Public Art History: The Uptown Arena

Categories: Blog
By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager
“Double Leaf” by Paul Sires. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

If you’re from the Carolinas or you’ve lived here awhile, you know this region loves its basketball.

But folks here love their public art, too, and basketball fans attending games at Spectrum Arena can appreciate both.

In 2005, several public artworks representative of Charlotte’s past and its love of the game were created in conjunction with the construction of the uptown arena.

ASC, the public art agent for the city and the county, oversaw the process for the arena public artwork. So, with March Madness right around the corner, we decided to take a look back at the public art found at the uptown arena.

There are prominent pieces created by homegrown artists. Charlotte artist Paul Sires constructed “Tulip,” “Double Leaf” and “Fallow Gear,” the carved granite benches found along the arena plaza between Trade and Fifth streets.

“Tulip” by Paul Sires. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

The simple but large shapes of the benches can be read by patrons on the balcony of the arena and those in surrounding buildings with a view of the plaza. The broken gear represents a bygone era when textile machinery was central to Charlotte’s economic success. The flower and the leaf represent teamwork, as one is dependent upon the other.

“Fallow Gear” by Paul Sires. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

Another Queen City artist – Tommie Robinson – created “Commerce” and “Transportation,” murals found inside Spectrum Arena that reflect Charlotte’s commerce from the past and the evolution of public transportation.

“Commerce” by Tommie Robinson. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.
“Transportation” by Tommie Robinson. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

Even more public artwork adorns the interior of the home of the professional basketball team the Charlotte Hornets. Look down and you’ll find “Trajectory,” the terrazzo floor in the arena’s lobby by North Carolina artist Thomas Sayre.

“Trajectory” by Thomas Sayre. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

The concept for the terrazzo floor is loosely based on the physics of a bouncing ball. A series of colorful linear designs illustrate the rolling basketball, soccer and tennis balls. Each terrazzo path is a different color and sparkles as one moves through the space.

Overhead is a series of suspended light ball sculptures of different shapes also based upon the physics of a bouncing ball.

Also in the lobby is “The History of Basketball in the Piedmont” and “The Action Wall,” photographic porcelain tile murals by Mike Mandel that recognize the many layers of culture that comprise Charlotte’s basketball history.

“The History of Basketball” by Mike Mandel.

“The History of Basketball” at the Trade Street entry includes image of a player from the 1950s textile Hanes Hosiery league and contemporary athletes from Davidson College and Johnson C. Smith University. The background includes imagery from the 1926 Charlotte Central High School girls’ team, 1934 Livingstone College players and 1936 Cannon YMCA basketball. “The Action Wall” at the Fifth Street entry features a University of North Carolina at Charlotte player and fans.

“The History of Basketball” by Mike Mandel.

Back outdoors, you’ll find nationally recognized public artist Andrew Leicester’s handiwork along Caldwell, Fifth and Trade streets. After learning that Charlotte was once nicknamed the “Manchester” of the New South because of its textile prowess, Leicester used forms from the textile industry in the Carolina Piedmont to create a visual language for the plaza.

His ceramic sculptures encircle the arena, their forms based on the creation and use of textiles throughout the ages. His brick textile-design wall separating the light rail from the arena was inspired by a pattern book from the Stuart Cramer Mill.

“Flying Shuttles” by Andrew Leicester.

Perhaps his most noticeable contributions are his “Flying Shuttles.” The 50-foot freestanding columns along the Trade Street plaza are based on the theme of a giant cotton bobbin loaded with yarn.

They also help make Charlotte’s public art arena a place where fans can celebrate hoops and history.

*This story has been edited to update the arena name, add images and for clarity.