‘Visually impactful’: New sculpture on Franklin Street celebrates Pride Month

May 31, 2024

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By Sarayu Thondapu | The Daily Tar Heel

Photo by Grace Richards

Walking down Franklin Street, community members, students and tourists alike are bound to notice the newest art addition to 140 W. Plaza, titled Think Outside the Box. With its gray and blue central figure — its eyes wide, outlined with bold, black makeup, set against colorful swirls — this unique and eye-catching wooden structure is an ode to pride, inclusivity and connectivity.

This newest addition replaces Rubbish the Raccoon, a sculpture made of recycled material that was on display this spring. Rubbish was relocated to the Chapel Hill Community Center.

Created by Adam Cooley, an artist and designer, Think Outside the Box was jointly commissioned by the Town of Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture Division and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership for Small Town Pride!, a month of celebration happening around Chapel Hill and Carrboro throughout June. This is the second year the two have collaborated to commission an art piece for Small Town Pride!

Cooley said he came across an Instagram post that asked for artists to submit proposals for Pride Month and decided to give it a shot. As a queer artist, he said he was drawn to the prospect of creating something for the local community.

Steve Wright, public art coordinator for Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, said that the division was looking for a piece that was large, eye-catching and fun, as the potential piece would be a huge part of the Pride Promenade, the parade that kicks off Pride Month festivities on June 1.

“What spoke to the selection committee, the reason his piece was picked, was that it was large and visually impactful,” Wright said. “It’s celebratory. It’s interactive.”

Jeri Lynn Schulke, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said she personally likes pieces that are dynamic and speak to the community at large.

“I just imagine people standing in front of it and taking pictures with their friends and interacting with it — I think that’s great for public art,” Schulke said.

Wright and Schulke both said that public art like Cooley’s is important in expressing Chapel Hill culture, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and communicating that all voices are welcome and valued, while simultaneously contributing to the viewer’s experience walking down Franklin.

Think Outside the Box is an 8-foot cube composed of five panels made of plywood, each painted with a different narrative behind it. Upon closer investigation, onlookers might notice the small openings in the panel: peepholes that reveal hidden art, a kaleidoscope with different perspectives.

The entire work is inspired by Cooley’s experiences as a drag artist, including his time living in Japan and performing drag there. He hopes to promote positivity and inclusivity while shedding light on mental health struggles within the LGBTQ+ community.

“In the United States especially, there’s a very high suicide rate for LGBTQAI+ people and teens in general, compared to their straight peers, so I definitely wanted to have something that was positively reinforcing inclusivity, that says that ‘everyone counts,’ without getting too heavy,” he said.

After returning to the United States, Cooley said it was “alien-feeling,” as it had been a while since he had returned. He said that he hopes that people view the piece and understand the importance of a strong, interwoven community that celebrates one another’s unique identities.

While making the piece, Cooley said he felt that connectivity, as everyone he had encountered while making it was incredibly supportive and in awe of his work.

“I think that’s what the baseline is, just to feel positive,” Cooley said. “Something that brightens their day. It’s like when you walk down the street, and you see a flower just growing out of nowhere. It brings you back into focusing on what’s actually important.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com