An oil painting of the Charlotte skyline. A comical depiction of neighborhood dogs sniffing each other. A mosaic of kids’ illustrations showcasing Plaza Midwood landmarks.
These are just a few of the creations by local artists that can be found printed on vinyl wrap, covering eight signal boxes along Central Avenue and The Plaza.
The Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association and Plaza Midwood Merchants teamed up to coordinate the public art display, using funds from the neighborhood association and the city of Charlotte Placemaking Grant.
“The response has just been overwhelmingly enthusiastic,” said David Hale, former president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association.
Hale teamed up with artist Laurie Smithwick last fall to start the signal box project. He said he was inspired after seeing her art transform gray utility boxes in South End and one in Plaza Midwood at Thomas and Central Avenues.
The neighborhood and merchants associations received $7,000, part of which went toward the signal box project, after applying for a city grant last year through the Placemaking Program. Led by the Urban Design Center, the program facilitates city- and neighborhood-led projects that revitalize underutilized public spaces, according to the city website.
After advertising the signal box project, a panel of members from the two Plaza Midwood associations received 80 submissions from a mix of people, ranging from high school students to well-known names in the Charlotte art scene, Hale said.
“My biggest concern when we started doing this was if we were going to get a dozen decent submissions that would translate well to a signal box, and that turned out to not be a worry at all,” he said. “By far the hardest part was narrowing it down to just eight.”
The decorated signal boxes all represent Plaza Midwood in the eyes of the artists, from an abstract rainbow-colored painting referencing the neighborhood’s diversity to a realistic portrayal of an artist’s son playing in a local creek.
Melissa Wineman, an artist and neighborhood resident, used watercolor and markers to create “Adventures in the Hood,” a fairytale-like painting symbolic of Plaza Midwood, featuring a sailing octopus for Snug Harbor, a pizza windsail for Fuel Pizza and larger-than-life pastries for Novas Bakery.
Wineman’s design can be located at the signal box on the corner of Central and Pecan Avenues, near where she spent her childhood.
“That was the little niche that I grew up in, so I wanted to illustrate it in a fun way that maybe the neighborhood could connect with today,” Wineman said.
Clifton Castelloe, president of the Plaza Midwood Merchants, said the signal box project is one of several beautification efforts in the neighborhood. Another is a Gordon Street Alley enhancement project, which he said will improve the lighting in the alleyway behind Snug Harbor later in the year.
On Sunday, the neighborhood association will host a free art sale and walk where neighbors can check out the newly installed signal box wraps and learn about the artists behind the project. They will start at Roasting Company on Central Avenue at 11 a.m. and stop at several businesses and restaurants before ending at Resident Culture Brewing, where local artists will host an art sale.
Hale said the signal box wraps are not only for beautification. He thinks the project showcases the artistic identity of Plaza Midwood.
As the neighborhood changes and development is inevitable, we want to stay very true to the character that we all have moved to Plaza Midwood to be a part of,” Hale said. “Doing projects like this and embracing the arts scene is a big way of doing that.”
This article originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer.