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Tuesday June 6th

New mural aims to bring eye-catching fun to downtown Carrboro coffee shop

The Gray Squirrel Cafe, photographed on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, is the location for Carrboro's new mural that will be painted by Jermaine "JP" Powell.
Buy Photos The Gray Squirrel Cafe, photographed on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, is the location for Carrboro's new mural that will be painted by Jermaine "JP" Powell.

Gray Squirrel Coffee Company will soon have a mural portraying the diverse faces that make up the town of Carrboro.

Triangle-based artist Jermaine “JP” Powell is set to paint the community-oriented mural in downtown Carrboro in early November.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Powell moved to the Triangle area 11 years ago. His artwork is people-oriented with a specific focus on portraits, but he paints original handbags and tennis shoes as well. 

Powell’s art can already found on a few bus shelters in the Chapel Hill area and other public areas throughout the Triangle.

The ArtsCenter in Carrboro began conceptualizing this mural during the early months of the pandemic, Patrick Phelps-McKeown, the center's marketing director, said. 

Phelps-McKeown said The ArtsCenter was inspired by many art institutions around the country that have celebrated health care professionals to create a mural that honored the strength of the Carrboro community. 

“(The mural) didn’t have to be about the pandemic, it didn’t have to be about any particular topic," Phelps-McKeown said. “We wanted to make it open-ended to where artists could create work that spoke to their perspective and their concerns, but then also connected back to Carrboro as a place, and the people here.”

Shaw Sturton, owner of the Gray Squirrel, said he met Powell last weekend as The ArtsCenter and Powell started to map out plans for the mural and observe the community to prepare to paint. 

"He was just doing his research," Sturton said. "To me, that’s the kind of artist, this interactive art at our place, that really, really was something that I was impressed with by JP.” 

Phelps-McKeown said he and the other members of the selection panel selected Powell to paint this mural in part because of his outstanding work.

“His work is very bright, vibrant, eye-catching, playful and fun," he said. "It’s very interesting to look at.”

He said Powell was also selected because of his dedication to representing the Carrboro community. 

“People were really impressed by what (Powell) had to say about the process, and his ideas and excitement and willingness to make it a community-led effort,” Phelps-McKeown said. “He’s kind of like a funnel: all these ideas come through, and then he’s synthesizing them into something that people can look at and it will say Carrboro to them.” 

Powell said the effects of COVID-19 have inspired him to bring community into his artwork.

“Especially during the pandemic,” Powell said, “the number one thing I’ve realized is that people need people.” 

Most of Powell’s work featured on his website highlights the unique physical qualities of individuals through single portraits. The mural team recently held a photoshoot at Gray Squirrel and Weaver Street Market to specifically capture individuals to ensure that Powell could absorb the full essence of Carrboro.  

“At the heart of my work is relationships,” Powell said. “Through portraiture, that’s my way of forming meaningful relationships with people, because every portrait that I do, I know that person’s face for the rest of my life.” 

Sturton also emphasized the importance of community in the creation of this mural.

“The main thing is community, we’re all about that here,” Sturton said. “We’re a coffee shop, this is where people meet, this is where people talk, you know, this is where revolutions begin.”

The ArtsCenter plans to have the mural completed by Nov. 9.


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