Chapel Hill residents and business owners were surprised to find a pop-up art installation lining Franklin Street on Thursday.
The exhibition, Meet the Moment Art Walk, featured over 70 pieces by local artists to encourage voter turnout and highlight various social justice issues.
Mary Parry, a freelance writer and organizer of the art walk, was looking for a way to reach out to her community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We've lost so many legends like John Lewis and (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) that we really feel like our community needed a hug, but you can't hug during a pandemic,” Parry said. “So we decided this art might be a great way to do that.”
Parry called out to artists, asking for pieces about civic engagement and social justice, and was met with an enthusiastic response. She left plywood boards out on her porch for participants to pick up and use as canvases.
Parry hopes the art walk inspires Chapel Hill residents to vote in the upcoming election.
“Our mission is really to empower our community,” Parry said.
The art walk also aims to beautify the town and attract visitors to Franklin Street’s many small businesses.
“Putting these pieces of art in the new pedestrian lanes was kind of a tribute or a thank you to the town for creating those for us,” Parry said.
In Jaime Sanchez’s case, the appreciation is mutual. The Epilogue co-owner was pleasantly surprised when he discovered a painting honoring the late Ginsburg right outside his store.
“I saw that there were more, and I just started following this yellow brick road of amazing art,” Sanchez said. “It created this sense of hope and community in these weird, and not necessarily the best, times.”
Management at Mediterranean Deli also welcomed the art walk, even going as far to display a piece inside the restaurant. Unlike most of the artwork, this piece is three-dimensional and would have been at risk of getting hit by passing cars or damaged by weather.
The artist, Sharon Van Horn, created a gown emblazoned with the words “truth” and “vote” to honor the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She said Mediterranean Deli’s offer to house the gown was unexpected, but appreciated.
“I was really inspired that they were courageous enough to put up any piece of art that had some sort of political message in a public setting,” Van Horn said.
Another artist, Sharon Barksdale Worth, chose to honor John Lewis, who she considers a personal hero. Her painting features the late congressman’s likeness and several of his famous quotes.
“I've been painting for quite a while,” Barksdale Worth said. “And always, it was a source of cultural pride.”
Barksdale Worth has a long history of activism, from marching for civil rights in the '60s to volunteering for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
“The issues are not that different, sadly,” Barksdale Worth said, referencing her activism in the '60s.
Although her birthday falls on the Fourth of July, Barksdale Worth couldn't bring herself to celebrate in the current climate.
“I just pray that things get better and we don't have to go through this again,” Barksdale Worth said. “I've learned so many things about how beautiful America is. I just think we're beautiful, and I hate to see it torn apart.”
For now, Barksdale Worth is looking forward to exploring the rest of the Meet the Moment exhibition.
“I'm going to take a slow walk, and I'm going to really enjoy myself,” she said.
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