Salem Charlotte Forten Memorial

Photo is of two small stand alone billboards with outlined images of two females; one being Charlotte Forten. Each image is also outlined in rope and on a white background. A white yard sign in front of the billboards says "Charlotte Forten Park Activities, Sponsored by Salem and Salem Public Art" written in black. The yard sign is standing in a black bucket that has brown dirt in it. Also in front of the billboards is an African-American woman sitting in a brown period costume and holding a book. Two people are also standing in the photo and looking at the billboards, one is a Caucasian woman in shorts and a tshirt, and one is an African-American girl in a white dress.
Photo Credit: Claudia Paraschiv, taken during the Creative Imaginings events in 2021.
Salem Charlotte Forten Memorial

Salem Charlotte Forten Memorial

Image is a black and white photo of Charlotte Forten. She is sitting in a black outfit and facing the camera, but not looking at the camera. She is holding an open book.
Source: Presbyterian Historical Society 

The City of Salem is exploring the life and legacy of Charlotte Forten as an abolitionist, poet, educator, and first African American woman to graduate from Salem State University in 1856 and teach in Epes Grammar School, making Charlotte the first African American teacher in Salem Public Schools.

In September 2019, the City dedicated a parcel of land located at 289 Derby Street as Charlotte Forten Park and collected feedback for a community vision on how to memorialize Charlotte Forten through arts-based engagement and surveys in 2021.

As a result of ongoing engagement, the City of Salem is moving forward with the process of commissioning public artwork to be installed in the park as a site of commemoration and celebration of Charlotte Forten’s life and legacy.

MAPC is supporting broader regional outreach and engagement to inform the Call for Artists, training the City in the process for commissioning public art developed by MAPC for City of Lynn, and adapting that process to the specific needs and considerations related to commemorative public artwork, drawing on lessons from the Public Art/Public Memory Discussion Series of 2020 

For more information about the project, contact MAPC’s Regional Arts and Culture Planner, Abbey Judd at   

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Salem's Commemoration of Charlotte Forten

Call for Artists

Check out the City of Salem’s active Call for Artists for the Charlotte Forten Memorial. The deadline for artists to submit qualifications is July 16 at 11:59 p.m.

A virtual information session about the Call for Artists was held on Thursday, June 15 at 5:30 p.m. A recording of the information session can be found here.


Photo Credit: Taken by Claudia Paraschiv at the Creative Imaginings events in 2021.

Photo is of a stand alone small billboard sign that has an outlined image of Charlotte Forten from shoulders up, on a white background. On top of the outlined image is a green rope also outlining the image. The blillboard is an open park-like area on cement.


In 2019, the City of Salem completed the transformation of a vacant lot along the South Harbor Trail into the Charlotte Forten Park. The park is situated just south of downtown Salem and directly across the South River channel from Peabody Street Park and the Point neighborhood. The park’s namesake, Charlotte Forten, was a poet, educator, abolitionist, and the first African American woman to graduate from Salem State University. Despite the park’s central location, the approximately 25,000-square-foot parcel remains underutilized. Building on extensive community engagement that City staff have led in collaboration with local partners, Salem is now poised to activate the space that bears Charlotte Forten’s name through the commissioning of a memorial dedicated to her life and legacy. 

Prior to the park’s development, the City of Salem’s Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) partnered with designer Claudia Paraschiv to host a series of participatory design workshops at the site of the future park. In 2019, following the park’s dedication, Salem-based organization the Creative Collective worked in partnership with the City of Salem and Salem State University to produce a launch event that included music, dance, and literary performances, historical reenactments, and an interactive public art piece; the event also launched a public fund to create a future permanent public art installation.

In 2020, the City applied for and received a grant from the New England Foundation for the Art. The Collective Imagination for Spatial Justice grant allowed City staff to pay three artists, designers, and curators—Mel Isidor, Keshia DeLeon, and Claudia Paraschiv—to develop and implement a creative community engagement strategy in partnership with a larger advisory group of community stakeholders. The team deployed a bilingual community survey, postcard campaign, and pop-up events located in the park to gather community feedback to inform the development of a modern memorial to Forten. In addition to generating vital community networks, these engagement activities surfaced and clarified community preferences for the future of the park and memorial. 

Now, three years since the dedication of Charlotte Forten Park, the City is poised to establish a flexible and inclusive public art commissioning process that will guide the development of a memorial to Forten. As Salem leads process to commission a memorial, MAPC will identify additional local and regional project partners to support the creation of a new commemorative piece, research potential funding sources, establish a public art process that can be adapted to guide the development of the Charlotte Forten memorial as well as future public art projects in the City, and develop a Call for Artists for the Charlotte Forten memorial. 

The Plan

At the end of this project, Salem will have established a sustainable and flexible process for commissioning public art, which will be established through the process of commemorative artwork in Charlotte Forten Park. MAPC will provide support for the City of Salem to work toward the following goals.  

  • Expand on previous community engagement efforts to develop an accessible and engaging public space that welcomes diverse communities in Salem, support inclusive dialogue about the project, and cultivate enthusiasm for this project. 
  • Establish clear, transparent, and responsive interdepartmental municipal processes for the commissioning of public art in Salem and position Salem municipal staff to secure sustainable funding for the City’s public art program. 
  • Activate public dialogue around Salem’s social-historical context for the Charlotte Forten memorial and its connections to ongoing conversations around racial equity, education access, and Salem’s African American history.  

Additional Resources


Lead Partners:

Project Advisors:

Nate Bryant Shawn Newton
Michael Corley Claudia Paraschiv
Keshia DeLeon Dean Rubin
Regina Zaragoza Brenda Stevenson
Yinette Guzman Doreen Wade
Monieke McNeil Alphonse Wright