By the time Jermaine "JP" Powell finishes a state-of-the-art mural where the I-295 Overpass crosses North Ramsey Street, motorists traveling into and outside the Fayetteville city limits will admire the attractive scenic design on both sides of the underpass.
Without words, the mural will speak to ways in which the City of Fayetteville recognizes and supports the ways in which the arts can enrich a community. People may wonder why it took so long to have such an attractive mural painted. That's where my inside story begins.
If you take time to drive past the early phases of the mural being painted, you will be able to see the stages that take place to create a very large mural titled We Are Fayetteville: Legacy and Future.
So why is it important to know the process as the artist begins working – you can drive by and enjoy it when it's completed? In short, you will see why the mural looks the way it does; and you may be surprised at the logistics of a project of this scale.
Factors include but are not limited to finding sources to support the project, planning, leadership knowledgeable about the arts, countless hours of coordinating with individuals, committees, agencies and groups, and of course, finding the right artist for the task.
The I-295 and Ramsey Street Corridor Project started in 2017/2018 when the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County (Arts Council) applied for and received partial funding from the National Endowments for the Arts.
Over the next few years, the project was paused several times due to budgetary concerns and the ability to receive approval for the work. COVID restrictions and people working remotely further delayed coordination with organizations.
In early 2020, Michelle Horn and I were contracted to coordinate the mural project. Michelle and I had worked together coordinating the Veterans Park Project, we work well together, and both bring varied expertise and strengths.
Bob Pinson, interim president/CEO of the Arts Council, and his staff worked closely with us to carry out many of the administrative details, interfacing with Michael Gibson and Tim Johnson with the Fayetteville/Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department (and too many others to list), NC DOT representatives and suppliers.
So, the planning begins. Before launching the project with a nationwide "request for proposals (RFP)," an advisory board of individuals in the visual arts/architecture was created. Coordinators met with members of the City's Revitalization Committee to determine themes. Finally, the coordinators and Pinson met with a group of citizens to discuss themes they believed best represented the north side of Fayetteville.
Now the RFP could be published, initializing a national search for submissions by artists. Artists sent their resumes and examples of mural designs using themes from the meetings: "diversity, agricultural past, forward-thinking, a pleasant and fun place to live and work and the colors of green and gold ... since Methodist University and Pine Forest High School anchor this area."
North Carolina Department of Transportation owns the bridge and the concrete surface on each side of the abutment that will be painted. If the design was going to be approved, the process first had to meet the detailed guidelines of the NCDOT Aesthetics Committee from planning to pre-approved paint for the project.
The preliminary guidelines had been met: (1) a good location for a mural and a design that is not distracting, (2) the coordinators provided the engagement and expertise required, (3) the community was engaged early in the process, (4) a five-step process of selecting an artist was used, and (5), the RFP went to as many national websites as possible for the search to be inclusive and diverse regardless of race, color, national origin, sex or age."
After the June 2020 deadline for artists to submit their ideas, the coordinators selected the top three artists based on resume, design and if they were suited for such a large project. The members of the Advisory Committee chose the artist in a blind selection process (blind selection means the committee did not see the names of artists or where they lived – only viewed prior murals by an artist and ideations for this project).
Two of the finalists included an Italian artist creating murals in the US and a muralist living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Through the blind selection process, the advisory committee selected a third artist: Jermaine "JP" Powell, an artist living in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina!
The decision was overwhelmingly unanimous. Powell, a mixed-media fine artist and mural artist living in North Carolina, is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, located in Brooklyn, New York. He was selected for the project due to his strong design skills, creative use of patterns and textures, and his uplifting and positive approach to subjects in prior murals and content.
By August 2020, Powell, the coordinators and Pinson had met with residents, and they discussed the piece's themes with the artist. Residents shared what they valued in their part of the community.
Over the next few months, the artist worked with coordinators and advisory committee members, revising and presenting his drafts for approval.
By March 2021, the design was approved by the city's Public Art Committee, Revitalization and Corridor Committee and Fayetteville City Council.
A year later, this month, after many COVID-related delays, the project is starting. Unexpected delays included the length of time it took for two NC DOT Aesthetic Committees to review the approved design and paint being used, COVID and Zoom meetings, approved paints on backorder finally arriving and weather preventing priming of the walls. Finally, Powell has begun laying the foundation of the design on the walls.
During the delays, meetings on the project continued with the coordinators, Powell, Arts Council staff, and staff from Fayetteville City Parks and Recreation. Discussions included logistics of the site, equipment and supplies. A small team of volunteer assistants was selected, met and were briefed on safety standards at the location and the practice of working with the artist.
Everyone who has participated in the project is excited to have Powell as the artist and share a mural we know the community will find pleasing and attractive.
The mural, like other public art projects, will add enormous value to the cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality of our community. State-of-the-art projects contribute to our identity as a community, foster community pride, and enhance the quality of life for the residents.
The entire mural process has been documented and archived at the Arts Council as a resource for future projects. The Arts Council marketing team is creating a video to share when the mural is complete. Visit http://www.wearethearts.com/295mural for more information.
Photo Credit: Location for a new mural at the intersection of I-295 and north Ramsey Street. Depending on weather conditions, the murals are expected to be completed by the end of June. Photo courtesy of the City of Fayetteville.