The one-year anniversary of national shutdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic passed earlier this month. There were dire predictions about the survival of restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues when the shutdowns began and the case counts and fatalities grew. Many of those fears were realized. A lot of businesses couldn’t make takeout or delivery work. Social distancing and limited capacities for gathering proved equally troublesome. There was hardship everywhere. Downtown Burlington was not immune. Among the casualties was the STEAM Junction maker site.
Things are beginning to open a bit now as the number of people vaccinated grows. On Saturday afternoon we made a quick visit to downtown Burlington, after a great walk at nearby Willowbrook Park to see its renovations (stellar). There were people wandering around downtown, visiting shops or stopping by restaurants for a bite to eat. The patio at Burlington Beer Works was at capacity. It reminded me of all the hard work downtown owners put in to keep their operations going or in some cases even growing.
Among the new things to see downtown now are: The expansion of The Blend and Co. into the space next door at the corner of Front and Spring streets; the Mini Dingo, a new bottle shop where STEAM Junction used to be on Front Street; a new seafood restaurant, Harbor House, opened at the corner of Spring and Davis streets diagonally across from where Casey and Emily Lewis are preparing to open the Carolina Sundries general store. The Lewises moved the Owl and Rabbit Gallery into a larger space beside Carolina Sundries and are renovating the old bank building on the same street and looking for a tenant; and in April Tanner’s, a wine bar located in part of the former Mary Katherine’s building on Front Street beside the Historic Depot, will open. Look for more information on the last one soon. The rest of the former Mary Katherine’s space is being developed by property owner Allen Gant III. He is converting the upstairs into apartments and is looking for a tenant for one of the first-floor spaces.
Oh, and some of the new lighting proposed for dark downtown areas has been ordered and will be installed starting on April 9.
So, a lot has occurred during the pandemic, which is surprising.
The latest coming attraction, however, shouldn’t be a huge surprise but is still excellent news. Two murals will be added downtown and both could be completed by the end of April, said Sara Beth Hardy, director of the Burlington Downtown Corporation, which began a three mural project in 2019 with help from a grant through Impact Alamance.
The first mural funded by the grant was by nationally known street artist Mauricio Ramirez of Milwaukee. His “Heart of the City” statement on the back of Bella’s House Consignment, facing Webb Avenue was the inspirational beginning. He completed the work in September 2019. The next two projects were put on hold while some private donations could be raised to augment the grant, which came from the Community Innovation Fund. The fund was developed through a partnership of The Co/Operative and Impact Alamance to act as a catalyst for creative projects or community building efforts. No public money is being used to pay for the new murals.
A few months ago, the BDC began accepting submissions for the two new murals. The BDC Design Committee judged the submissions and winnowed the entries to a pair of finalists. The property owners had the final OK.
Gina Franco of Greensboro will create the mural set for Walkerdance, a ballet theater and studio on Front Street. The mural will face Spring Street and have a theme appropriate for the facility. I’ve seen the approved submission and it’s very cool. In an email Franco told me the space helped generate the vision.
“My experience in creating public art has taught me that engaging a community can be more effective and more fun if the audience can personally connect to the space. The design was inspired by physical space (dance studio) and the quote “when in doubt dance it out,” she wrote. “I feel the design reflects the collective experiences of the guests and will encourage community interaction.”
Franco is a well-known street artist in the Triad and Triangle who has painted several murals in the Greensboro area, including one in Gibsonville. Her work also appears in Durham and along the Atlanta Beltway. A Greensboro native, she graduated from Guilford College and worked in education before devoting full time to her art, according to an article by Made in Greensboro online.
“My approach to public art is to create a unique design that is created specifically for the space,” she wrote. “My designs are always relevant and responsive to the site and the community it will serve. My work is heavily influenced by community interaction and it is often used as an engagement technique.”
Franco is expected to begin the project the first week in April.
Hardy said Alamance County artists were chosen to paint the second mural, which will have a strong Burlington theme. It will be at the McCauley Learning Center on Spring Street. The painting will face Davis Street. The artists, Dan Porter and Lindsey Stimpson, are working as a team. Porter led the design concept and Stimpson is the artist / painter. Both are employed at Beechwood Metalworks, which is owned by Casey Lewis and is developing a national brand for creating distinctive metal art.
Work is expected to begin at the McCauley Learning Center site in April but Hardy was unsure when. I reached out to Porter by email and still hope to hear back to include more detail about their work. I also saw this submission and love how it fits in with the site.
The BDC murals aren’t the only new ones in the downtown area. An independent group interested in art, enhancing and uplifting the community and connecting neighborhoods through art raised money for a mural now on East Davis Street with hopes of eventually creating a dozen murals throughout Burlington and the county, according to a story in the Burlington Times-News in December 2020.
Alamance Article is the organization created by Roger Moore, Carey Griffin, Stephanie Ruiz and Billy Willis, according to the Times-News story by Elizabeth Pattman. The first mural depicts the Zodiac sign Cancer. It’s completed and on the side of the H.Co. Properties building at 703 E. Davis St. The Times-News reported that a local artist @nonperishable, created the first mural for Alamance Article. The artist has created public art in other areas, including the sunflower mural in Graham.
Money for the first mural was generated through a GoFundMe effort. To donate or learn more about the project, visit gf.me/u/zb54dd.
I messaged Roger Moore to get an update on how the mural campaign is proceeding. I hope to hear from him soon with more details.