Healing the Divide
Newburyport Art Gallery Owner Uses Art for Activism
Have you ever wished you could do something, no matter how small, to make a difference? If so, you are in good company. Making a difference has been a lifelong wish of Newburyport art gallery owner and community activist Paula Estey. Estey, however, has never thought small. “I was born on fire,” she says. From the age of 4, “I was driven.” And that drive continues today.
“When I see the urgency of a crisis, I think being a spiritual person, a mother and community organizer means I have to act.”
When Estey opened the Paula Estey Gallery at 3 Harris St. in 2014, it was to showcase the work of regional, national and international artists. That effort continues, but today Estey paints her role with a broader brush. She aims to create an attitude of hope and resilience while delivering “beautiful art as a comfort to our community.” This spring, the gallery, now known as the PEG Center for Art & Activism, will welcome another mission: “Lost and Found: Healing What Divides.”
Not surprisingly, Estey has drawn on the pandemic and divisive events of the last four years to hone and refine her mission for healing.
But it all started back in 2016, when she first felt a need for changes in the areas of human rights, social justice and the environment. To help activate these changes, she enlisted the help of a small group of women. From this group, the Women in Action Huddle of Greater Newburyport was born in 2017 and now boasts more than 350 members on its Facebook page.
The “Huddlers” have marched, rallied, written letters, made phone calls, collected money, and put together packets and gift bags for families and seniors in need. They also helped facilitate two community art projects, with over 200 participants, and the art was displayed in Estey’s gallery windows. In addition, these volunteers partnered with Friends of Newburyport Trees to plant, water and maintain an “Indigenous Edible Avenue” in the March’s Hill section of the Clipper City Rail Trail. There, walkers can sample such delicious local fruits as rose hips and blueberries in the warmer months of the year.
Estey says 2020 was a benchmark year that taught her she needed to do inner work on herself, not just in the outer world. The killing of George Floyd opened her eyes.
“Once awakened, there is no going back to sleep,” Estey says. “As I become aware of the deep white privilege I have lived, every part of me wants to change. It is a long process.”
The work ahead fills her with excitement, she says, “We are being drawn into a bigger playing field.”Her specific dreams for the future? To bring more people of color to the art community, provide group exhibitions of “international voices in the expression of healing,” and initiate community art projects that include Lawrence and North Andover as well as Newburyport.
But her highest goal for the next five years? A public mural “dedicated to Newburyport and healing” over the outside doorway to the children’s room at the Newburyport Public Library.
“It’s a big ask,” she says. “But the team on board is a stunning mix of badass women, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.”
Paula Estey Gallery