SALEM — The Salem Arts Festival is back — and it will be in-person.
“It will be a little bit different, but it feels great to be able to have it in-person again after having to be virtual last year,” said John Andrews, owner of the Creative Collective.
The company is partnering with Salem Main Streets to stage the festival.
“This is our fourth year with Salem Main Streets and one great thing about our partnership is that, while the stipend we can offer our artists isn’t huge, we’ve been able to turn this into a great source of income for them and also have the opportunity to show how important creative artists are in driving the downtown economy.”
The family-friendly event runs from June 4-6. It features a variety of art, music, dance and theatre performances throughout downtown Salem, both indoors and out. This is the first arts festival on the North Shore since COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed.
Andrews said events will be strategically placed to maximize safety. Public activities include multiple outdoor performance areas, onsite art-making for all ages, local artisans and makers selling their creations, pop-up art exhibitions in businesses around town, a live “mural slam” on Artists Row and a temporary public art installation.
“This year’s event highlights the importance of the creative workforce and how it contributes to and stabilizes the local economy,” said Andrews. “Arts and culture are an integral part of day-to-day life in Salem. This annual festival has become a source of pride and revenue for hundreds of creative professionals and a major economic boost to the local community.”
In 2019 — the last time the festival was held in-person — there were more than 6,000 attendees and 300 artists and performers who participated in the three-day event.
“I firmly believe that the arts can establish and strengthen a true sense of community like nothing else,” said Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets. “Creating community has always been the underpinning purpose of the Salem Arts Festival, and our Salem community desperately needs to heal and build together again after the past year.”
Andrews said that the festival was planned with COVID restrictions still in place, adding that the festival received a thumbs up from the city’s Health Department Tuesday, which voted to allow the festival to follow whatever state guidelines may be in effect from June 4-6.
“The performers will make their own decisions, we’ve just said ‘do what you need to do to be safe, do what you need to do to keep your business healthy,'” Andrews said, adding that while 100 of his Creative Collective staff members are fully vaccinated, he has concerns over how quickly the state is moving toward reopening.
“The way we are rushing back with people feeling they are totally done with this pandemic is concerning,” he said. “It seems like the attitude is, ‘the science has spoken,’ so we are done with this. I still feel impending doom about a fall surge as vaccinations have slowed down. We (Salem) desperately need (tourism in) October, so we are definitely looking to use our platform to help more people get vaccinated.”
Activities, performances and galleries will be smaller this year with most events being held in-person with a few virtual elements.
“We’ve spread everything out and will be using things like parks, the common and other public spaces,” Andrews said. “We tried to create a more moving celebration of creativity with multiple locations.”
Public health restrictions in Massachusetts put in place in response to COVID-19 will be lifted on Saturday. Masks are still required on public and private transportation and indoors at some establishments. Visitors are asked to respect signage and comply with business guidelines.
More than 20 local businesses have committed to support this year’s festival, including the Peabody Essex Museum and Salem Five, with support in part from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Salem Cultural Council. A full list of supporters can be found on the festival website.
Andrews said Creative Collective’s operations never slowed down during the pandemic.
“We never really took a break as we leaned in really heavy knowing what our role had to be,” he said. “The creative community has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In March and April alone we lost about 85 percent of our normal revenue. But throughout the crisis, this community of makers, artisans, performers and creators were integral in keeping our families and communities hopeful, entertained and inspired.”