If paint can bring energy to an old wall, can an art group bring new energy to a corporate building?
A new space uptown aims to do both. The story begins a year ago with a bit of a mystery.
Last April, a massive painting appeared on the side of the restaurant Dandelion Market, practically overnight. The painting was of a poem written by North Carolina poet A.R. Ammons called Salute, a positive line as pedestrians walked along 5th Street, uptown.
But the group behind it was a mystery. There was no sign identifying the artist and even Charlotte Center City Partners, the people who normally organize these sort of projects, didn’t know who was behind the painting.
“We had no idea,” said Robert Krumbine, the Chief Creative Officer and Vice President of Events at Charlotte City Partners. “And it was like what is going on? Someone is just painting on walls, what is happening? That is not a Charlotte thing.”
The “Charlotte thing” is to go through an approval process and pass a committee. This painting had not.
Did Charlotte have its own guerilla street artist?
“Whenever we’re mysterious it’s accidental,” said Amy Bagwell, the co-founder of Wall Poems of Charlotte, laughing. “It’s an oversight and not a plan.”
Bagwell said that she had just forgotten to sign that first painting to identify the group.
Bagwell, who teaches English at CPCC, had been looking for a way to get poetry off of the “top shelf,” as she said, and to the people. She had been inspired by a poetry project in the Netherlands and wanted to try out a version in Charlotte.
The group had checked in with the restaurant owner and lawyers before painting to make sure it didn’t violate any rules, but even so, Bagwell and her partner in the project, Graham Carew, were called in for a meeting with Charlotte Center City Partners.
“We kind of felt like we were being called in and someone was going to slap us on the wrist with a ruler,” Bagwell said.
But when the groups did meet, what Bagwell feared would be a slap on the wrist turned into more of an offer. Charlotte Center City Partners liked what the non-profit was doing and wanted to help.
Last month, Wall Poems of Charlotte moved into a new studio space located at the corner of Tryon Street and 9th Avenue, uptown. Center City Partners helped the group find a business owner who would allow the group to use the space for free for a year.
Inside the space is small but airy. Bagwell discussed the latest design for on a wall at Trinity Episcopal School with several CPCC graphic design students who are developing the proposals. Wall of Poems has identified about 30 sites around the city where building owners have given permission to paint poems. They meet here once a week to go over ideas.
One thing Bagwell emphasizes is that poetry is a visual art; visuals are key to determining the meaning of a poem.
“You look at it—it already has a shape, it has a rhythm, visually. Poets make decisions, and now that most people writing in free verse, poets decide is it justified left, if it is justified right, where am I breaking the lines how much space do I have between them.”
And the poems Bagwell selects are all from North Carolina writers, meaning the poet was either born, worked, or lived in the state.
“North Carolina is celebrated for many things,” said Bagwell. “Flight, having mountains and beach, having very good universities, and all of this sort of thing. We’re not celebrated for our literary heritage but we should because there’s an incredibly rich tradition of poetry in the state.”
The design the group is working on now is a poem by Carl Sandburg. He used to live in Flat Rock, about two hours west of Charlotte.
Bagwell expects about nine of these poems to be up by the end of the year.
And who knows, maybe the groups will turn wall poems into more of a “Charlotte thing.”
This story is produced through the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to covering the arts.