The Mural Durham Archive was created in October 2016 in response to the growing number of murals popping up in and around downtown Durham. The texts and images contained in the pages of this website serve as record of each mural and those who helped to create them. While we have uploaded just a slice of what's currently out there in our community, we plan on adding new entries throughout the year. Please check back periodically or visit our Facebook page for the latest updates.
Want to play an important role in making this a true "living" archive? Great! Send us your stories, memories, or additional information about a mural(s) by emailing Reneé Cagnina Haynes, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, let's Mural Durham!
The Mural Durham Archive is coordinated by the Nasher Museum of Art in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts and Artstigators at Duke University, Preservation Durham, and the Museum of Durham History.
Artist Matthew Willey is the founder of The Good of the Hive Initiative, and has committed to personally paint 50,000 honeybees – the number necessary for a healthy, thriving hive – in murals across America. Through art and social media engagement, The Good of the Hive raises awareness about the current struggle of the honeybees, celebrates their amazing behaviors, and draws attention to the inextricable connection between people and honeybees.
The Good of the Hive Initiative begins with the struggle of the honeybees, but it also views the hive as a metaphor for communities of people. Honeybees within the hive ‘think’ collectively; their immune system is collective: the health of the individual is based on the health of the collective. Whether that community is an actual honeybee hive or a community of human artists, kids in a school, military veterans, gay people, women with cancer, marginalized people, skateboarders, or the American people as a whole, the health and success of the individual relies heavily on the connections within the group– and consequently between the groups within the greater society.
When we connect, we thrive. This is the essence of The Good of the Hive Initiative. Matthew realized over the course of the last five years of obsessing about honeybees that his own path as an artist was more aligned to its truth when it was being channeled toward connection–connection to the honeybees, as well as to the hive in which he lives.
The swarm is an incredible, natural behavior of a healthy honeybee hive. It has been demonized by Hollywood as something aggressive and terrifying, but nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality it is one of the most elegant and sublime experiences in the natural world. The bees place themselves and their precious queen in an extremely vulnerable position for the possibility of growth. It is the natural expansion of a healthy, thriving, hive. It is an amazing example of the bees acting as one mind or super-organism. It is a symbol of a new beginning. Burt Shavitz’ first bees were ones he collected from a swarm that landed in his yard in Maine. By simply appearing, the bees inspired the business. Burt is quoted as saying, “It wasn’t as if I’d summoned these bees down, or gone looking for them. It was an act of God. It was a no brainer. Now I had a way of making some money. I had all of the tools and the knowledge, the literature, the ability to do just as my guru had done.” An age-old relationship of man to bee was honored. He had done the work to learn how to keep bees, and then the bees appeared.
Throughout his twenty-four year career of painting murals, Matthew Willey has brought original, one-of-a-kind beauty to walls of homes and businesses throughout the US. By combining the abilities of designer, scenic artist and painter, this skilled visionary craftsman literally spins line, tone and atmosphere from the bristles of his brush. The murals seem to grow, one stroke, one texture at a time, as he weaves the walls through his imagination.
Mural painting has been the base of his work throughout his career, but he also creates works on canvas, has written four screenplays and co-founded an educational company making Homer’s Odyssey and Greek mythology more accessible for teachers and students. His work has been featured in Veranda Magazine (cover), The Home & Garden Section of the New York Times, Interior Design Magazine and many other publications. He currently divides his time between New York City and Asheville, NC.
In January 2015, the City of Durham awarded 13 sign and façade grants to independent business owners located in the Ninth Street commercial district, including Larry Wood of Ninth Street Flowers and Bepi Pinner of Ninth Street Dance. Until April 2014 Ninth Street businesses were not eligible to receive funds from the City’s longstanding retail and professional services grant program. However, with the growing concern that smaller businesses would be at a disadvantage to their newly constructed big-box neighbors, such as Harris Teeter, Panera Bread, and Tijuana Flats, the City decided to expand the “Urban Progress Zone” to include Ninth Street.
