A guide to Charlotte’s Wall Poems

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If you frequent Uptown Charlotte, odds are you’re familiar with a series of beautiful stylized poetry snippets painted onto buildings. What you might not realize is that all the pieces are the collective work of Wall Poems of Charlotte, a project-in-residence program at artspace 525. And if you found yourself unaware that each piece is in fact part of a larger effort to weave poetry into everyday urban life, that’s probably because the Wall Poems project leaves no trace of itself in the work, crediting only the original poet on each piece.

Since 2013, 10 poems written by North Carolina poets have been painted or printed onto prominent Uptown landmarks. Most are painted like murals on the sides of buildings while others have claimed traditional (but temporary) advertising space on news racks.

Wall Poem Charlotte

I caught up with project director Amy Bagwell via email to learn more.

CA: How do you select which buildings to paint?

AB: We’ve dreamed of some of these buildings since the start, especially the Treloar House (bail bonds building) across from Imaginon. Our goal is to put poems where people can see them (because everyone deserves to encounter poetry, which belongs to us all), so visibility (for workers, residents, and passersby – on foot, in cars, or on transit) is important. But when someone asks if we want to put a poem somewhere, we tend to say yes.

CA: Are particular poems selected for particular buildings for a reason? (visibility, history, etc.)

AB: For sure. All the poems are by NC writers, first. And we pick each poem for the site, trying to take into account the use, history, neighbors, stories, ghosts, feel, and all kinds of weird intangibles. We try to offer owners a couple of options, but there are times when a poem seems so perfect (as for Trinity Episcopal School) that we just say, “We’re sorry, but it just has to be this.” And we hope they agree.

Trinity Wall Poem

CA: How many more projects are in the pipeline? Will you expand beyond Uptown?

AB: We got a Knight Foundation grant this summer, and that’s paying for six poems by January, including the one by the UNCC Center City building (finished in July) and the one in progress now at the Treloar house. We’re also close to installing a 40+ piece neighborhood project for Arts & Science Council through the Elizabeth neighborhood that includes a metal sculpture (a collaboration with CPCC Welding), a series of lenticular vinyl images on a city fence, and temporary boxes in trees, all expressing parts of one poem written for the neighborhood, and there will be a painted wall poem at Studio K with that complete poem on it. And we cannot WAIT to get to the piece for Soul Gastrolounge, coming in the next month or so, after which two are going up in NoDa.

Here’s a look at all the Wall Poems of Charlotte, including those that have been retired.

“Salute” by A.R. Ammons at Dandelion Market
Date: 2013
Address: 118 W. 5th Street
Designer: Jennifer Garrison

This first piece went up in 2013 and was created with the permission of the late poet’s wife Phyllis Ammons. It is still up today and, I think, one of the most prominent and photographed in the series.

Wall Poem Dandelion Market

“Memory in the Shape of a Swimming Lesson” by Jon Pineda at Treloar House
Date: September 2013 – February 2014
Address: 328 N. Brevard Street
Designer: Nalee Thao

This temporary piece created in collaboration with Latin American Coalition and Inside Out 11M Project was only up for a short time. Along with the Pineda poem, it feature photos of Charlotteans to advocate for immigration reform. A new poem is currently going up on the same building.

Wall Poem Treloar House

“Secrets” by Anthony S. Abbott at Main Library
Address: 310 N. Tryon Street
Designer: Jacob Mead

Created in collaboration with Center City Partners, the following series of three “news rack ads” highlighted poet/educators in the region.

Wall Poem Charlotte

“The Takeout Menus in the Lobby” by Alan Michael Parker at Courtyard Marriott
Address: 237 S. Tryon Street
Designer: Michael Drake

Wall Poem Charlotte

“Slow” by Cathy Smith Bowers at 3 Wells Fargo
Address: 401 S. Tryon Street
Designer: Christian Baumgart

Wall Poem Charlotte

“The People, Yes” by Carl Sandburg at Trinity Episcopal School
Date: May 2014
Address: 750 E. 9th Street
Designer: Michael Drake

This is my favorite of all the paintings, not only for the encouraging words but also for its ability to brighten up an otherwise dull retaining wall. This is overlooking E. 11th at McDowell, a heavy-traffic area with high visibility.

Trinity Wall Poem

“Where We Are” by Robert Martin Evans at @7th Restaurant
Date: June 2014
Address: 321 N. Caldwell Street
Designer: Cynthia Frank

I’m not poetry scholar, but I like to think this piece is particularly poignant during rush hour.

Wall Poem

“These Days” by Charles Olson at Dixie’s Tavern
Date: July 2014
Address: 301 E. 7th Street
Designer: Cynthia Frank

Unfortunately, this poem is currently covered up by the renovation construction related to First Ward Park. Hopefully it’s still there when the scaffolding comes down. The words in the poem about roots and remembering where we came from match the dissonance of Uptown’s development and the closing of places like Dixie’s to make way.

Dixie's Wall Poem

“First Novel” by Fred Chappell at Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Date: July 2015
Address: 325 E. 9th Street
Designer: Cynthia Frank

Wall Poem Charlotte

“Bus Stop” by Donald Justice
Date: In progress now
Address: 328 N. Brevard Street

Wall Poem Charlotte

Amy and her team are in the process of adding plaques to each piece, but even with that they won’t last forever. And she says that’s ok. “My project partner Graham constantly has to remind me that these aren’t truly permanent – that, while they’re painted with 25+ year industrial paint, they may not be here forever. But for however long they are up, they do what they’re meant to do, which is to be there for folks to see and read if they want to.”

(Photo credits: Painting the Trinity wall, retired Treloar House “Memory” piece, all three news rack ads, “The People, Yes” at Trinity and “These Days” at Dixie’s Tavern from Wall Poems. All others Katie Levans.) 

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Katie Levans Loveluck
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Co-Founder and Creative Director