Public art can be a driving force in a city. Sightseeing sculptures, architecture and art installations in places like Chicago and New York, Barcelona and Florence, or anywhere worldwide, elicits effort, energy and emotion from artists and viewers. The Arts Council of Wilmington embraces its Pedestrian Art Program with a celebration on Sunday, July 16, at Expo 216. Guided shuttle tours will take visitors to explore new works of art integral to downtown Wilmington.
“Public art installations add a lot of aesthetic elements and visual entertainment to a community that otherwise wouldn’t be there,” says participating sculptor Dumay Gorham. “They help create unique focal points in the urban landscape, cityscape and other developments.”
Originally from the Port City, Gorham started creating metal sculptures after working for a welding company that made displays and decorations for retailers. After securing his own welder, Gorham sold works at Wilmington’s Riverfest. It became the impetus for his sculpting career and ultimately many contributions to the community—including his most well-known Seahawk on UNCW’s campus.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have a fair amount of public-art installations,” Gorham notes. “One of my favorite things about Wilmington is how supportive they are of the arts.”
After Gorham sold a small jellyfish sculpture to Dr. Dan Baden, director of UNCW’s Center for Marine Science, he was eventually commissioned to do several sculptures currently on display in the center’s lobby.
“Last year, I did a large pelican sculpture that was commissioned by Front Street Brewery, and then gifted to the city,” Gorham adds.
“Pelican” is now a part of the Arts Council of Wilmington’s permanent collection.
“I think public art sparks curiosity in people,” Gorham says. “It has the potential to create a lot of interactions between strangers who both happen to stop in front of it at the same time. Maybe they strike up a dialogue about what it is they’re seeing, how it got there.”
Wilmington sculptor Paul Hill also has a few pieces in the Art Council’s permanent pedestrian art collection. He creates public works with a similar goal to Gorham’s.
“I’ve always loved public sculpture, and I’ve always wanted to do that type of work,” Hill states. “Public art brings a lot of interest in the community through the work itself. It enriches the city, and hopefully tourists will tell their friends about what they’ve seen in Wilmington—and keep the tourism booming.”
One of Hill’s pieces in the permanent collection is called “Straining to Be,” which depicts a dog pulling against a chain. It is located at Bijou Park on North Front Street.
“I use a type of steel for my sculptures called ‘corten,’” Hill says. “It’s a weathering steel, in that it will rust but only on the surface layer. It makes a protective coating on the steel. I use stainless steel and sometimes copper, and I enjoy mixing metals in my sculptures like concrete glass.”
The tour will cover four installations by Greensboro sculptor Jim Gallucci. Using stainless steel, galvanized steel, and occasionally bronze, Gallucci participates in about 40 public shows and installations annually.
“One of the pieces in the program is a gate made of galvanized steel, and it is about 13 feet tall and 24 feet wide,” Gallucci notes. “It’s part of a gate series called ‘Oak Leaf Horizon.’”
Gallucci also has “Flutter Gate” on display. “Gateways are great ways to introduce people to my art, and the arts in general,” according to the artist. But folks also will walk upon Gallucci’s purple double bench on the northern riverfront called “The Whisper Bench.” One person sits on each side of the bench, which shares a long horn-esque contraption for them to talk to someone on one end, while listening from the other.
“The whole idea is communication,” Gallucci explains. “I started doing this with my daughter when she was very small because it taught her how to communicate.”
The endearing functionality of “The Whisper Bench” currently provides a cathartic space for children who are affected by terminal illnesses of loved ones as they learn to process the situation and cope. The distance is far away yet close enough to create space and intimacy. “They start whispering, then telling jokes, and so on,” Gallucci says. “Eventually, a child that hasn’t said a word in two weeks is now asking questions and engaging.”
The Pedestrian Art Program will cover more public works and installations from other artists, including Guilloume Perez, Paris Alexander, Nathan Ryan Verwey, and Carl Billingsley. Three guided shuttle tours will take place on Sunday, July 16, starting at 1 p.m., with a reception at Expo216 at 2 p.m.