by Emiene Wright, The Charlotte Observer
The “Manifest Future” mural is a collaborative creative project — the brainchild of Janelle Dunlap and the League of Creative Interventionists, with partners including the Knight Foundation and Historic West End — and aims to reclaim a neglected lot on Charlotte’s West Side as a unifying force in the rapidly gentrifying African-American neighborhood. Georgie Nakima and Sloane Siobhan worked at creating a powerful visual statement that goes beyond art, turning the mural into a rallying point where artists, civic leaders and neighborhood residents could come together at weekly parties to paint, connect, and build a sense of cultural ownership of the space, at 1635 W. Trade St. Dunlap’s LOCI work continues.
Describe your role in this project.
I’m the lead designer and creative director on “Manifest Future.” The space was chosen intentionally in the historic West End, a community that’s been marginalized and is being gentrified. We wanted to redefine gentrification, which is not necessarily a racial thing but is about displacement. The lot had been abandoned and underused for years. Instead of wallowing in it, we’re reclaiming the space.
Sloane and I talked about images and what we were inspired by, and I sketched out the composition of the mural. It’s split into five pillars, a sequential narrative of black life where each portion of the mural tells a bit of the story: genesis, unity, group work, creativity, and sacred gardening. The first part, genesis, is symbolized by Adinkra symbols from the Asante people of West Africa representing progress.
The weekly paint parties are open and the public is invited to come understand the subject matter and delight in the spirit of making art. It’s like a family reunion, with food and music. We keep it light, reactivating the space through colors, frequencies and vibrations. Each paint party is themed by the part of the mural we’re on.
What has been the most surprising moment?
We had a couple surprises, all of them not necessarily good. In the prefab stage everything that could go wrong did, from administrative issues, to meetings, to deciding roles and getting supplies. It was my first time not working solo and organizing with a team was a whole other process I needed to learn. I’m glad for it, because I’ve learned how to be a better leader and follower.
Most profound moment?
Both Sloane and I attended Northwest School of the Arts on Beatties Ford Rd., so we’re very familiar with the area. The positive feedback from the community has been overwhelming. Where we’re at, where Trade meets Beatties Ford, things are always happening to them and not with them. So seeing two young black women putting up an Afrocentric mural gives them a sense of pride, especially the kids, who are seeing us and learning that if they’re interested in art there’s a place for them. They know we have an emotional connection that’s reflected in the art. That’s why it’s so important to have black artists do work in black communities, because artists from different backgrounds don’t have those stakes. Residents from all walks are always coming up and telling us how dope it is. They feel extensive pride when they see it. Even after the mural is done there will be a place to go for community forums or a place where we can just pull up and post up.
Has this work changed your art?
It’s not my art that has changed as much as the way I see myself making an impact. There’s a difference between being impressive and impactful. Both are great but this is something that’s on the verge of building a legacy. My other murals have been in predominantly white arts districts or professional environments. This community has high traffic, a lot of people on foot and bikes and in cars, but residents have low access to art.
I want to mold how we view art. You don’t have to be an artist or artistically inclined to take part. It’s very meditative and therapeutic, and people who haven’t had access to therapy or meditation can paint to express themselves. That can be empowering, too.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.