A Sense of Place. A Point of Pride.

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Why This Matters: International Sculpture Day is the last Saturday of April each year. ASC invites everyone to celebrate what sculpture can do for a community.
The Firebird
The Firebird, located in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art at Levine Center for the Arts and created by Niki de Saint Phalle. Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Photo by Gary O’Brien – gary@garyobrien.com
By Page Leggett

Think of the most famous public sculptures you’ve seen in person or in pictures – Anish Kapoor’s silvery “Cloud Gate” (a.k.a. “The Bean”) in Chicago, or Robert Indiana’s bright red-and-blue LOVE in New York and Philadelphia. These iconic works have literally become symbols of their cities.

International Sculpture Day (the last Saturday of April each year) gives everyone the world over the opportunity to consider how a particular place is enlivened by the addition of an artist’s use of steel, marble, concrete, mirrored glass and more. Try using the approach the angel, Clarence, used on George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and imagine what a particular place would be without its sculpture.

The Mario Botta-designed Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, for instance, is a work of art on its own. But the terra cotta-clad building really came to life with the addition of Niki de Saint Phalle’s majestic, mirror-covered “Firebird” out front. It might just be the most Instagrammable spot in Charlotte. It offers more than a sense of place. It’s a source of pride for the city.

A public sculpture can even be a sign of hope.

Out of the ashes

"Welcoming Dreams" is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Welcoming Dreams” by Monique Luck.

Monique Luck’s “Welcoming Dreams,” a mosaic she created in 2016 with artistic input from residents, signals a new day for the Renaissance West community. The mixed-income community is what became of the Boulevard Homes, the formerly crime-ridden public housing complex torn down in 2011. The apartments were the site of Charlotte’s only double police homicide. Two streets in the community are named for the slain CMPD officers –Andy Nobles and John Burnette. Their first names are also embedded in the sculpture.

“I hope the sculpture reminds residents that everyone has a part in this community,” said Amanda Golmont, development officer at Renaissance West Community Initiative (RCWI).

She said it’s also a reminder to residents “of how far the community has come, but more importantly, how far they have come.” Indeed, it’s a daily reminder. The sculpture – the first effort in the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art’s Community Arts Project – was given pride of place within the community. It’s at the roundabout residents and visitors see each time they enter or leave.

“It was such an honor to work with Renaissance West community members,” said Luck, the artist who created the Lucite installation with a stained-glass effect. “I felt embraced by the community and grateful for the opportunity to create the public art installation for them. It was an amazing experience.”

The largest of the pieces in the installation is a woman – a mother, Luck imagines – shown in profile, with a flowing mane of hair. She’s collaged from torn paper, children’s drawings, old photos and magazine clippings. She’s every color of the rainbow. And like a rainbow, she’s a symbol of optimism.

Sculpture helped transform a community that, at one time, may have seemed hopeless. But public sculpture can do a lot for any place.

Sculpture reminds residents: Seize the day

Historic Elizabeth has character, charm and a pedigree. But it did not have a public sculpture until neighbors Nancy Albert and Kris Solow applied for a grant to have one created. Artists Amy Bagwell and Graham Carew were commissioned to create a site-specific installation at the roundabout at E. Eighth and Lamar avenues. The public sculpture, completed in December 2015, was part of the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative launched by the City of Charlotte, the Public Art Commission and ASC.

"Now is Fireworks" is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Now is Fireworks” by Amy Bagwell and Graham Carew.

Like the Renaissance West sculpture, neighbors offered input for “Now is Fireworks.” CPCC students also had a hand in creating the piece that had both temporary and permanent elements. “Now is Fireworks” is the title of a Bagwell poem whose lines were held in whimsical “wordhouses” that have long since vanished. But the title remains; it was etched into a stainless-steel sculpture. It’s a reminder to live in the moment.

And because art begets more art, the neighbors raised money to have the poem painted in its entirety on the wall of Studio K on Seventh St.

“The neighbors have sort of adopted the installation,” Albert said. “And that had not been planned. They decorate the tree branches with ghosts on Halloween and lights at Christmas.”

Public sculpture does more than animate a place. It brings people together. And that’s worth celebrating.

Six More Neighborhood Sculptures to Discover

"Ascension" is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Ascension” by Dana Gingras. Photo by Mtchell Kearney.


The stunning corten steel and stainless steel sculpture, created by Dana Gingras, is both a subtle nod to the mining history of the Grove Park neighborhood and to the area’s forward progress.

“Belmont Markers” by Charles Partin.

Belmont Markers”

Artist Charles Partin’s brick relief works serve as gateways for Charlotte’s Belmont community and speaks to the neighborhood’s textile mill history. 

The public artwork at Reid Park Neighhbordhood Park is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Community Spring,” “Life” and “Origins by Laurel Holtzapple, Lauren Doran and Shaun Cassidy.

“Community Spring,” “Life” and “Origins”

The three pieces by the artist team of Laurel Holtzapple, Lauren Doran and Shaun Cassidy comprise the public artwork at Reid Park Neighborhood Park. “Community Spring,” comprised of three boulders and concrete seating, is inspired by the neighborhood’s spring, street patterns and quilting tradition. “Life” is inspired by the okra plants found in the gardens of early neighborhood residents. “Origins” honors neighborhood pioneers Amay James and Ross Reid.

"Embrace" is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Embrace” by Leslie Scott and Lee Baumgarten.


The sculpture, conceived by artist Leslie Scott and completed by community volunteers and an art team led by Lee Baumgarten, provides a gathering spot for MoRa community members at the corner of Conference Drive and Monroe Road in Charlotte.

"Love Motel for Insects" is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Love Motel for Insects” by Brandon Ballengee. Photo by Matt Steele.

“Love Motel for Insects”

Brandon Ballengee’s sculpture, in Charlotte’s Brightwalk neighborhood, is shaped after an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

"Sedgefield Totem" is one of the community sculptures to check out on International Sculpture Day.
“Sedgefield Totem” by Paula Smith.

“Sedgefield Totem”

The colorful, whimsical totem, by Paula Smith, tells the story of Charlotte’s Sedgefield neighborhood from the base up – from the early families that farmed the land and the first Charlotte Garden Club that originated in the community to the residents that live in the neighborhood today.

*This article has been edited to clarify that International Sculpture Day falls on the last Saturday of April each year.