What do food trucks, brick walls and couches have in common? They are all about to become canvases for the 336 Urban Arts Project, a series of community-engaged arts experiences coming to Greensboro in 2017. As the name suggests, 336 is meant to celebrate and inspire everyone in the 336 area code through public and sometimes interactive art projects woven into community events.
“We’re going to focus on public art through different events throughout Greensboro. We’ll be popping up here and there at events that are already going on,” said Jeff Beck, owner of Urban Grinders coffee shop on North Elm Street and one of the minds behind 336.
Locals may not know Beck personally, but virtually everyone in Greensboro has seen his work. His murals decorate the walls of buildings around the city.
“I’ve done six or seven murals around Greensboro,” said Beck. “I started painting on canvases and just kept getting bigger and bigger. I don’t like painting small; I feel confined.”
Beck came together with the Center for Visual Artists (CVA) to plan the first year of 336 programming. CVA Executive Director Katie Lank sees 336 as a natural extension of the CVA’s public arts education.
“We’re already doing these little activities in the community, but this way we can really focus on them as a project in themselves,” Lank explained.
Lank and Beck became friends while working on No Blank Walls, a project which brought in street artists to create murals around Greensboro. After their involvement in that project ended, the pair began talking about an arts initiative that would incorporate more than just the visual arts.
“I thought we needed something, like the 336 project, that expanded on the core of No Blank Walls,” said Beck. “Murals are great, but I didn’t think it was enough. We needed to expand to other public arts, to involve more people.”
336 will kick off with a public brainstorm session held at Urban Grinders on Friday, March 3.
“It’s for First Friday,” Beck explained. “We’re doing a mini intro to 336. It will be set up like a public forum. People can come in and give us their thoughts and ideas about what they’d like to see.”
Also in March, Beck will paint an outdoor mural on Davie Street. April will see more interactive 336 programming, starting with the Urban Affairs street art exhibition opening at the CVA gallery on April 7.
“News about the partnership is already out there on social media, but this will be the first visual experience where people can see exactly what we’re talking about,” said Lank.
According to Lank, Urban Affairs is about bringing street art inside, partly by altering furniture and other household objects with graffiti. The goal is to shake up the audience’s view of where art belongs.
The idea of painting on unusual backgrounds will reappear in May, when 336 will hold several arts events at the Greensboro Food Truck Festival. Plans include live music, arts vendors, and local artists turning a food truck into a rolling mural.
“The artists will be creating it live at the event so people can see the process,” said Lank. “To see art in action is exciting. It makes people want to learn more, and that’s what we want.”
336 will hold at least one event per month for the rest of the year. Beck and Lank can’t give away all the details just yet, but the schedule does include performing arts, from live music to elements of theatre and dance. No matter what medium is used, the goal of 336 is the same: get local artists to inspire all of Greensboro through public displays of their craft.
“It’s kind of an accidental exposure to art,” Lank laughed. “How lovely is it that someone could be walking down the sidewalk, see this mural and have a thought about art, if just for one moment? The idea is to pique interest and possibly engagement in the arts community at large.”
Both Lank and Beck are enthusiastic about the potential of 336 to nurture and support the city’s unsung artists.
“We hope this will bring a good energy to the art community here in Greensboro,” said Beck. “There are so many talented artists here. We don’t feel they get enough chances to display their stuff and to prove what they can do.”
The project may also serve to connect artists with work opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise hear about. Lank said she’s been contacted by local businesses who want to commission murals or other art projects.
“We can be a gateway for local artists to match up with these businesses,” said Lank. “To a certain degree, we’re now able to represent artists and help them make connections.”
For more information about the 336 Urban Arts Initiative or to see upcoming events, visit www.greensboroart.org/336uap.
Mia Osborn is a Greensboro-based freelance writer who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.