By Bernie Petit
The pools, giant slides and lazy rivers are what make Ray’s Splash Planet a local and regional draw this time of year.
But it’s the public art integrated into the building and the greenspace surrounding it that ties the indoor waterpark to Charlotte’s Third Ward community and the neighboring Irwin Academic Center (formerly Irwin Avenue Open Elementary).
In 2002, North Carolina artist Betsy Towns was commissioned to design public art for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation facility by the Arts & Science Council, the public art agent for the city and the county.
Towns, a Charlotte native, had previously been commissioned to create a wall mural depicting North Carolina landscapes for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Independence Regional branch.
Water is not just a function of the 29,000 square foot recreational center – it figuratively flows from the facility, which takes on the appearance of “spilling” down from the elevation of the school onto the lower portion of the site and into the greenway.
To keep the project connected to the community, and to draw attention to the importance of preserving the city’s streams and creeks, Towns enlisted students and teachers from the elementary school to gather plant specimens from the nearby Irwin Creek Greenway.
Towns then carved images of the local fauna and flora into terra cotta bricks made of Carolina clay and incorporated them in benches, planters, walkways, murals, doorways and fountains.
The resulting public artwork now greets visitors as they enter Ray’s Splash Planet, located at 215 N. Sycamore St., encouraging them to take a moment to appreciate the site’s natural beauty.
It makes for a nice walk – or rather, splash – in the waterpark.