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GLENWOOD MURAL ENGAGES COMMUNITY

Neighborhood invited to participate in UNCG research center’s design

whitney@yesweekly.com | @YesWeekWhitney

In an at-risk neighborhood working toward revitalization, a creative project is combining community and design to engage residents.

A research center housed within the Department of Interior Architecture at UNCG began working with members of the Glenwood community back in January to plan a mural near the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Grove Street that would be open to everyone in the neighborhood.

Travis Hicks, a UNCG professor and the Director of The Center for Community-Engaged Design said the research center works with neighborhoods in Greensboro on projects that incorporate social and architectural elements.

“The mission of the center is to engage people from various communities in projects that either the community identifies or the center identifies that have some relationship to design or the built environment,” said Hicks.

The Center has already worked with the Cottage Grove neighborhood, and on the tiny house initiative for the homeless through the Greensboro Interactive Resource Center.

Glenwood, a neighborhood just south of UNCG’s campus and bordered by Lee Street, is one of the oldest planned communities in Greensboro, with records of the neighborhood that date back to 1906. During the 1970s and 1980s the neighborhood began to deteriorate as crime levels grew and businesses closed. Neglected buildings became canvasses for neighborhood gangs to mark their territory.

The Greater Glenwood Neighborhood Associated has been diligent in its efforts to return Glenwood to its former charm while maintaining the level of diversity that can be found in the area. In 2009 the City of Greensboro partnered with the association to adopt the “Glenwood Neighborhood Plan” with the goals of increasing home ownership and maintenance in the area, improving walkability and bikeability, promoting development, reducing crime, and strengthening community networks.

When a property owner in the neighborhood approached Hicks about a design project, the neighborhood seemed like a perfect fit for the type of work done by the CC-ED.

“The building owner, Greg Porter, approached me about a year ago with an idea for a project,” said Hicks. “At the time we didn’t know what the project would be.”

“We had about 120 UNCG students from art and interior architecture work on the design of it,” said Hicks. “What you see now on the wall is not what came from that initial day. There were some ideas from the community, from the Glenwood neighborhood that came out of the Christmas Bazaar back in December that students took inspiration from and then worked on those designs back in January.”

They drew inspiration as well from local students from Hope Academy who depicted their experiences of growing up in Glenwood through writing and artwork.

Anuj Patel, a recent UNCG graduate instrumental to the mural design, said that he was surprised by what the students had to say.

“Some of that stuff was actually surprisingly dark,” said Patel.

Patel wanted to be true to the experiences of the students, by incorporating aspects of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual violence and death into his mural design, but made a conscious effort to juxtapose those images with ones of childhood innocence.

The image of the mural transitions from the scene of a neighborhood to that of a playground and then a city. Upon closer inspection the viewer can see the outlines of figurines engaged in some of the darker activities described by the students next to positive images of a kid flying a kite or a neighbor helping a homeless individual.

“It’s really just a wide spectrum of what makes this community,” said Patel.

The CC-ED was careful to choose colors that would be bright and inviting while also neutral. Hicks and his students avoided the blues and reds that could be associated with local gangs, and decided on shades of purple and a bright yellow.

Once a general design had been chosen, and supplies had been donated by Avery Dennison and Sherwin-Williams, a general layout was sketched on the wall. The design has evolved as various participants have contributed to the mural. Hicks said that this was the intention.

“The design is such that people can contribute to painting without having professional training or expertise in art or design,” said Hicks. “It’s a mural that really invites people to come in and pick up a paintbrush and contribute whether they have professional skills or no skills.”

Contributors who aren’t as confident in their artistic abilities have been able to simply fill in the outline of trees, while others have added windows to buildings or created new features. A group of students from the nearby Morningstar Academy helped to fill in a large space of the mural using their handprints instead of paintbrushes.

“It’s a very forgiving process,” said Hicks. “And also one that builds confidence and builds community.”

By involving community members with the design of the mural, the hope is that the wall will become a focal point of the neighborhood that residents can be proud of. This is especially the case for some of the younger children who have helped with the design.

“The hope is that it will resonate enough with the community that they’ll kind of respect it and maintain it over the years,” said Patel.

After a few weeks of painting in the summer sun, the mural is set to be officially unveiled on Friday.

“Anyone who contributed to it, anyone who is interested in it, or anyone from the neighborhood is welcome to come by,” said Hicks. !

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