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Art Emerges In Uptown As City Tries To Heal

The sounds of a typical weekday in Charlotte’s Uptown have returned. Though there is still a sense of unease and restlessness in the city after the shooting death of Keith Scott and as protests continue.

But in the wake of this emotionally raw time for Charlotte, art has emerged in the center city. WFAE’s Sarah Delia took a walk around Uptown to hear from artists who are trying to help heal Charlotte through their work.

The art that hangs on the Hyatt House on East Trade Street isn’t the typical kind of décor you’d expect from a hotel. The canvases are pieces of plywood where glass windows used to hang.

"On Saturday afternoon on Facebook I put out a message asking anyone who was interested to come on up and from there it went viral and I got so much response," said Matt Allen, the general manager of the Hyatt House. He was working Wednesday night when peaceful protests turned violent in Uptown. Some protesters threw bricks repeatedly at the hotel damaging some 34 windows.

The hotel quickly installed plywood and Allen saw it as an opportunity for Charlotte artists. About 30 artists showed up over the last few days to create art where glass windows used to be. Some painted serious responses to the death of Keith Scott with the words “no justice, no peace” and “we see you.” Colorful outlines of Charlotte’s skyline, peace signs, and images of protests now wrap around and embrace the building.

"I feel a lot better today. This has been therapeutic. It was great to see the community come together like this," Allen said. 

Susan Dunn with the Charlotte Art League points to the plywood rectangle she painted, a series of hearts outlined over and over again that have a sort of ripple effect.

"I kind of played off the city has heart, the heart of the city is where it’s at and we wanted to be a part of the healing of the city and dreaming and hoping and believing that this is going to get better and that we're going to overcome the issues that we have in this city and the country," said Dunn.

There’s talk about auctioning the art off or seeing if a museum is interested in some of the pieces once glass is installed.

And on the other side of Uptown on South Tryon, another artist responding to recent events in Charlotte, this time inside Knight Theater.

BreeStallings stands next to a 10 foot column. She was one of 10 artists selected this year to help celebrate the Breakin' Convention, a hip hop festival. Each of the artists got a column to decorate inside the theater—technically Stallings painted onto a sonotube, a sort of a cast that attaches to the outside of the column so her work can be removed. 

The title of her piece is "The New Face Of Queen Charlotte." 

An ethnically ambiguous Queen Charlotte takes the entire length of the space. Stallings says there are many nods to her family’s Japanese heritage within the piece. There are chop sticks in her hair and the kimono that wraps around her body with modern symbolism…the LGBT flag, the American flag, one section says Black Lives Matter…these pieces and more, make up the fabric of her kimono, she is literally wearing the symbols of social issues that have consumed Charlotte as of late.

"Regardless of if you support these things or not we have to wear this as a community and dawn the weight of this together because it is what is shaping Charlotte," said Stallings. 

Even in her modern day geisha form, Queen Charlotte still has a crown, although the first thing that takes you in is not what’s on her head but in her eyes. They have a serious stare that command your attention.

"It’s like we’re holding ourselves accountable as a community being over watched by this metaphorical figure that heralds all these things that we care about. So she has this gaze about looking beyond into the future but while engaging us," said Stallings. 

As people marched through Uptown on Sunday, Stallings was creating this new Queen Charlotte, an irony not lost on her. Like the plywood windows on East Trade Street, she’s not sure how long her work will remain in the Knight Theater, although she has plans for this piece once it’s done here. This modern Queen Charlotte jammed packed with power, beauty, and symbolism has much more to say.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.