Space Re-imagined

While a quick count of construction cranes across Charlotte is one way to mark the rapidly changing physical landscape of the city, another more artistic measure is found in the vast number of newly installed public artwork emerging here.

Charlotte has many such newcomers, and they’re helping transform public space.

“Ainsa III,” a die-cut stainless steel letters-of-the-world sculpture by Jaume Plensa at UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus, was specially commissioned by the Queen’s Table, an anonymous philanthropic arts group. The Queen’s Table has provided several large public arts gifts to the city over the years, including the “Sculptures on the Square,” Raymond Kaskey’s giant bronze works anchoring the corners of Trade and Tryon streets uptown.

Carolyn Braaksma, a former McColl Center for Art + Innovation artist in residence, created relief art walls depicting various indigenous North Carolina plant motifs that are literally springing from the ground in stunning fashion along the Charlotte Area Transit System LYNX Blue Line extension on North Tryon Street. The work is part of CATS’s Art-in-Transit Program.

“One percent of the design and construction costs of capital projects are used to integrate art into transit facilities,” says Pallas Lombardi, program manager for Art-in-Transit.

Since its inception in 2002, Art-in-Transit has overseen art installations into passenger shelters, community transit centers, maintenance facilities, park and ride lots, and the light rail.

“There is a huge value to art being integrated into these sights,” says Lombardi. “It says to the community that CATS cares about how people experience these environments. These are tough, mundane environments for art. These projects bump things up, making the space more special.”

A dramatic illustration of this concept is found along the Blue Line near the Scaleybark station, where North Carolina artist Thomas Sayre’s “Furrow,” six giant concrete and steel discs cast from orange-hued Carolina earth, stands sentry.

“Sayre learned of the area’s agricultural past through meeting with area residents during his design process,” says Lombardi. “The sculptures are inspired by the discs used to plow farmland.”

Disrupting normalcy

For sculptor Shaun Cassidy, public-art projects provide an opportunity to create work for people who may never set foot in a gallery or museum. Cassidy created 40 fence leaf sculptures for the etched glass windscreens and mosaic column cladding seen at 10 stations along the Blue Line. He also created the design used in the rail-car ceilings and upholstery.

“It is exciting as an artist to create a disruption to the normalcy of the world around us and inject elements of artistry and poetry integrated within everyday space,” says Cassidy, also a professor of fine arts at Winthrop University.

Charlotte’s Arts and Science Council administers Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s public art program. The program provides up to 1 percent of construction costs of municipal projects towards public art.

More than 73 public arts projects have been completed under the program, and artists from the region led more than half of them.

A unique collaboration between the Arts and Science Council and the city of Charlotte is the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative. Elizabeth was one of five neighborhoods selected to receive public art under the program.

Residents are reveling in the installation of 40 pieces of art collectively named “Now is Fireworks,” created by Amy Bagwell and Graham Carew of The Wall Poem Project of Charlotte.

Several creative components—including a stainless steel sculpture, railing art, and brightly colored “wordhouses”—are found throughout the installation.

“Art in the community is a way of creative place-making,” says Carla Hanzl, vice president of public art for the Arts and Science Council. “Art has the ability to tell a story. When artists collaborate with community members, they can create work that captures history, and helps create identity and neighborhood gateways.”