El Punto Urban Art: An Invitation to Explore

Around the corner from Salem Maritime National Historic Site, there is a lively neighborhood filled with art, music, and history. Describing itself as an “Open Air Museum” by the Punto Urban Art Museum and located in “El Punto” Neighborhood in Salem, Massachusetts, the museum features 75 large-scale murals created by 30 world renowned and 25 local artists. To give some extra background, El Punto is a neighborhood that has a large Latinx community, which is largely Dominican but with Puerto Rican and Central American populations as well. 

I was able to find a little taste of home within the El Punto community, which I  appreciated being so far away from home. While walking through the neighborhood, I heard familiar sounds of Bachata, Merengue, and Reggaeton blasting from apartment complexes and cars passing by. The language of home rang through my ears. Smiles and laughter of the people walking around spoke for itself. The art pieces I came searching for, all located within a 3 block radius, add extra color and vibrancy to the neighborhood. The art found on these walls reminds me of my community. Social justice, identity, the Latinx experience, the artists’ personal lives, and the environment inspire the art found here. Community member’s ideals, beliefs, hopes, and dreams are seen represented through this art. This creative freedom and expression runs rapid throughout the neighborhood through these murals.

Many of the faces in these pieces remind me of people I know. My family, friends, and neighbors are reflected in this art, looking back at me and accompanying me on this journey. The “Untitled” pieces by Celeste Cruz, Carly Cummings, Gabriela Marshall, and “The Farmer” by Ruben Ubiera all evoke a sense of familiarity and add to the sense of community and culture within the neighborhood.  Whether or not one can relate to the art pieces mentioned above, there is something here for everyone. One is sure to find their own meaning in any of these pieces, but there are also familiar patterns and funny characters everyone can remember. Whether it’s a futuristic design, cartoon characters, nature, or encouraging messages, there’s something we all recognize and can feel a part of.
The piece that struck me the most was definitely “The Farmer”, as this reminds me of the labor of my people.  The eyes, uniform, wrinkles are all familiar. The words and paintings around it all represent the struggle and sacrifice of the hardworking farmers. Around the country there are large populations of Latinx farmworkers, especially within California. This face, this painting, is something that unites us all.
I  spoke to one of the folks from North Shore CDC, which is the coalition that created the program of the Urban Art Museum. I learned that one of the reasons the art is spread throughout the neighborhood is so folks outside of the community feel comfortable and curious to come into the neighborhood and explore, especially in the alley ways. Alleyways are seen as scary or dangerous, particularly in “Urban” neighborhoods, where most of the population is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). The art was created to break these stereotypes and invite people in to the community, which I thought was so beautiful and powerful.
Visiting “El Punto” neighborhood felt like home, and I encourage others to explore the art here as well. To see the art pieces I  am talking about, visit http://puntourbanartmuseum.org
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