Dabney Sanders: We knew from the early planning stages for the Downtown Greenway that we wanted public art to be a major component of this 4-mile loop. We wanted those pieces of public art to represent city-wide themes that have been important in making Greensboro what it is today. So we have commissioned the first artist to create a cornerstone with the theme of "Motion," called Gateway of the Open Book. Rhode Island artist Brower Hatcher created that piece, and he collaborated with local artist Frank Russell as well as students from local elementary and high schools represented by the Warnersville neighborhood, the closest neighborhood to Gateway of the Open Book.
Frank Russell: It is always terrific to work with kids. Kids have absolute raw, unedited creativity streaming out of them. It is unfiltered, and they will tell you exactly what they see or feel or think, provided you can get them talking—and you have to get them talking. Barbara brought coffee, and we actually gave them caffeine to elicit a response—with cookies and coffee and some time. I think when people Peter’s age began to see one another participate, it encouraged them to loosen up and participate. Peter was very outspoken and had terrific ideas on paper. Kids are just creative genius. We did not have to make up anything for these iconic images. We created almost 40 images, and we actually used 25 in the sculpture itself. They definitely brought their 'A' game. We also played with some found objects that provided the idea of the four quarters of the moon and the sun.
Peter Smith: Me and my friends, we drew pictures of the moon, the sun, the galaxy—all types of stuff. It was the first time that I had worked with scrap metals. We would go through copper, boxes of copper, and pipes. There we started talking about the sculpture—phase one of it.
Frank Russell: We were challenged. We were invited to mention several things about the strengths of Greensboro, our city. And I think education is one of the most powerful things that Greensboro has going. We have so many colleges, so many universities. So, to have it shaped as a book for knowledge and research and all the fun, excellent things that are going to be found in this particular book, from fish to rocket ships to flying saucers to a lot of great things, made sense. These kids gave us these ideas. These kids told us what should be in the cornerstone.
Peter Smith: It makes me feel wonderful because it was something that I took part in with me and my friends, and we did something for the community.
Sandra Boren: The Downtown Greenway provides some great opportunities for folks to get out in a safe environment for physical activity, whether that is running, walking or cycling. We are delighted to be investing in that, and it is an opportunity for our entire community to get out and experience the great outdoors without having to go very far from home.
John McLendon: The Downtown Greenway, as a loop around downtown, will be a hub of the entire trails, greenways, and system of bike lanes and bike routes going out into Greensboro and to Guilford County. Eventually, there will be connections planned with the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway to the Bicentennial Greenway, which will run all the way over to High Point and the Piedmont Greenway, which is planned to connect to Winston-Salem. So this Greenway is the hub, and it will be the hub of a network that will allow people to walk and ride their bikes all over the region safely. We do have some places where there are good sidewalks and people can walk. And there are bike lanes where we can ride on streets, but there are a lot of gaps where you just cannot safely connect to by riding your bicycle or walking without using the Greenway that is planned around downtown and the connectors reaching into the larger part of Greensboro.
Connie McLendon: We love to go on long rides on the weekends, but like John said, there are some areas that we go in that really are not very safe.
To one day be able to ride on a trail from here to Winston-Salem and back in a relatively safe spectrum is very exciting to me because it is a little bit scary to be out there some days. To be on the trail and interacting with other people and the whole safety factor is just very exciting to me.
T. Dianne Bellamy-Small: Since this Greenway is connected to neighborhoods, it makes it a lot easier. I do not have to go somewhere else to be involved with physical activity. For some of these folks, they can just come out their back doors and walk over to the Greenway, then walk a half mile or a mile and then come back home.
Natalie Abbassi: Well, a healthy lifestyle and going green is very important to me. So when I think of the Greenway, I think of this as a means to be more healthy, a means to exercise, and a means to get my body moving. We could be less dependent on our cars. We could be more social. We could walk our dogs and get on our bikes. It is just going to be better for the environment and better for our bodies and health.
