by Nolan Stout

Everything about this meeting showed it would be no normal business presentation. From the one faded brick wall, to Hudson, the Burmese Mountain Dog, working her way through the crowd, the public presentation by Shaun Cassidy and Laurel Holtzapple on Thursday was a fascinating experience.

Cassidy and Holtzapple are one of four finalists that have been selected by Action Greensboro as the lead artist for the Innovation Cornerstone of the Downtown Greenway. They were the last of the finalists to meet with the public and spoke with about 20 people to discuss their work, how they would approach the design, and the importance of public art.

“Public art is a way for artists to connect with the community in a different

kind of way. You’re connecting with a section of the population that might not go to galleries, might not go to museums,” said Cassidy from the front of the room. “[It] has the capacity to momentarily disrupt, alter, affect and change the way you think. You can see something and it just takes you outside the normal direction of life.”

The cornerstone is the third of four artistic meeting places that mark the corners of the new Downtown Greenway. The Innovation Cornerstone will be built at the intersection of East Lindsay Street and Murrow Boulevard.

The Tradition Cornerstone, at the corner of Smith and Prescott streets, and the Motion Cornerstone, at Morehead Park, both opened within the past two years.

This cornerstone will symbolize the innovative past of Greensboro. The design will build off the innovative legacy of the Cone brothers, Vicks Chemical Co., the many colleges and universities in the city and much more.

“It’s about looking back historically at the fact that we had really innovative businesses that made Greensboro what it is today,” said Action Greensboro Project Manager Dabney Sanders. “But it’s also looking at how Greensboro still has an entrepreneurial spirit about it.”

Following the presentation, attendees were asked to fill out a survey with questions about the artists’ work and suggestions for the Innovation Cornerstone. There was also an opportunity for questions and comments from the community concerning the cornerstone. Each session, organizers received at least eight surveys.

Sitting on the front row was Greensboro resident Jamison Alston, a graduate of NC A&T University. Alston lives near the future sight of the cornerstone. After addressing some of the things he would like to see associated with the cornerstone, Alston touched on the importance of making the central meaning accessible to all.

“We want it to spark innovation and creativity, but at the same time we don’t want to have to say ‘what is that?'” said Alston. “I want it so children can look at it, adults can look at it, and both get the message right away.

Not so abstract that I need a Ph.D. in Art to break it down or have to read the placard in front of the art to get it.”

Cassidy and Holtzapple are the only finalists from the South. Holtzapple is from Charlotte, N.C. Cassidy is originally from England, but now lives in Rock Hill, S.C. and has been teaching at Winthrop University for 15 years.

“We’re excited because we feel like we’re the local artists,” said Cassidy. “If we become the artists selected for this project, we can whiz up and down the highway and keep an eye on development.”

These artists could have a better opportunity to learn more about the city due to their proximity.

“If they don’t know the culture, they’re close enough to drive here and figure it out and get a first hand perspective,” said Alston. “I’m not going to say it’s a deal breaker [for the other artists] but it helps.”

The other finalists are Randy Walker, of Minneapolis; Jody Pinto, of New York City; and the team of Pete Beeman and Yianni Doulis, of Portland, Ore.

Sanders said that the final artist would be selected by the end of this week. After that, proposals will need to be submitted in July; with October being the earliest ground would be broken. Sanders hopes the cornerstone will be finished and opened by the end of this year or early in next year.

Cassidy and Holtzapple were not able to discuss specifically what they would do at the site if selected, but they were able to inform the attendees that a tall, vertical sculpture that could be lit at night would be best for the site.

Cassidy is a sculptor, and Holtzapple is a landscape artist. The two would use their abilities to create a cornerstone that used landscape and sculptures together, which is important in public art.

“Even if you put a world class sculpture on a site and you did nothing to the landscape, it would be a failure,” said Cassidy. “You have to activate that landscape to get people to come to that space.”

The city itself is full of excitement for these artists and is giving them an opportunity to create something that will be key in the development of the Downtown Greenway.

“There’s a lot of possibility in this city,” said Cassidy. “Greensboro is a city on the verge of reemerging itself.”!