Your guide to new public art installations in Chapel Hill

May 5, 2021

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By Savannah Gunter for The Daily Tar Heel
May 4, 2021 | 7:00pm EDT

With the semester winding down and the weather heating up, students, professors and Chapel Hill residents have the opportunity to spend much more time outdoors. One way to enjoy the spring weather and support local artists is to visit one of the dozens of murals, transit art and patterned crosswalks commissioned by Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture.

Public Art Coordinator for Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture Steve Wright said public art is part of what makes Chapel Hill unique to other towns or cities.

“When public art is successful, it speaks to that particular community and shows what’s original about that location and what values people hold,” Wright said. “Public art in Chapel Hill should be different than in New York City or Los Angeles because those are different places, different communities, different people.”

To make the art possible, artists apply and are selected by a board of town representatives. After that, the artists work directly with Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture to create their public pieces.

Here are a few pieces of public art you should check out:

We, Too, Sing America by Antonio Alanis

At 161 E. Franklin St., there is a vinyl piece that honors Langston Hughes’ poem “I, too” by Latinx-identifying artist and activist Antonio Alanis. The artist responded to a call for art that represented equality and resilience.

“I’m always thinking about the initial people in the United States who have been fighting for equality for so long,” Alanis said. “For me, it was important to start with authority figures such as Langston Hughes as an homage and a thank you to him and all the trailblazers that have enabled us — and myself specifically — to have the opportunities that I currently have.”

Alanis said that he was able to use his background as a person of color and a Latinx-identifying artist to really connect with the subject matter of the piece. He said the art features people are important figures in the fight for equality in America.

“I see them as representation of people who don’t normally see themselves represented,” he said.

Alanis wants this piece to create conversations about equality and representation within society and to honor essential workers who haven’t gotten recognition during the pandemic.

“I want to use my artwork to challenge some perceptions that certain media portrays about Latinx immigrants,” he said. “I really focus on using artwork to teach and talk about our strengths as individuals, our resiliency, our ability to overcome obstacles.”

Florifauns by J Massullo

This spray-painted mural is located on the Bolin Creek Greenway under Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Massullo. The artist said he often uses nature as an inspiration in his art, and this piece was no different.

“I was just thinking about the resiliency of nature,” he said. “You really see it in the summertime here with the ever-creeping kudzu and plants, things just really come alive.”

Massullo said he wants his piece to help people notice the art that already exists in nature.

“There’s nothing really special in my painting that you couldn’t find on the ground. People don’t take the time to really notice the absolute beauty in nature and natural forms everywhere — even weeds going through cracks in the sidewalk if you look at them closely enough often they’re gorgeous–and people just pass right by that,” Massullo said. “But when it’s 30 feet tall on a concrete wall they tend to notice it.”

Ms. Cotten by Kiara Sanders

Located at the bus shelter at Ephesus Church Road at Hamlin Park, this mural celebrates local blues and folk singer Elizabeth Cotten. The Chapel Hill-born musician taught herself guitar left-handed and became one of the most well-known African American artists of the genre, winning a Grammy Award at age 90. The painting is one of many bus shelter decoration efforts throughout the town.

Have A Really Good Day by Jeramine Powell 

This colorful bus shelter art located at Shadowood Apartments on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is representative of all the many types of people who ride Chapel Hill transit. The piece acts as a reminder to slow down and enjoy life, even down to simply meeting new people on the bus.

Bricks by Amy Hoppe

This unique crosswalk art is the latest in a four-piece installation located at the intersection of Rosemary Street and Church Street. The crosswalk’s design represents different buildings and materials used in the creation of the University — like bricks.

Public art is all around us in Chapel Hill, and it can make for an interesting day-to-day experience.

“You could go into a gallery or go seek out art in a public setting or you could buy it, but the cool thing about public art is it’s something that is in everyone’s everyday travels,” Wright said. “It may be in a spot that you wouldn’t expect or brighten your day in a surprising way.”

Successions by Renzo Oretega is at the TOPO distillery on West Franklin st.