Intimate exhibit sheds light on seldom-seen Salem

“Felony Flats: Changing the Focus” hangs at the Art Department in downtown Salem in January 2022 (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

“Felony Flats” is a derogatory phrase used casually in Salem to refer to the lower-income residential area between State Street and Cross Street Southeast, 14th Street Southeast and 25th Street Southeast. The area has a reputation for danger, assaults, shootings and drugs. 

But several years ago, local photographer Diane Beals decided to document the people of the area, and asked friends Gil Nicholson-Nelson and Beverly Kanewske to join her in the project.

The result is “Felony Flats: Changing the Focus,” a small exhibit showing through Saturday, Jan. 28 in the back “exhibit” room of The Art Department, Salem’s downtown art supply store.

Each photographer shows nine images of folks in the yard, children in the street, gardens and families. “The most wonderful surprise for me was that so many folks allowed us into their space to catch glimpses of so much more than a pose,” wrote Nicholson-Nelson on his artist card. “They shared a moment of their lives with us!”

Felony Flats: Changing the Focus

Back room of The Art Department art supply store

254 Commercial St. N.E.

10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday, closed Monday

-Helen Caswell