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Local artists reflect on a year of transit art through Chapel Hill Arts & Culture

"Sun" by Antonio Alanis creates an optimistic space at the bus shelter at South Columbia Street at Mason Farm Road in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.

This year, Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture has committed resources to several public art displays around Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture commissioned 20 projects that were installed in 2022. Specifically, the Art + Transit program had 9 projects go up this year to help public transit areas feel more vibrant.

According to the application for the program, which was due in February, the pieces would be chosen for display, in part, based on how they reflected the values of inclusion, experience and understanding. Artists from all over the Triangle applied to be featured.

One selected artist, Jane Cheek, created art for a transit shelter located at the Carolina Apartments. Her work, titled “We Knew Intersectionality Was The Way Forward,” features colors from the progress pride flag.

Cheek said a lot of her work is inspired by pride flags and that art is a way for her to put out happy, welcoming vibes.

“As a queer artist, I feel like you kind of get into these habits of looking for signs that let you know that a place is safe, and it's welcoming, and it's where you want to be.” Cheek said. “For me seeing pride flags or other signals in people's yards or businesses, lets me know that that’s a place I want to shop at or eat at.”

Sara Roberts, another Triangle artist, was also selected for an Art + Transit project. Her mural, titled “Blooms over Chapel Hill,” features historical sites like the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, the Historic Playmakers Theatre, Gimghoul Castle and the Old Well.

The buildings and the stems of the flowers on the mural are all printed words holding information about the history of Chapel Hill.

“The history of Chapel Hill is kind of dark," she said. "Chapel Hill was built by slaves. There was a lot of segregation and things like that, that were problematic for the University and therefore the Town, so the words that are in there do highlight the achievements of Black individuals at the University and how they shifted what was happening there to a more positive and appropriate, equitable light.”

She also said some of the text highlights how Chapel Hill Transit has worked to provide equitable transportation by making public transit free for everyone.

“Ultimately my goal is to use public art to spread joy,” Roberts said. “There are so many things that have gone down in the last couple of years, but of course, have always been around us, that are dark, and hard and cry for attention. They're super important, and I think it's really wonderful when art explores those pieces, but I also think that we need something that uplifts us a little bit.”

She said she moved to the area when she was in first grade, and she grew up experiencing the beauty of North Carolina's environment, and that she tries to represent those moments from her life in her art.

Roberts said she thinks public art is very important and that it can act as a gift from artists to their communities. 

“It's a way of showing compassion, and bringing light to things that are important, and in this case, hope,” she said. 

Another featured artist, UNC alum Antonio Alanís, also said he used his piece as a way to spread hope. His piece, “Sun,” is a Latin American-inspired portrait of the sun at the bus shelter on South Columbia Street at Mason Farm Road.

“It really means a lot to be able to portray something so Latin American in a place like Chapel Hill,” he said. “I think it's always great to bring more awareness about Mexicans and just Latin Americans in general, and a presence, and saying that we are here as artists, as people."


@DTHCityState |

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