Letter from the Co-chair
Progressive Carolinians Catching up in Appreciation and Use of Public Art
by Becky Hannum
Both public and private developments that sprout like weeds in the fast-growing Carolinas increasingly bloom with art designed to enhance the overall effect. This is a welcome change for North Carolina and South Carolina because each mirrors sister Southern states (with the exception of Florida) in coming only recently to fully appreciate the value of public art. Growing with this burgeoning interest in site-integrated art are landscape architecture firms such as ColeJenest & Stone, with offices in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina.

“Public art is a very small part of what we do now, but we’d like to do more of it,” says Jane Alexander, Principal and Marketing Director.

Often clients voice cost reservations, but Alexander points out that if a client can appreciate the aesthetics of a brick paver, he or she should at least consider the potential value added by an artist who might customize a paver walkway.

“Public art to me adds an overlay of mystery, intrigue and delight to a project that otherwise would not have it,” Alexander says. “And it can be the compelling feature that brings you back over and over again to experience the sense of place.”

Obviously, Alexander and her landscape architecture and civil engineering firm “get it.” This writer has enjoyed collaborating with the company to infuse multiple projects with public artwork.

One of the firm’s first experiences was with Charlotte’s “Gateway Village,” a $250 million technology center that also features residential, retail and educational components. Developers Bank of America and Cousins Properties made sure public art was planned for the structures and green spaces from the beginning. The center includes a fountain that features mist rising three feet in the center of an energy swirl marked by granite and limestone. Nearby, ColeJenest & Stone also worked on “The Green,” a 1.5-acre public park atop a 650-space, underground parking deck. It is owned by Wachovia Corporation, but nothing gives that away. It includes interactive features such as a book sculpture, a sound wall and a fish-shaped fountain.

Mist Fountain by Ritsuko Taho. Granite and Limestone, 44 in. diameter, 2000. Gateway Village, Charlotte, North Carolina.     Photos courtesy of ColeJenest&Stone

ColeJenest & Stone has been or is involved in public art projects in Spartanburg, South Carolina, as well as Asheville and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The Spartanburg project involves restoration of a downtown

Wave Leaves by Paul Sires. Hand Carved Granite, 5 ft. long, 2006. Morgan Square, Spartanburg, South Carolina  Photos courtesy of ColeJenest&Stone

public square that features the statue of Revolutionary War hero Gen. Daniel Morgan, and a hand-carved bench made of granite mined in the Carolinas. The $2.5 million makeover initially did not include additional art, but ColeJenest & Stone convinced local government to add a celebration of the city’s textile manufacturing heritage.

“Absolutely, art should be considered a part of a project from the beginning,” says Harriet Green, Director of Visual Art for the South Carolina Arts Commission in Columbia. “But whether art is a forethought or an afterthought, it’s the thought that counts,” she smiles.

In Asheville, ColeJenest & Stone is participating in a team effort to create Pack Square, a 6.5-acre park envisioned as a downtown gathering place when it is completed in 2009. Features will include ceramic tiles with botanical themes, an undulating stainless steel grid, and a bronze fountain.

The firm is also working with an art panel from Asheville, whose members decided all the public art should be created by artists who are part of Western North Carolina’s thriving craft movement. Jeffrey York of the North Carolina Arts Council in Raleigh praises the participation of ColeJenest & Stone in a Rocky Mount master plan that includes public art for the municipality’s $5 million Streetscape project. This project is intended to reshape the downtown with improvements to lighting, landscaping, streets and alleyways. “Thinking of art in the beginning keeps it from looking like it’s just been plopped down somewhere,” says York, the Council’s Director of Public Art and Community Design.

Alexander says public art pays off for her firm. “Sometimes public art is what separates us from the other teams that interview for projects,” Alexander says. “It makes us unique from our competition.”

Becky Hannum is the principal of the firm, Art Everywhere, L.L.C.in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at becky@arteverywherellc.com.

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