UNCW to Install Public Artwork Representing Black Lives in Wilmington

Friday, April 16, 2021

The University of North Carolina Wilmington is working on public artwork to highlight the core belief that Black lives matter. Award-winning sculptor, artist and illustrator Dare Coulter has been commissioned to create the piece. 

“The goal of the project is to use art as a tool for social change; to emphasize awareness about race, identity and the Black experience; and to increase awareness of Wilmington’s history of racial violence,” said Fidias Reyes, director of arts engagement in the UNCW Office of the Arts.

The commemorative artwork, called "Because It's Time," has been developed with student and community input, with installation planned for June 18 at 10 a.m. The project is a collaboration between the Office of the Arts, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and a component of the Office of the Arts’ “Artivism For Social Change” initiative, a collaborative series of arts events and programs.

“This installation is an opportunity for UNCW to express its values: that we are an institution that cares about equity and inclusion,” Reyes said. “Art sheds a light on issues that are thorny and uncomfortable, such as systemic racism. Racism exists, but we can confront it, discuss it and be truthful about it. Only then will we be able to develop a path forward.”

Artist Dare Coulter’s primary subject matter is work that highlights Black joy. Her most recent work includes a 200-foot mural of black cowboys in Greensboro, NC, and a commission of a painting of Nina Simone by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a successful fundraiser to generate funds to restore the late singer’s childhood home. Coulter, who is based in Raleigh, NC, is a recipient of the Jo Ann Williams Artist Fellowship and was named an African American Cultural Festival Emerging Artist in 2015. She was also honored in 2019 by Gov. Roy Cooper for contributions to the arts and cultural heritage landscape of North Carolina.

“My focus on Black people and our stories in my artwork aligns with the effort of so many Black creatives to tell our stories as we know them to be,” said Coulter.

Artists’ proposals were reviewed by the Office of the Arts, the Coalition of Black Student Leaders and select UNCW Black faculty and staff members, who then named Coulter to lead the project.

“Her proposal was thoughtful and focused on collaboration. She illustrated a strong grasp of Wilmington’s history and was able to incorporate that into her vision. The mockup of the artwork included imagery from recent protests and references to the massacre of 1898,” Reyes said. “Apart from her exceptional artistic vision, Dare is an energetic, thoughtful artist whose passion for celebrating Black culture is infectious and instrumental to the success of this project.”

On Nov. 10, 1898, members of the Democratic Party orchestrated a white supremacist political campaign that resulted in the violent overthrow of the biracial government in Wilmington. The Wilmington Massacre, the only successful coup d'état in the history of the United States, decimated Black political and economic power and marked a turning point in the post-Reconstruction South that changed race relations in North Carolina and the start of Jim Crow laws in the state. Additional information is available via a guide compiled by UNCW’s Randall Library.

The proposed artwork will be between 11 and 13 feet tall, which includes a four-foot base, and made of half-inch AR500 steel and bulletproof acrylic. It will be erected on green space near the Commons pond east of the amphitheater.

“Interacting with this piece, and in the space that it will be in, will do so many things – the core of which is to honor and celebrate the notion that we are still standing,” said Coulter. “Symbolically and intentionally, this piece is made to be unbreakable and mendable in the event that it becomes damaged. Black people around the world are standing strong in the face of adversity, and they're doing the work to fix the fractures that have been created in their wholeness by things that they cannot control. That is commendable. That is what I want to honor.”

After the design is finalized, it will be fabricated by Lite Brite Neon, a custom neon and lighting shop in New York. The company’s work includes a bullet-proof design to protect the Emmett Till memorial marker in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, near the site where Till’s body was recovered from the river in 1955.

“We're grateful for the opportunity to be working on this project with Dare and hope that this helps with healing and transforming the pain many have and continue to endure into actionable transformation towards justice and healing,” said Matt Dilling, the owner of Lite Brite Neon Studio.

-- Venita Jenkins