Chapel Hill Transit unveils new art bus highlighting fight against racial injustice

August 25, 2021

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There’s a new art bus joining the growing collection of Chapel Hill Art + Transit’s painted vehicles. Titled “Rise Above Racial Injustices,” the work on this bus highlights the fight against social injustice and racism in the community.

Since 2018, Art + Transit has commissioned Triangle-based artists to create art for bus shelters around Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The Art + Transit’s goal is to “bring more artistic vibrancy to the daily commute and enliven unsuspecting spaces,” according to its mission statement.

Now, the group is expanding beyond stationary bus shelters to putting art on mobile canvases.

The latest art bus is a collaboration among local Black artist and arts educator Debi Drew, members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council, Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, the Orange County Arts Commission and the North Carolina Arts Council.

“Rise Above Racial Injustices” hit the streets of Orange County last week.  The Town of Chapel Hill was able to secure grants to cover funding for the new art bus, Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield said.

“One of the things we were interested in with this specific vehicle was finding an opportunity for students to share their perspective on race and equity,” Litchfield said. “We’ve looked at how this can help meet our goals related to inclusion and equity by involving artists and persons of color.”

NAACP Youth Council members Kennedy Lytle, Sol Ramirez and Anthony Swann collaborated closely with Drew, Public Art Coordinator Steve Wright and Marketing and Communications Coordinator Melissa Bartoletta to design the art for the bus.

The artists attended three workshop planning sessions in which the themes of self-concept, racist viewpoints and unity in diversity were discussed, Drew said in an email.

The bus depicts three circular portraits of the masked NAACP teens.

“They are prominently displayed because it was important to me from the beginning that they be seen and heard,” Drew said in an email.

Each portrait features statements from the three teens: Lytle’s is “my self worth negates racist remarks,” Ramirez’s is “rise above hate” and Swann’s is “show empathy for others.”

“I used photographs of the youth we took when we first met to create their large images on the bus and used their statements within their circular framed imagery,” Drew said in an email.

Additionally, the bus has a bold, printed pattern symbolic of an African mud cloth design with the words “Rise Above Racial Injustices” emblazoned across both sides.

“The design in the background helps ground the artwork against the black bus where they are definitely seen and heard,” Drew said in an email. “I am so proud of them.”

This work comes a year after Chapel Hill’s first art bus, Georges Le Chevallier’s “Orgullo Latino/Latinx Pride,” was unveiled in August 2020.

Orgullo Latino/Latinx Pride” has painted words in English and Spanish to symbolize bridging the language barrier. The bus’s bright visual patterns pay tribute to the colorful buses of South and Central America.

“Being born from a Puerto Rican mother and having lived most of my childhood in Puerto Rico, I can personally understand the great pride we have towards the many Hispanic people making a constructive impact on our society,” Le Chevallier said in a statement on the Art + Transit website. “Today thousands of Hispanics now call the Triangle their home.”