Viva Fall River

Murals: An emerging form of community development

Jun 1, 2022 | Small Business

Many cities find urban art can be transformative

Sharon Schoenberg

Commonwealth Nonprofit Journal of Politics, Ideas, & Civic Life

THE WALLS OF the affordable housing buildings in The Point neighborhood of Salem have been painted for as long as 15-year-old Bunny Spodick can remember. For a long time, they were painted with nasty messages and graffiti, giving the neighborhood a dim, dark feel, she said.

Then El Punto Urban Art Museum started in 2017, bringing 75 large-scale murals to the neighborhood over the last five years. Spodick, a teenager with red-streaked hair who lives in the community, said the bright colors have generated uplifting energy. “The Point’s always The Point,” Spodick said. “But it shows people a little of what’s going on, that it’s not just a shitty neighborhood. People may be lower income, but they’re still people.”

Public art may not solve the problems of employment or housing faced by poorer residents of Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities. But over the last several years, organizations have turned to public art to transform inner city neighborhoods, improving safety, attracting tourists, and enhancing community pride. The El Punto Urban Art Museum is thriving in Salem. Beyond Walls, a nonprofit that commissioned more than 60 murals in Lynn, plans to expand this summer into Holyoke, Fall River, and Lowell. Other organizations – Elevated Thought in Lawrence, the New Bedford Creative coalition, New and There in Boston – are creating similar murals around the state. A nonprofit called Common Wealth Murals has supported installations in Springfield and Fitchburg.

Those involved in the efforts say they are paying off, with more positive activity on the streets by residents and visitors. The results of the efforts in Salem and Lynn provide an example of what that can look like.

“People are less often told to stay away from The Point,” said Mickey Northcutt, CEO of the North Shore Community Development Coalition, which started El Punto Urban Art Museum. “They’re invited to come check out the architecture and murals. More than five years ago, that would have been unthinkable.”

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