Susan Schwartz: You will be able to live downtown if you want to, and walk or ride to your place of work, to all entertainment—and get exercise. I think this is a very high quality of life for people, and as the world grows and we face different issues, we all know that you want to be in your car less, you want to eat better, you want to walk more, and you want to live near your work. All of those features will be provided through the Greenway.
Dabney Sanders: We knew from the early planning stages for the Downtown Greenway that we wanted public art to be a major component of this 4-mile loop. Certainly, we are interested in people enjoying it for health and recreation. We are doing it to encourage economic development, but we also wanted to create something that was iconic for Greensboro and something that would really represent what Greensboro is and Greensboro’s rich history.
There were some opportunities to have artists create purely functional works for us, so we have bike racks that will be scattered along the Greenway. We have commissioned a local artist to do two of those bike racks so far, and we plan to continue that as we build additional sections. We also realized after the original planning process that we were presented with some unique opportunities, either to tell stories or to create an environment with public art. So we have some other things—special markers that we have done, two really exciting ones so far. One is called ColorHaus, designed by Primary Flight, an artist group from Miami. You can see the painted murals as a backdrop to this trailhead parking area here at Morehead Park. We collaborated with Elsewhere to bring the group of artists from Miami to do a three-week residency here. They were able to involve the community in some of their work, and we think it makes a great statement to encourage people to see a little something different and want to explore this section of the Greenway.
The other piece that excites us is a piece called Over.Under.Pass, created by local Greensboro artists Jim Gallucci and Scott Richardson. We had an opportunity in this section of Morehead Park to reclaim an abandoned railroad underpass that had not been in use since the mid 1970s. This was an underpass that used to be well-used by both vehicles and pedestrians, and has been impassible all of these years. When we were looking at the opportunities there, we wanted to create a safe environment but we also wanted to create an artistically exciting environment as well. Jim Gallucci designed iron gates modeled after art deco style architectural features he found on a nearby building that was built in 1928—the same year that the railroad underpass was built. Scott Richardson designed a lighting program using colored, motion-sensored LED lights. As the public traverses through the area, they can interact with and make the lights do interesting things. Over.Under.Pass has been a popular attraction here—something new and a little bit unusual for Greensboro.
We were recognized for this project with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and we love hearing Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the NEA, talk all over the country about how proud he is of what Greensboro is doing in terms of creative placemaking in their community.
Xandra Eden: I am Xandra Eden, Curator of Exhibitions at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Weatherspoon Art Museum has one of the foremost collections of American and contemporary art in the Southeast. It numbers almost 6,000 works, and we have a very active exhibition and public program schedule that draws audiences from many different parts of North Carolina, across the U.S., and internationally.
So the Downtown Greenway public art selection panel has a really wonderful process. The panel begins with more of an expansive look at the areas and the neighborhoods that the Greenway is passing through and who lives there. They also look at an appropriate model to take in developing art projects throughout the Greenway. Then the panel moves toward an open call. So we have artists who have submitted proposals from across the U.S. responding to these different ideas. There are four different ideas that we are putting forward for the cornerstones. We also have several different benches that have been created or proposed as well as other projects. We are really working toward having an expansive and open submissions process.
During the course of determining who the artist is at the committee meetings, we have really interesting discussions about what is most appropriate, how they could work with the communities, and what makes sense for us as a community. Once we have decided on an artist that we think makes the most sense, then we move to another process that involves an open communication between the artist and the people who live in that community. It's a nice kind of open communication in all aspects of moving toward this project.
We are always looking for new artists and fresh ideas for these projects that are coming up. We are really excited that we have been able to partner with wonderful organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, the United Arts Council, and my own institution, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, as well as Elsewhere Collaborative in Downtown Greensboro. With all of these arts organizations, with the community, and with people who live in these neighborhoods all contributing to what the Greenway is, it sets up a really welcoming experience for any artist who does a project here. They have all come away with positive feelings about the project they did in Greensboro and all the different people they met, as well as the way they networked with other artists here and other people involved in collecting or curating art. This process has been very beneficial for the artists as well as our community.