Why this Matters: Public art on the campuses of local colleges and universities enhances their identities and connects them to the greater community.
By Bernie Petit
Whether you’re heading back to college, dropping a loved one off for their first year away or returning to root for the alma mater, one thing is certain.
If you’re setting foot on the campus of an institution of higher learning in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, you’ll be greeted by an array of public art.
Local colleges and universities use public art to support student learning and beautify their campuses. In some cases, the artworks connect the colleges to the communities in which they’re located and invite residents to get to know the schools.
At Central Piedmont Community College’s central campus on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, “Aspire” by New York artist Greg Wyatt sits in front of the Overcash Academic and Performing Arts Center. The artwork was gifted to the college in 2005 by Queen’s Table, a group of anonymous donors that celebrate Charlotte by funding public art projects that enhance the quality of life in the city.
Because its buildings are accessible whenever campus is open, CPCC considers pieces inside its facilities as part of its public art collection. That includes a dozen artworks across central campus donated by Moses Luski in honor of Sonia and Isaac Luski (who contributed much of the art featured in the Foundation For The Carolinas uptown art gallery).
Future public art at the central campus includes a wall poem by Amy Bagwell and Graham Carew – the artist team that created “Now is Fireworks” for Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood – on the faculty/theater parking garage and a mosaic artwork near the student library by Paula Smith, who recently created public art for the Sedgefield neighborhood.
A range of sculptural works by internationally acclaimed artists dot the campus of Davidson College. It officially began its Campus Sculpture Program officially in 2007 as an extension of its permanent art collection.
The most prominent name among the artists found in the collection may be French sculptor Auguste Rodin, best known for the iconic work “The Thinker.” Rodin’s “Jean d’Aire,” created in 1886, can be found at Davidson’s Katherine Belk Visual Art Center.
Another famous sculptor with work on Davidson’s campus is Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, who created the stainless steel work “Waves III” in 2012. One of his recent pieces can be found in uptown Charlotte, but more on that later.
First, let’s explore how public art at Johnson C. Smith University sparks creativity and prepares its students to create their own. Drive out of uptown on West Trade Street and, before you reach the heart of JCSU’s campus, you’ll see two giant murals that connect to the historic African-American communities that surround the university.
The murals are located by the JCSU Arts Factory, completed in 2010. The factory, home to the university’s visual and performing arts program, is also adorned by murals. Longtime JCSU Professor Hasaan Kirkland created one that represents what happens in the program. As part of their senior project, his students create murals on the exterior walls of the Arts Factory.
The JCSU campus is also home to one of the city’s most prominent statues of a sports mascot. An oversized sculpture of an uncastrated bull – JSCU’s mascot is the Golden Bulls – sits above the athletic field at the school’s Irwin Belk Complex.
Equally grand is Queen’s University’s statue of “Rex” at its sports complex at Marion Diehl Park. “Rex” is one of the world’s largest standing lion sculptures. Back on the university’s picturesque Myers Park campus are several artworks easily accessible from Selwyn Avenue.
There’s “Triple Arc I,” a stainless steel work created by James Rosati and on loan from the Jerald Melberg Gallery; it is in front of Burwell Hall.
Nearby is a science project that doubles as public art – the “Green Wall” of the side of Jernigan Hall is an experiment to discover which non-invasive species thrive in the growing conditions.
The university’s Ann Tarwater Courtyard is enlivened by two public artworks – “On Reflection” by Robert Winkler and “Spheres” by Virginia Scotchie. “On Reflection” may resemble a DNA double helix or angel wings depending on your perspective, while the “Spheres” add a touch of whimsy to the campus green.
Meanwhile, one of the defining characteristics of UNC Charlotte’s main campus is its collection of sculpture. More than 20 sculptural works can be found at the university.
Among the most prominent is an artwork consisting of rectangular forms created by John Henry and located in front of the Fretwell Building; it is visible from Mary Alexander Road, one of the campus’s main roads.
“Self-Made Man,” by Bobbie Carlyle, is another striking work in a highly visible spot (by admissions).
But one of the newest pieces in the university’s collection is on its Center City campus, where Queen’s Table commissioned “Ainsa III” by Plensa. Dedicated in September 2015, the stainless steel work embodies Plensa’s idea of a universal language.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the public artworks found on the campuses of local colleges and universities. It’s merely a highlight of what you can expect to find when you go back to school.