ACollaboration is key in the first public art project for the Raleigh greenway system.
This summer, artist Taylor White will transform the 3,500 square foot underpass at Pullen Road, which connects the restored creek pathway to Pullen Park and Raleigh’s larger greenway system, into a space that’s light, inviting, safe and beautiful to look at. The public art project—a pilot developed by the City of Raleigh Arts Commission and Public Art and Design Board—will be funded partly by the City and partly by the local real estate investment firm Merge Capital, which owns adjoining property. The project should be completed by the end of the summer.
The Rocky Branch Creek pedestrian tunnel is pretty dark, and a little dingy, but it won’t be that way for much longer.
White is a Raleigh native who, after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design, lived and worked abroad in Norway and Australia for six years before returning to her home city in 2013. Her striking, distinctive murals—often focused on the kinetic human form and the relationship between different levels of consciousness—cover walls at Whiskey Kitchen and Raleigh Raw, among others. White has exhibited her work all over the world and was chosen from a pool of 32 artists for the Rocky Branch tunnel project.
“Therehas always been a very bold emotional context to my work and I am taking the abstraction element to the extreme on this project,” White says of her vision for the tunnel. “I’m going to break everything down to its bare bones, shape and color and texture, so this will probably be my first piece that is not going to incorporate any representational imagery. That will be a challenge in and of itself.”
White’s mural will also integrate a brand new lighting array, incorporating hand-built plexiglass and aluminum fixtures embedded with programmable LEDs. The LEDs will respond to sensor data creating different visual effects inside the tunnel. White will be working with local LED specialist and programmer Sam Steele to fabricate, program and install the array. Raleigh-based flow arts performer and postdoctoral physicist Adam Dipert will assist with electrical engineering and programming. White will add depth and texture to the walls of the tunnel using layers of abstract shapes and patterns that will play off of LED lights, adding a new dimensionality to the way her work is experienced.
“As people enter the tunnel, the lights will get brighter,” White explains. “That serves two functions. One, it’s a cool interactive component and also, it’s a pedestrian safety enhancement. So if you’re in the tunnel, it’s appropriately lit and you know whether other people are in there with you.”
White was drawn to the project for the opportunity it will give her to experiment with LEDs in her work, an opportunity made possible via a public-private partnership. Merge Capital owns the property next to the tunnel’s egress; the greenway runs through that property and continues on into Dix Park.
“It seemed like a brilliant way of transforming that overlooked space into something really neat that would be great for the city and would help start the transformation of that area,” says Chris Woody, the president of Merge Capital. “We’re invested in the property, obviously, but we live here and work here—I am from here—and it’s an easy way to be able to give back to the city that has given so much to us.”
Kelly McChesney, the public art director at the City’s Office of Arts, says her office is exploring ways to integrate artwork into the greenway infrastructure as a way to enhance the safety and vibrancy of the system.
We’re hoping that means more public art collaborations are afoot.