Known for its emphasis on local culture and its strong arts presence, Carrboro is culturally distinct from surrounding areas. But for people driving through the town, there are few defining images that showcase the Carrboro spirit.
That is exactly what the Carrboro Mural Project aims to accomplish.
“Several of us have looked at areas along the entrance way, the gateway to Carrboro, and wondered, at what point are we going to create something that really is welcoming and says, ‘You’re in Carrboro now’?” said Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell, one of the liaisons for the project.
The mural project will turn the wall at the intersection of Jones Ferry Road and N.C. 54 into a mural through the collaboration of local muralist Michael Brown and the residents of Carrboro.
The wall runs along one of the most high-traffic intersections in Carrboro. It is large, gray, and many residents consider it very dull to look at.
“It needs something down there,” said Angela Johnson, who lives on nearby Davie Road and frequently passes by the wall. “I was born and raised here, and I think it needs something colorful.”
Johnson said she likes the idea of community residents being involved with the project, especially young people.
“It would be good for the teenagers to do something productive — to keep their neighborhood beautiful,” she said.
Brown has painted murals throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro, with help from community members.
“It seemed like a very small thing that I could do to actually contribute to the community, other than going out and voting every four years,” Brown said. “The challenge in these things is to make sure that the participants have a very positive experience and feel a sense of identity and that they’ve contributed something.”
Inspired by children
The mural will be divided into three phases, based on the three segments of wall at the mural site. Carrboro Mural Project Manager Michael Adamson said each phase will require input from different parts of the community.
The first phase, on the section of wall facing the highway by the Jones Ferry Road exit ramp, will display artwork from third-graders at Carrboro Elementary School and Scroggs Elementary School. The children at these schools will paint self-portraits that Brown will use as inspiration for the final artwork.
Brown is working with teachers at the elementary schools for this phase.
“Getting input from elementary school students — many elementary school students — it’s pretty much guaranteed to be big, bold and colorful in its creation,” Brown said.
Haven-O’Donnell said she is excited about this phase of the project because it will immerse the students into the Carrboro community through their artwork.
“For the children in the Carrboro schools to share their self-reflection is an amazing thing to do,” she said. “It gives you a feeling that they’re giving a piece of their soul to the public art.”
This section of the mural will be viewed mostly from passing cars. Adamson said that people driving the speed limit on N.C. 54 will have about three seconds to see the mural.
The message has to be simple for passing drivers to notice the artwork, including the town logo and artwork inspired by children’s self-portraits.
“Those self-portraits will be mixed in gender, race and ethnicity, so the message to the passing person when they see this is: Carrboro, children, diversity,” Adamson said. “In three seconds, that’s all the message that you can convey, but we’re conveying that to 24,000 cars a day.”
Open to suggestion
The second phase, known as the “lawn,” will cover the middle section of wall overlooking a grassy strip by the road.
“Right now, we would like to encourage anybody who wants to, to submit original art to be included in the second phase of the project,” Adamson said. “It’s a big grassy area, which we can fence off, and then everybody -— children, adults, whoever — can be out there actually painting the wall.”
Adamson said that he would like as much diversity from participants as possible, and all are welcome to contribute to the section. He hopes that this phase of the project will bring the Carrboro community together, both through the art submissions and the painting process.
“We want to have everybody out there painting on the wall together,” Adamson said. “I thought maybe we could mix up groups between projects, so that for people who don’t normally know each other or socialize together, it’s a way for them to meet each other.”
All in the details
The third phase, known as the “gallery,” is the section of wall that runs up the sidewalk on Jones Ferry Road. This will be the final phase of the project, but plans for it are already in the works.
“We call it the gallery because it’s very different from the other two sections of wall,” Adamson said. “You’ll be viewing it from 2 feet away standing on the sidewalk. For the other two sections, you’re going to mostly be viewing it from a passing car.”
