To celebrate the (safe) reopening of Salem’s Artists’ Row for the 2020 summer season, lead artist Liz LaManche and a team of community members filled the block with a series of decorative ground and wall art murals signifying inclusion and welcome. The design of Unity Path uses whimsical, vibrant colors with core elements from a diverse array of communities and cultures represented in today’s Salem, blended in with gorgeous mandalas and scattered decorative features to draw visitors in and encourage them to explore and enjoy this place together.
Listen to a great interview with contributing artist Stephanie Espinal on “The Chaos Within”, podcast produced by Creative North Shore. (The Chaos Within – Stop and Look with Espy, Episode 22, July 29, 2020)
The installation unites the input and work of a multicultural group of area artists, sharing ideas and symbolic language from the range of cultures represented in Salem today, including: Latinx, African American, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Albanian, Brazilian, Dominican, Afrohispanic, Afro-Caribbean, Puerto Rican, South Asian, and European.
“The initial goal of the project was to include and represent the culture of at least the top five most spoken languages here in Salem in 2020 when this project was initiated. Through a robust community input design and implementation process the project grew to include so much more.”
The theme of the mandala as a central focus was chosen to unify symbols from different places: Mandalas are radially balanced symmetrical configurations of symbols, containing a circle with a center point. In various spiritual traditions, they may represent the cosmos, a unified whole or the home of a deity, and may be a focus for meditation. The concept is original to Hinduism and Buddhism of South Asia and Asia, which were in contact with Salem through a long trading history. In modern times the mandala concept has been incorporated into Western thought, especially as a focus for meditation and symbol of enlightenment.
“There are of course so many cultures making up who we are today, that we could never include them all. However, the team is hopeful that with the presence of so many different elements from a wide array of cultures, that ALL who enter the space will feel included and welcome. Unity Path’s ultimate goal is to create a fun & vibrant space that showcases Salem’s seafaring history and celebrates its creative, diverse, welcoming present.”
The project was organized by lead designer Liz LaManche, who brought us the popular ground tattoo installation, “Salem’s Connected World,” in 2015. LaManche is a public artist who uses color and symbolic visual language to make city spaces more fun, meaningful and sustaining, bringing people together in a shared experience. Their socially conscious practice includes being both eco- and people-friendly, committing to low waste and supporting local communities, with emphasis on uplifting and employing BIPOC and women local artists.