People driving on Webb Avenue past downtown Burlington next week will likely notice something different. Along the back of Bella’s House, a consignment furniture store that faces Front Street, an artist will begin crafting a new piece of public art that will the beginning of a three-mural project for downtown.
Chicago artist Mauricio Ramirez was selected from among 33 applicants to create the first mural that will be paid for through a grant from the Community Innovation Fund. No public money is being used for the mural, which is a project of the Burlington Downtown Corporation. Ramirez has a lot of experience in creating murals. He has painted large-scale works for Microsoft, Warner Music Group, Vitamin Water, Red Bull, Stella Artois, and the city of Milwaukee. So Burlington is in very good company.
Jessica Pasion, executive director of the Burlington Downtown Corporation, said one of biggest factors in selecting an artist for the first downtown mural for the BDC, was a background in creating other murals. She said none of the Alamance County artists who submitted a proposal fit this description. No decision regarding the sites, subjects or artists for the two remaining murals has been determined.
Murals have become a significant part of downtown areas across the nation as a way to create visible community engagement and generate a different vibe that welcomes art, entertainment and innovation — three areas for potential growth in Burlington’s downtown. Murals can hearken to a city’s past, present or future or simply be a lovely visual feature. Graham’s new mural, a large sunflower on the corner of West Elm and Main Streets on Court Square, is already making a vivid statement that has sparked public discussion both in support and against it. I think it’s not only distinctive but beautiful and and an attraction to what is becoming a vibrant downtown.
And earlier this year a mural was created in the downtown Burlington area on North Church Street. The image of slain rapper Nipsey Hussle at 415 N. Church St., drew a lot of attention. It was created by Artie Barksdale of Durham at the behest of Shaunda Pettiford and Terence “Tito Kurbash” Page as part of a new business renovation called The Boulevard. According to a story published in the Burlington Times-News when the mural began to generate feedback — not to mention social media photos — the strip of buildings will contain a furniture store, a custom printing T-shirt and clothing store and a Network Cafe. The mural is called “The Marathon Continues.” It was commissioned by the business owners.
The Nipsey Hussle mural accomplished what great public art is supposed to do — it sparked conversation, interest and publicity. It engaged the community in multiple ways and became a go-to site for photographs, It also got a business enterprise some publicity.
Pasion says she loves the Nipsey Hussle mural. It’s distinctive and draws attention to a musician who took a stand against gang violence and supported philanthropy. It inspires. She and the mural committee working on the new project hope for similar results.
Pasion described the mural to be painted by Ramirez as a kaleidoscope. It’s a swirl of images and colors — a sort of Rorschach Test. Different people will take away a variety of impressions about what they see or perceive. Pasion likes the heart-shaped images contained in it. “We’re the heart of downtown,” she says.
The muralist and design was selected with care. Committee members wanted a mural that is progressive without being offensive — which is tougher than it sounds. In my experience, public art can always be a bit controversial. No mural will suit every taste. And everyone isn’t interested in public art. Then there are always a few who are only interested in being offended by something each and every day. As the old saying goes, “everybody is a critic.” I should know. I have played that role quite a few times myself.
Ramirez submitted this artist’s statement about his work to the BDC.
“I create artwork that crosses borders and boundaries. Whether negotiating the identities of clients or corporations, or the intimacies of cultural characteristics within neighborhoods, attention is facilitated with an acute awareness that art in the public space permeates the subconscious. My more personal artwork is a contribution to the community; frequently a cultural icon that transcends rich intersecting historical and popular culture references that speak to the complex diaspora of the United States. I whole heartedly believe in the importance of how the visibility of culture can lead to not only the growth of confidence, but also care within our communities.”
He also produced a statement about the artwork itself. Under the heading of “Justice and Equality” Ramirez wrote:
“Ideally, all humans are created equal and treated justly. However, we know that is not the case. That is why it is important to constantly ask ourselves “how can I do better?” “How do we balance our hearts?””
Those are great and thought-provoking questions that I hope the new mural will generate.
The mural was originally set to go on the backside of the Cox Auto Sales building, at 474 S. Church St. but has since moved to the location on the back of Bella’s House, ironically the site of a “children’s mural” created in the 1990s by Burlington kids. When I lived on the coast and drove through Burlington occasionally en route to my mother’s house in Stokes County I would see the childlike images in the mural and thought it was the back of a day-care facility. The mural was painted over a few years ago.
Pasion says Ramirez is interested in engaging the community as he works. There are plans for him to meet and talk to students from area schools and universities or various organizations as he works his giant “canvas.” He estimates the work will take from a week to 10 days to complete. He is happy to meet the public at a few scheduled times. Perhaps the biggest public event will be a reveal party at an as yet unscheduled time in October. It will double as a fund-raiser to help fund future murals downtown. I will update this post when the date and ticket information is established.
Until then, I look forward to seeing what the mural will look like in its actual size. I have seen a small web-sized image. Full-scale it will be a dynamic view and the start of a new tradition of art in downtown.