Conversations get started on planning for diversity mural, street painting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 13, 2020

By Natalie Anderson

SALISBURY — Though still in the early stages, community members have begun discussing plans for a pavement painting project and long-term diversity mural project downtown.

“Our goal is for a diverse array of individuals or groups to leave their artistic footprint on our downtown to create expressive, diverse and unique art installations in our city center,” said Whitney Wallace Williams, former chair of Downtown Salisbury Inc. who is also involved with mural discussions.

Only two Zoom meetings have been held to discuss the project since Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins presented the idea to city council members at the July 21 meeting. Her idea behind the mural is an effort to bring people together through a shared vision using the arts, enliven city spaces, align with the city’s efforts to strengthen infrastructure, drive public-led initiatives and shout, “Everyone belongs.”

The plan she presented at the meeting stated she would convene a group of local artists to bring to the council their scope of the project, which would include a design idea, content, proposed location, timeline, costs and suggestions on any other experts needed.

In the meantime, Williams has been working on a potential short-term, ongoing project known in other cities across the nation as “Paint the Pavement.”

The inspiration for the project derives from Williams’ friend Taylor Ellerbee, the owner of Pier and Curtain Home Restoration, after Ellerbee traveled to numerous small towns throughout the nation before the pandemic.

Williams said the “Paint the Pavement” project has been done in Charlotte, which derived its inspiration from Boulder, Colorado. Even before the pandemic, Williams had been reaching out to other cities to gather more information about how they completed the projects.

“Statistics show that art in city centers and neighborhoods increases positive affect, feelings of safety and is more likely to become a meeting location among friends and family,” Williams and Ellerbee said. “The ‘Paint the Pavement’ project has the added benefit of drawing drivers’ attention to crosswalks, and has been shown to statistically improve pedestrian safety and minimize vehicular accidents.”

Williams has submitted a grant proposal to the Rowan Arts Council requesting $2,000 for the project. The total estimated cost is $4,300, with $1,000 coming from DSI and the remaining funds raised by private donors.

Williams said she’s talked to some city staff, and the city will be key in the collaboration as they own the 22 total crosswalks being discussed. Additionally, Downtown Salisbury Inc. would also be part of the collaborative effort, she said.

At an Aug. 4 Salisbury City Council meeting, Heggins updated council members on the ongoing conversations and support for the project. Council member Tamara Sheffield was part of the early discussions as well, but mostly just to provide names for other locals who could help, she said.

Council members David Post and Brian Miller have expressed concern with using the proper systems already in place for such a project, such as the Public Art Committee, a sub-committee under the Community Appearance Commission. Sheffield has asked council members to consider allowing the Public Art Committee to one day be its own entity so the council can appoint its members following criticism from Heggins that the committee isn’t diverse enough.

Local artist Whitney Peckman told the Post it’s important to keep the diversity mural a grassroots effort, as Heggins has insisted to city council members. That includes both local artists and other community members who reflect the diversity of Salisbury.

“Everyone is committed to having this reflect the ethnic, racial, religious diversity in the community,” Peckman said.

Heggins has told council members that the Public Art Committee will be involved with the project. She was unable to immediately respond to the Post with her comments on the project.

The pavement painting project can begin as soon as funding is awarded and protocols are in place, Williams said. Once painted, those designs could remain for at least one year with the possibility of continuing in the future with more designs. Official North Carolina Department of Transportation roads and streets cannot be used in the pavement painting project, she said.

Though no design has been decided yet, the goal is to only use art, not words. The idea of a “paint-by-the-numbers” strategy has been discussed, which would allow children and other community members to participate.

“Salisbury is already known as a community rich in the arts,” Williams and Ellerbee said. “This project goes hand-in-hand with that and would allow our citizens to curate unique and vibrant art installations throughout our downtown. We see this as an opportunity to encourage foot traffic, increase tourism and add unique vibrancy to our city streets.”

Peckman said community members have begun reaching out to building owners to determine how those owners would feel about having their building be part of the mural or part of temporary murals on canvasses.

One area being considered for a project is the North Lee Street and East Kerr Street intersection, near the Lee Street Theatre. That area in particular isn’t a high-traffic area, and surrounding parking lots could allow people to visit the mural in a safer way, Peckman said.

She added that it’s important enough funding for the project is obtained in order to compensate the artists, as they’re often asked to donate their time and talents. That “gets really tiresome,” she said.

She added that any members of the local community interested in getting involved with the project can contact her at 704-754-6771.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at or call her at 704-797-4246.

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