After nearly 20 years, Salisbury’s Public Art Committee finally gets full recognition

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, February 16, 2022

SALISBURY — After nearly 20 years of partnering with schools and businesses across the community to celebrate the city’s culture and history through the arts, the Salisbury Public Art Committee is now an official commission.

City Council members granted full commission status this week to a committee formed in 2003 from both Downtown Salisbury Inc. and the Community Appearance Commission. Since then, the committee has lended a hand to numerous projects across the city.

The committee currently has around eight members, with a few vacant seats, but the full commission will now have 11 seats. Staff liaison Alyssa Nelson said the commission will need a liaison from Salisbury City Council, and the commission is working to make applications available in time for appointments from council next month.

Once appointments are made, the commission will have two-year and three-year staggered terms for members. Most board and commission appointments expire on March 31.

Nelson said in her five years working with the Public Art Committee members have worked toward the goal of becoming a full commission, which grants them more visibility and even more support from council members because there will be a council liaison.

Mayor Karen Alexander, who’s served as a member of committee, said she’s witnessed the “incredible work that has gone into every single meeting.”

“I can assure you that there’s so, so much more that this group has been involved in that has made a tremendous difference in our community,” Alexander said. “They have earned their place as a full commission for the work that they have accomplished over almost two decades.”

The committee’s first projects included establishing the downtown History and Art Trail. Around 22 bronze markers sit across the city depicting five eras of the local history — commemorating well-known Salisburians such as Wiley Lash and Joseph Ballard and important events such as integration. Barbara Perry, who chairs the PAC, said a 23rd marker will soon be installed on East Fisher Street to mark an area that was a focal point of community activity for Black residents in the early 1900s. It will honor Lula Spaulding Kelsey, a civil and women’s rights activist, business leader and humanitarian in Salisbury.

In 2005, local artist Robert Crum was commissioned to create Smoke & Steel, a mosaic mural spanning a blank wall in the 100 block of Depot Street. The mural contains 100,000 pieces of 1-inch porcelain tiles and measures 110 feet by 5.5 feet. Crum’s work received awards from the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Historic Salisbury Foundation, Perry said.

The Public Art Committee also worked with the Waterworks Visual Arts Center on a multi-year project to restore parts of and memorialize the Oak Grove Freedman’s Cemetery, a historic cemetery for African Americans deeded to the city in 1770. Local artist Maggie Smith and landscape architect Sam Reynolds were hired to design and create the memorial, which was dedicated on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2006.

Perry said her favorite project is the Salisbury Cotton Mills Corner, located at the intersection of Church and Fisher streets. The corner was the site of a three-week tent revival in the 1880s to initiate the textile industry as a means to retain Salisbury residents. The Public Art Committee partnered with Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Waterworks Visual Arts Center to allow students to create tiles depicting the industry. Bricks at the site were donated from the Kesler Cotton Mill, student football players helped plant trees and a bronze marker is located at the site.

The annual Salisbury Sculpture Show, now in its 14th year, began downtown and since expanded to local colleges, businesses and neighborhoods. More than 20 sculptures have become permanent fixtures across the city. In 2016, the Salisbury Sculpture Show was granted a first place award at the U.S. Conference of Mayors for enhancing livability and making art accessible to all, Perry said.

Ongoing Public Art Committee projects include Paint the Pavement and Art in Alleys. In 2021, a subcommittee of selected five paintings from more than 30 submissions to be featured on five crosswalks within Salisbury’s Railwalk Arts District. Four will be painted at the intersection of Kerr and Lee streets and one will be at the mid-block crossing on East Kerr Street next to Lee Street theatre. The inaugural project was delayed due to paint shortages, but Nelson said members are working to give it a go this spring or summer.

Art in Alleys is a new initiative the committee is working on thanks to a grant received in 2020 and from suggestions among residents to beautify downtown alleys. That project is in partnership with Downtown Salisbury Inc. and the Community Appearance Commission.

Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield, who’s also been a member throughout the years, said she was so glad to see members finally reach full commission status, adding that it “makes perfect sense” for the committee to be a standalone commission.

“I can only think that such a move to establish this commission will continue the good work of place-making and also the way the city tells its story,” said councilman Anthony Smith.

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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