Beautifying public spaces entails more than ensuring manicured green space and tidy sidewalks exist in day-to-day city life; it also brands an area’s vibe. Wilmington has a reputation for being a welcoming town to artists, supportive of their creative output. Currently, with the help of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, 12 sculptures are situated across downtown and its outskirts as part of the Pedestrian Art (Ped Art) program. Various displays bring pops of color to Wilmington in the form of abstract statues from NC artists. Yet, scarce is the work of muralists, aside from a few spots in the central business district of downtown.
According to Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council, she has been involved in several mural proposals. The council gives $65,000 in grants each year in support of visual, performing and literary arts, and hosts a variety of events and exhibits. They also work primarily to facilitate economic development partnerships with both the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County.
“Even though I personally secured permission from a private property owner for one of the projects, the feedback was it would set a precedent that could turn downtown into Disneyland,” Bellamy says. Bellamy sees the inclusion of murals as an extension of Ped Art.
“It’s a priority for the Arts Council’s board of directors, who have made murals a focal point for the annual board retreat in January,” Bellamy tells. “We get about 20 inquiries a year from muralists.”
Castle Street District wants to add color to privately owned businesses along Castle Street in 2020. The Castle Street Collective hosted a mural mixer on Monday, December 16 to entertain the idea. They welcomed speaking artists Tiffany Machler, who leads a local artist guild; Bryan Stacy, owner of Anville & Ink on Castle Street; and from California, Erica Nelson, who is able to give 3D computerized renderings of murals before they get painted. Artists were pulled from a database from Simply Mae Marketing’s Ryan Wetzel (secretary of the Castle Street Collective) and Martha-Anne Efird.
“The hope [was] to start a real conversation about how to make a plan to move forward with murals in our area,” Wetzel says. “We also want to establish a direct link between the muralists and business owners.”
The topic began when Kent Tomaselli, who owns a few buildings along Castle Street, inquired about murals, the benefits of this type of public art, and the vetting process for getting them started and completed. According to Wetzel, the City has offered little pushback on their efforts.
“Castle Street is not in the [CBD] historic district,” he says, “which means the discretion is up to the owners of the buildings. The City is becoming more receptive to the idea of murals, and Castle Street will be a great example for the other districts downtown.”
The collective’s goal is to have eight murals completed by the end of 2020. Already, folks will see two on the façade of Luna Caffè at 604 Castle Street. One was just completed last month, a space scene painted by Janice Designs.
“Our 3-year-old son loves anything space,” Luna owner Will Chacon tells. “Since our name is ‘Luna’ Caffè, we thought a space theme would be almost a play on words with our logo.”
They sought the help of their employee, Janice O’Leary, to help complete the work. “We like to borrow talent from our staff when we get the opportunity,” Chacon says.
The mural facing the 6th Street side of the coffee shop features a mosaic done by students of DREAMS of Wilmington. Across the way, the Cape Fear Playhouse building showcases the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and Riverwalk. Both DREAMS and Riverwalk murals were completed in the early 2000s.
“The [Riverwalk one is] very faded and needs to be redone,” according to Wetzel. “Also, the mosaic [at Luna] needs some additions and refreshing, because it says, ‘New Castle Antiques and Art District.’ Castle Street is now referred to as the ‘Castle Street District’ because there is a variety of shops and businesses.”
Aside from painting the buildings in aesthetically pleasing ways, the business owners like that it encourages engagement as folks come to the district to shop. They’ll find themselves discussing art as well and supporting local work.
“It encourages community participation,” Wetzel tells.
Chacon adds, “It gives the community a chance to show off their different personalities and brings fun colors to the street,”