Why this matters: “Now is Fireworks,” which combines temporary and permanent elements, brings more neighborhood-based public art to the city.
By Bernie Petit
A love poem to Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood can be found in the trees that line the streets of the convivial community.
It tells a story that might’ve happened in the Elizabeth of yesteryear and one that might still happen today: A traveling salesman keeps leaving and the woman left behind wants him to take her with him or, at the very least, to stay.
Water is a constant in the poem, referencing a city reservoir once located at what is now Independence Park at East 7th Street and Hawthorne Avenue.
Before the reservoir, drained by 1908, a slave cemetery inhabited the area; afterward, a gorgeous rose garden of 4,700 bushes bloomed until Independence Boulevard cut through in the late 1940s.
“The train, of course, still runs through the neighborhood and is in the poem,” said Amy Bagwell, who wrote it as part of the public artwork she and Wall Poems of Charlotte collaborator Graham Carew created for Elizabeth. “Almost every line is something that comes from the things we discovered about the neighborhood.”
Their project, completed in December, is part of the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative launched by the City of Charlotte, the Public Art Commission and ASC to bring more neighborhood-based public art to the city.
In Elizabeth, Bagwell and Carew created something that wouldn’t make sense elsewhere, with fence scenes best seen at an angle and more than 30 inventive “wordhouses” in city-maintained trees that, line by line, pull pedestrians through the neighborhood.
Long after every romantic line is plucked from the branches, the poem’s title – “Now is Fireworks” – will remain as a reminder to live in the moment, etched in a stainless steel sculpture in the roundabout at East 8th Street and Lamar Avenue. Eventually roses planted inside the roundabout will creep through the lettering of the carpe diem message.
“It’s this idea that we’re leaving traces everywhere,” Bagwell said. “That was definitely at the basis of everything we were working on.”
Students from Central Piedmont Community College, where Bagwell teaches English and once taught Carew, welded the oval sculpture and printed the vinyl lenticular images of Carew’s colorful birds adhered to the metal fence by the water tower.
Their efforts, especially those of welding student Palmer Bradshaw, who acted as foreman of the roundabout artwork installation, were instrumental in making the project possible.
“Everyone has to do projects for school and homework and things like that, and it gets a little boring,” Carew said. “But if you learn how your trade, how your skill is going to help you in real life, it pushes you a little more, it refocuses you.”
And thanks to the Elizabeth Community Association, which raised additional funds to add to the project, the poem will soon be captured in its entirety on the wall of the Studio K art gallery on East 7th Street.
It will be Wall Poems of Charlotte’s ninth wall poem – the first being “Salute” by North Carolina-born poet A.R. Ammons on the wall of Dandelion Market in uptown Charlotte in 2013.
It will be the first featuring a poem written by Bagwell.
“First and maybe last,” she said. “I hope it’s taken for what it is, which is a way to make the poem be about the place.”
Through the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative, the Charlotte neighborhoods of Grove Park and Reid Park neighborhoods also received public artwork in 2015. The Sedgefield neighborhood project is expected to be completed this spring and the Shamrock Drive corridor will receive public artwork in the future.