Adamson said that because the third phase will involve more foot traffic, there is more opportunity for detail-oriented artwork. The plan so far is to divide that section of wall into panels going along the sidewalk.
“That’s why I call it the gallery, because it’s like an outdoor art gallery,” Adamson said. “Each panel could be sponsored by public contributions, corporate contributions, whatever, and have a group do some really nice artwork up there.”
Alderman Damon Seils, another liaison for the mural project, said that he is eager to start this phase of the project because of how close it will be to the people.
“I think that the most exciting part of that project is that it will allow for more detailed artwork,” Seils said. “It’s going to be able to engage a lot more people in the community, so we’re hoping to engage young people in helping to design the artwork, and I hope actually to help get the artwork onto the wall.”
Timeline of Events
“It’s sort of an iterative thing, you know? You have to keep going through it multiple times because you’ve got so many different groups that you’re keeping on board.” – Michael Adamson
- Approval from the Arts Committee (November 11, 2013): The concept of a mural for the site went to the Arts Committee first.
- Approval from the Board of Aldermen (April 8, 2014): After the Arts Committee approved the idea, the Board of Aldermen had to give its permission to proceed with coming up with a mural for the site.
- Met with Department of Transportation (DOT) District Engineer, Chuck Edwards: Edwards then presented ideas about what the requirements were to get DOT permission to use the wall.
- Michael Brown came up with ideas for what the mural would look like.
- Back to the Arts Committee: This time, presenting Brown’s ideas. The Committee selected the idea of the children’s self-portraits.
- Back to the Board of Aldermen (December 2, 2014): The aldermen granted permission to pursue the self-portrait idea, start contacting schools, involve the children, send a preliminary application to DOT engineer and to divide the project into three phases.
- Funding: Adamson met with the Carrboro Tourism Development Authority to ask for funding for the project, and was granted $8,000.
- Began working with schools
- Create the artwork: This involves the students submitting their self-portraits to Brown, getting permission to use the portraits, and Brown sketching out a plan from there.
- Back to the Arts Committee: They must approve the final artwork based on the children’s self-portraits.
- Public Hearing: There will then be a public hearing in front of the Board of Aldermen that anyone can attend and voice their opinions.
- Send a final application to DOT: Edwards will comment on the preliminary application before sending it to the state DOT.
- Applying to the Right of Way Arts Committee: This is a state level arts committee that must approve art projects to be on DOT property.
- Public contributions in the way of art submissions for phase 2
- Painting the mural
Adamson lives out of town in Madison, NC, but loves the town of Carrboro and plans to retire to Carrboro with his wife in a few years. The Board of Aldermen even named Adamson an honorary Carrboro citizen for the work he has done for the town.
“The spirit of Carrboro is really in him,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “It’s beyond taking an interest in just getting a mural up there, he’s looking at the fabric of our community and really being supportive of it, so it’s a wonderful effort on his part.”
Adamson said that the idea came from his daughter, Catherine, who is on the Carrboro planning board and lives near the mural site.
“She works at RTP [Research Triangle Park], so she’s driving back and forth every day and she sees that wall every day – you know, that big, grey wall – and she said, ‘Dad, a mural would look really good on that wall.’”
Adamson loved the idea, so he put it into action.
This is the first art project that Adamson had ever organized, but he says is determined to see it through. It was also the first time he met Michael Brown, although he had admired Brown’s murals that are painted around Chapel Hill. Through the project, the two have become good friends.
“If I have a touch of ADHD, then [Adamson] has a touch of OCD,” Brown said. “He’s probably the most thoroughly organized, detail oriented, intelligent, and determined person that I have ever worked with in my entire life. He is, in my opinion, a brilliant guy, a really good citizen.”
Adamson has no problem putting in the work to make the mural happen because he says he sees it as an opportunity to give back to the Carrboro community that he has become so fond of over the years.
“I have to tell you right up front: I have absolutely no artistic ability,” he said. “So this is as close as I can get to doing great art, is helping somebody do great art.”
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