Imagine if art was sprinkled throughout the environment — not just a mural on the side of a building, but in unexpected places like an underpass connecting neighborhoods. That’s what Blank Slate aims to do. The non-profit is currently working to transform an underpass between Midwood and Chantilly. We chatted with Dave Burke, executive director of Blank Slate, to get the backstory and future plans.
Q: How did Blank Slate get started?
I was walking home one night from Workman’s Friend and when I got half way through the Independence Underpass on Pecan, I started to feel uncomfortable. It struck me that I couldn’t be the only person who felt this way. I went back the next day and really looked at the space and felt there was an opportunity to do something. Initially I felt cleaning the walls, a new coat of paint, and better lights would be the solution. But then talking to some friends we realized there was a bigger opportunity here. So, we formed a non-profit (Blank Slate Inc.) looking to bring free public art to Charlotte and the project transformed from clean up/paint to a free public art gallery which we are calling the 3Sisters Art Gallery. We want to transform this unclaimed, uncomfortable space and reactivate it into a safe, welcoming destination that adds to the vibrancy of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Q: What is the mission of Blank Slate?
Our mission statement is “Bringing a little Joy to the World”. The thinking is the 3Sisters Art Gallery could be a destination for a family to come and spend a few hours and enjoy the space and different activities it will offer. But it could also be a quick smile for someone stuck in traffic working their way around the Hawthorne Bridge closure on their way home from work. Either way, a little joy.
Q: What projects are currently underway?
3Sisters is our first project and we want to get this one right before we move on to others. For this project, there are several different steps with several groups that we need to complete before we can lift a paintbrush at the underpass. We are working with, and will need to get approval from, CDOT, NCDOT, The Arts and Science Council, and City Council to use this space. That said, we have other projects in mind we would like to attempt utilizing Blank Slate, but we are going for quality not quantity—we are being patient and going to get this project right before moving on to the next.
Q: What partnerships do you currently have with artists?
We have done the foundational work, so we know how to deliver the project, and have been lucky enough to have a number of local business partners support our vision and step up to help us make this a reality.
William McKee is a neighbor and one of the Managing Partners of the Knowmad Digital Marketing Agency (www.knowmad.com). A large part of our project will be self-guided and Knowmad is helping us create the website and interface that will allow visitors to experience all the different aspects of the art gallery/installation. Knowmad is an award-winning agency with international clients and is providing a level of expertise to the project above what we hoped to deliver to the community.
The artist for the art gallery aspect of the project will be selected by a jury and we can’t start that phase until we have final concept approval from NCDOT. What we have been able to accomplish is select our muralist, Nick Napoletano (https://www.napoletanoart.com/). Our Board of Directors performed a muralist search, reaching out to more than two dozen diverse, local muralists, and selected Nick. Having Nick associated with the project frankly is one of the inflection points that has allowed us to get to where we are today. Nick is an internationally respected artist. When describing the project to early potential partners, Nick’s involvement led to many, “Wow, how did you get him?” comments. Reputationally, getting Nick was a big deal for the project and giving an artist like Nick this underpass as a blank slate (forgive me) to work with will give the neighborhood a wonderful product to experience.
One last partnership to mention is with ACSM and C³lab (http://www.acsminc.com/). These folks will be doing the design, fabrication, installation of picture frames and signage/entrance environment. Wendy Hickey from ArtPop (http://www.artpopstreetgallery.com/) heard me present the 3Sisters Art Gallery project at a Plaza Midwood neighborhood meeting and offered to meet and discuss the project. After explaining what we were trying to do she said I had to meet with Glen Nocik of ACSM and C³lab (http://www.c3-lab.com/), and she was right. C³lab is this amazing space on the South End that houses artist studios, gallery/office/community space, a coffee shop, etc.—basically heaven for creatives. When I met with them, they gave me a tour of both businesses: one focusing on artists and community, the other on wayfaring and public art. During the tour they walked me through a space that included an artist finishing up an installation he was completing for the National Airport and pieces of the Color Forest project that they recently installed on the Rail Trail (https://historicsouthend.com/color-forest/). The things we wanted to do, but had no idea how to accomplish, is exactly what they are experts at doing. Another partner that is bringing more to the table than we imagined possible.
Local partnerships are important to us and because of this we have presented our project at numerous neighborhood and merchant organization meetings and have received great support from both. People seem to get what we are trying to do and have been generous in offering their advice and expertise. This is a community funded project, we haven’t started asking for donations yet, but individuals and businesses have already let us know they are willing to help when the time comes.
Q: What do projects like Blank Slate mean for a neighborhood? Can you explain the impact?
We are taking an uncomfortable eyesore and turning it into a unique destination for the neighborhood and city. When friends or relatives visit, we think this will be a place you will want to take them. For the businesses in the area, we think this brings more people through their doors as well, which is good for their health and gives us the variety and quality that we enjoy in our neighborhood.
Q: How can others get involved?
We have been in a holding pattern for a bit, waiting on NCDOT to give us final concept approval. We have provided all the information they need, and the ball is in their court. As soon as we get that approval, we get real busy, real fast. In addition to the art gallery, we will have Nick’s mural, a search and find game for kids, a cryptology game for the adults, a walking mural trail through the neighborhood, and a geocaching trail. We have worked hard to incorporate ideas from the neighborhood and if people would like to help they can go to our website, www.BlankSlateInc.org, and fill out our “Get Involved” section.