenced Filipino-American household, she credits much of her artistic influence to her family's identity and culture. As a daughter of an immigrant, the 29-year-old artist says there’s little representation of Filipino heritage on the East Coast. And she hopes to change that. 

“If I can’t find it, I’ll create it,” said Dugan, adding how she wants to use her art to educate others and “humanize the immigrant experience.”

The festival, she says, is the perfect opportunity to do just that. Her brand, “Anna Did A Thing,” originally began as an inside joke among her friends. “I always have my hands working on something,” added Dugan, a UMass Lowell Art & Design graduate. Using her iPad to create digital illustrations, the Salem-based artist also sells her designs through her online shop.

Describing herself as a tactile artist, she first began working with chalk before transitioning into painting and later digital illustrations. Dugan designed a series of chalk signs for Gulu-Gulu Cafe in Salem and has a colorful mural along Artists’ Row.

While this is Dugan's first time participating in the festival, Kevin Moforte of Esperanza Soaps is familiar to the scene.

The idea behind his social enterprise business began years ago through his community work building homes and schools in Las Malvinas II, an extremely poor slum in the Dominican Republic. Moforte, who lives in Amherst, remembers women coming up to him saying, “If you just gave us jobs, we can fend for ourselves.” In Spanish, “Esperanza” translates to “hope.”

“It was a moment for us,” he said. Since the women knew how to cook, he remembers thinking that the process of making soap almost resembled cooking. He watched YouTube videos to learn soap making and raised $12,000 to start his campaign and train employees.

Today, Esperanza Soaps employs four women in Las Malvinas who collectively produce 500 bars of soap per week. “It’s a very old process of making it,” said Moforte, adding how each ingredient is grated, poured into molds, cut out and packaged for sale. The process takes around two to three weeks to complete a large batch. 

Using natural ingredients sourced from the island, the women make fresh coconut, lavender and coffee-scented soaps to sell to tourists visiting the Dominican Republic. A portion of all sales, says Moforte, sponsors school supplies for 50 children in the slum and aids scholarship funding for three girls to attend college. 

“It’s been a tremendous journey,” he added of the company’s start in 2015. “And it tells a good story.”

Creative ties

More than 50,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event — to sample an array of international foods, taste beers on tap at the Beer Garden on Main Street — there's a wine tent as well — and walk through Foster Street’s Art Galleria. New this year, the Salem-based company Creative Collective is sponsoring the 40 artisan vendors, which include Anna Did a Thing and Esperanza Soaps.

“The Peabody International Festival is an example of arts, culture and community coming together to benefit the economic impact of the downtown,” said John Andrews, owner of Creative Collective. “It’s a way to introduce large groups of people to new and culturally diverse products and people.”

Back this year is handcrafted jewelry, pottery, stationery and other items at ArcWorks Community Art Center at 22 Foster St. All items for sale are created by artists with disabilities. 

A local muralist, whose work will be on view inside the center, is also live painting an installation outside the building, says Tim Brown, director of innovation and strategy at Northeast Arc.

Peabody Black Box, a theater operated by Northeast Arc and located in the back of ArcWorks, plans to screen four short films depicting the history of the city’s leather industry.

“There is always something that is of interest for someone,” added Brown. “We’re hoping to elevate the experience for everyone to have a more enjoyable festival.”

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or



What: 36th Annual Peabody International Festival

When: Sunday, Sept. 8, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; rain date, Sunday, Sept. 22

Where: Downtown Peabody: Lowell, Foster, and Main streets

Cost: Admission is free and parking is available in any of the municipal lots downtown. Entertainment begins at 11:30 a.m., booths open at noon and a brief ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. Kids Corner activities take place at East End Veterans Memorial Park, 45 Walnut St.

For more information, go to

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