The Elizabeth Neighborhood Public Art Project

At the start of 2014 The ECA art committee; Kris Solow, Terry Shipley, Sarah Gay and myself, Nancy Albert, received tremendous news. The Elizabeth neighborhood was chosen as one of the communities for the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative, a community based public art project funded by the City of Charlotte and the Arts and Science Council. The grant proposal, written by Sarah Gay, was submitted in November. Twenty-two neighborhoods applied, but just five were selected for funding.

 In January Kris Solow and I went uptown to the ASC offices in the Carillon Building for a meet and greet with the artist finalists. Moving from table to table we were given ten minutes with each artist. At a subsequent meeting the ASC/City board asked for our feedback; within a few days each neighborhood was paired with an artist or art team.

The information below, which we received from the ASC after we were first paired with our artists, explains the project in more detail.

What is Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership?

This exciting new public art initiative seeks to further expand access to public art throughout the City of Charlotte and enhance neighborhood identity. City of Charlotte neighborhoods were invited to apply for the opportunity to have a new public artwork created and installed that matches the spirit of their neighborhood. Selected neighborhoods were then paired with local artists to develop design ideas for the public art piece. Once designs are finalized, the artists will oversee fabrication and installation of the artwork.

 How was the Elizabeth neighborhood selected for this project?

The Elizabeth Neighborhood Association was one of twenty-two neighborhood groups to submit an application for this initiative. Elizabeth was chosen by a selection panel for the initiative based on the following: proximity to existing City owned public art, documentation of planning and/or previous requests for public art, strength of in-kind services the neighborhood could provide and the strength of the ideas for public art presented in the application.

 Brief excerpt from Elizabeth neighborhood application:

We are leaning away from public art that serves as a “monument” or “gateway,” and rather toward a creative expression that pops up throughout the neighborhood when families or visitors encounter it. We envision an artwork that might consist of multiple smaller elements. Our wish for artworks arrayed into walkable sites, would encourage pedestrian, rather than vehicular traffic through the neighborhood. We want art that can draw one along, surprise one in a quiet nook or along a walkway, and that awakens a sense of discovery; delight; welcome; and secrets uncovered. This art will serve as an expression of who we are, what we want to be and how we want others to know and perceive us.

What are the location parameters for this project?

All public art which results from Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership MUST be installed on City property or City right-of-way. Artwork cannot be located on private property or County property, which includes parks. The Arts & Science Council will help to identify possible artwork locations throughout the neighborhood with the assistance of City staff.

 Who is our artist team?

Amy Bagwell, lead artist for the Elizabeth neighborhood, received her BA in English Literature from The University of Georgia and her MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. She is founder and director of The Wall Poems of Charlotte. Bagwell’s’ work centers on the use of poems by North Carolina writers. Bagwell designs poem-based murals and builds assemblages from poems. Her poem-centered mixed media art has been shown in galleries in New York, Atlanta, Athens, and Charlotte. She will be assisted by Sharon Dowell and Graham Carew.

 During the summer two public meetings were held at Studio K Gallery on 7th Street. During these meetings community residents were able to meet the artists, see visual projections of the art project as it moved through various stages of planning, ask questions and voice any concerns.

Elizabeth Public Art Project Update by Amy Bagwell

The Elizabeth Neighborhood project received approval from the Public Art Commission at the end of August, so the artists are working now on design and fabrication specifics.

Unfortunately, artist Sharon Dowell has decided to leave the project due to increasing demands from academic and art projects to which she is committed. Everyone will miss her voice and her talent and her camaraderie. But, as the artists have from the start collaborated on the visual elements of this project, Amy and Graham Carew will carry that on with full confidence, propelled by their two years’ partnership and nine completed projects with the Wall Poems and sped by the ECA and other collaborators who are committed to and energized about this endeavor.

Graham and I are thrilled to be creating this multi-component, text-based installation for Elizabeth, which we designed after gathering input at the first neighborhood meeting with us and Arts and Science Council, which was held in May. Graham and I direct The Wall Poems of Charlotte, and, while there are no walls to work with for this project due to city limitations on the use of funds, we are adapting our approach very specifically for this project–and it’s been very exciting.

As the neighbors who came to the second meeting a few weeks ago know, we’re working with the theme of traces. Bits of neighborhood history play roles in this in the sense that traces of them remain, either visibly or in the written record or memories. These include gone elements: the demolished slave cemetery, the former reservoir, the rose garden that was destroyed to make way for Independence Boulevard. They also include living pieces, from the lovely trees that line the streets to the water in the tower and in the park. The word “trace” also means path or road, of course, and that ties in.

We see this having three components of varying degrees of permanence and interactivity, leading viewers from the water tower through to the roundabout and on to the park. 

1.     Fence scenes. We would like to create a series of lenticular images using adhesive printed vinyl attached to the inner faces of the railings of the fence around the water tower. These images will come together from a distance and at the correct angle, disappearing slowly into ghosts as that distance and angle change, but leading the viewer to the next image in the scene, which begins to take shape as the viewer proceeds down the road or sidewalk. Different images will be seen from the opposite direction. All the images come from the poem, which I have written for the neighborhood; are related; and tie to the other components of the project. The printed vinyl is warranted to last at least three years. We would like to remove some of the existing bushes/ trees and plant heirloom roses or something similar to bring forward the gone rose garden and give us strategic visual openings to the fence.

2.     Wordhouses. We would like to pull people through the neighborhood with a series of 35 lightweight, shallow box-like assemblages suspended from city tree branches between the sidewalk and the road at eye level, each with text and image and even objects inside that play on the text and reiterate/ further express the images on the fence. These boxes will face the sidewalk. In each box is one line from the poem, which can be read sequentially as the viewer progresses. These will be mapped on-line and numbered on the bottom. They will share a uniform outside (street-side) color or similar visual tie that will be obvious from a distance.

3.     Roundabout.  This is on E. 8th Street. Here, we see removing the bushes and constructing a permanent, round metal piece lit from within by gentle spotlights powered by a solar panel mounted near the treetop. We envision a few large words excerpted from the poem and images on or cut from the metal, which, again, repeat/ reinterpret those on the fence and in the boxes. We would also like to plant roses (heirloom perhaps) at the long ends of the oval roundabout to call forward the old rose garden, as with the fence. We are collaborating with CPCC’s welding, construction, and photovoltaic programs on this.