News Column

Familiar face will oversee public arts in Salem

June 10, 2014

By Neil H. Dempsey, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

June 10--In what local officials say is a coup for the Salem arts scene, the city has snagged Deborah Greel from the Marblehead Arts Association to serve as its first public art planner.

Greel, a Salem resident who previously served as director of Salem Main Streets, will step down from her position as executive director of the Marblehead Arts Association on June 19. Her selection came after years of conversations with Mayor Kim Driscoll, as the city put together its Public Art Master Plan, which was finalized last year, she said.

"I love the arts," Greel said. "When this opportunity came up, I thought, 'Wow!'"

Since Greel moved to the Marblehead association in 2006, it has grown to include more than 500 artists from 35 communities and seven states, she said. Over the years, she has organized exhibitions and programs, led fundraising drives and overseen operations at the King Hooper Mansion.

That last part ended up being unexpectedly relevant to her new job in Salem. When the city takes back control of Old Town Hall from Gordon College this September, one of Greel's responsibilities will be to oversee it. In fact, her $50,000-a-year salary will be largely funded with revenues from weddings and other functions at the venue, with Peabody Essex Museum kicking in $5,000.

"She will not only bring a deep familiarity and expertise with the arts, but also an understanding of our own local assets, issues and challenges here in Salem," Driscoll said in a statement.

"Getting Ms. Greel for this position is a coup for Salem," City Councilor Josh Turiel said. "This will help us become a premier arts destination in the Boston area."

As the city's art planner, Greel will work with the newly formed Public Art Commission to promote all manner of local art, oversee the acquisition of art pieces, act as a city contact for artists and ensure that Salem's public art policies are followed.

Greel said a major focus will be making sure Salem builds on its reputation as an arts destination "locally, regionally and nationally."

"I think Salem already has a lot of great things going on," she said. "This is really just adding more."

Filling the position of public art planner is the third step in the city's Public Art Master Plan; the first two were formally establishing the art initiative and appointing people to the related commission.

The position was originally intended to be a clerk for the commission, "but with the double opportunity of Deb's availability and the need to have a plan moving forward for the building (Old Town Hall), it seemed a perfect opportunity to expand the position into something more robust and more in keeping with the Public Art Master Plan," Dominick Pangallo, the mayor's aide, said.

"It will be budget-neutral and not add to our bottom line," he said.

As for what kind of public art projects might emerge in the future, Greel said it's still unknown, but she and the commission will be keeping an open mind.

"So many people think of it as, 'We'll put a statue out,'" she said. "It can be a lot of different things that maybe we're not thinking about right now."

The next steps in the Public Art Master Plan are to identify funding sources, assess the current state of Salem's public art and develop a first-year work plan.

Greel's position must still be approved by the City Council as part of the budget for next fiscal year. The final vote on that is expected to take place on Thursday.

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at or via Twitter at @NeilDempseySN.


Speaking of public art, Salem recently selected six artists to paint utility boxes around the city as part of its ArtBox 2014 program. Here's what will be going on.

June 7 to 13

Artist: Scott Froeschl

Work: "Inner Pieces"

Location: Lafayette Park

Description: "Inner Pieces is an open window into the secret, inner workings of these metal boxes. The possibilities are revealed from behind the thin metal veil. The whimsical style is meant to create a depth through trompe l'oeil, catching the eye of vehicle as well as pedestrian foot traffic."

June 14 to 20

Artist: Sheila Farren Billings

Work: "More Power"

Location: Margin and Mill streets

Description: "The electrical plugs refer to the electrical box and will be painted rainbow colors with bold, black outlines. The colors and design model energy and movement."

June 21 to 27

Artist: Matthew Curley

Work: "Coastal Shapes"

Location: North and Federal streets

Description: "Using geometric shapes, I interpret the natural forms seen in Salem's rocky coastline. The use of such shapes brings an aspect of Salem's natural landscape into the contemporary architectural landscape. The design intends to remind viewers of what can be seen on our own shoreline."

July 5 to 11

Artist: Heather Reid-Barratt

Work: "The Great Eye"

Location: Essex Street pedestrian mall, at Shirley Cervoni Walkway

Description: "The symbol of the eye has held great importance to human societies across the span of time. It is a symbol of knowledge and infinite wisdom, of secrets and mystical societies."

July 12 to 18

Artist: Emily Larsen

Work: "Salem's Mini Aquarium"

Location: South River Harborwalk

Description: "From the devoted care of cats and dogs at Northeast Animal Shelter to the beach cleanups organize by Salem Sound Coastwatch, the city of Salem has a long and proud tradition of protecting animals and their habitats. A deep appreciation is what inspired my design: a fish tank that celebrates local threatened and endangered species."

July 19 to 25

Artist: Jennifer Hale

Work: "Over the Bridge at Dusk"

Location: North and Foster streets

Description: "Salem has some of the most breathtaking sunsets, and as I run the beach or the historic streets, I cannot help but feel blessed to call this my home city."

Source: Mayor Kim Driscoll's office.


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