With their award, Wood and Pinner commissioned a mural by Chapel Hill artist, Michael Brown entitled Angel of Spring. It was Brown’s intent to incorporate the lively nature of the community as well as colors and symbols that reflect the businesses housed within the building. The floating figure on the west side of the wall references the Greek mythological figure, Persephone, the Greek goddess of spring. Her placement in the mural and trail of flowers reflect/anticipate the beautiful bouquets found around the corner in Ninth Street Flowers. At the same time, the figure seems to be dancing off towards the sky in a playful movement, like those performed in the dance studio above.
Michael Brown has been actively painting murals in the Triangle since the late 1980s and is a UNC alumnus. He has completed several projects in Durham, one of which is the locally famous bull sign (c. 2008) in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Brown’s bull sign is modeled after the original kinetic sign in the film Bull Durham (1988, Ron Shelton). Brown’s recreation is a revival of the past symbol of the DBAP, and much like his rejuvenation of the bull sign, his creation of Angel of Spring contributes to the rejuvenation of Durham’s Ninth Street area.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, grassroots organizers utilized the art of mural-making to bring communities together and challenge the social, cultural, and political establishments. Today, new generations of leaders are using this tradition to spark civic engagement and to celebrate the triumphs of their predecessors. This is true for the Durham Civil Rights mural, which began to take shape in 2013 under the leadership of artist Brenda Miller Holmes and Dr. Benjamin Speller, former Dean of Library Sciences at North Carolina Central University.
Miller Holmes and Speller began the design process by enlisting the support of 30 community members and engaging each in a series of lectures and educational workshops revolving around Durham’s civil rights history. They also shared memories, photographs, newspaper clippings, drawings, and other interesting materials in order to better identify local histories that were of interest to the community. After this preparatory work, each participant provided input on the color scheme, composition, and other creative aspects that eventually contributed to the overall effectiveness of the mural’s design. In 2014 the support team, under the creative direction of Miller Holmes, began work on the mural.
At the top of the mural, painted in the blue sky, are several male figures who were essential to the creation of Black Wall Street and the economic success of Durham’s notable African American community that formed in the late 19th century. Figures such as Dr. Aaron Moore, Richard Fitzgerald, and John Merrick are depicted here. Moore was a medical doctor known for founding Lincoln Hospital, the city’s first hospital for African Americans. Later he, Merrick, and five other black businessmen established what would become the nation’s largest and most profitable black-owned business, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Fitzgerald was a successful businessman who moved to Durham from Philadelphia and became the leading brickmaker in Durham. He is also known as the great uncle of activist and reverend Pauli Murray.
Other recognizable figures depicted in the mural are Ann Atwater, housing reform and civil rights activist, and former Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis. The two became friends in the 1970s after they participated in an integration forum together. Initially, Ellis was focused on disrupting any progress being made by the group, but over the course of several months Ellis began to recognize that others at the table shared his personal struggles. Although Atwater and Ellis started out as enemies, they soon became good friends and Ellis went on to denounced the Klan. With continued looking, viewers will discover the mural’s inclusion of other great Durham figures, such as Pauli Murray and Virginia Williams, who have their own significant narratives as well.
The stories told by the Durham Civil Rights mural are unlike those found in its neighboring paintings. It specifically focuses on the lesser-known stories of the local civil rights movement and commemorates the foot soldiers whose sacrifices brought about change. Such stories include the sit-ins at Royal Ice Cream Parlor (1957) and Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream (1962-63), as well as the story of Julian Francis Abele (1881-1950), the African American architect who designed much of Duke’s campus (including Duke Chapel) but never set foot there because of segregation and Jim Crow laws. Throughout the mural, one can see layers of such stories, symbolism, and messages of hope, togetherness, and community. The Durham Civil Rights Mural was celebrated after its completion in 2015 for its multifaceted impact on the community. In the beautifully rendered image, the stories of Durham’s civil rights history have come to life.
Odili Donald Odita explores pictorial space through color, line, and pattern. His abstract paintings combine unique designs with vibrant colors that mirror the cultural complexity of the world today and seek to trigger memory and personal reflection in the viewer. Time Bridge is one of two wall paintings by Odita commissioned by the Nasher Museum of Art in celebration of its ten-year anniversary. It was inaugurated on October 10, 2015 with a community block party and documentary film screening.
While researching the layered history of Durham, Odita found that the community was a “melting pot of sorts; a place that is open to different people who are willing, ambitious, and ready to expand upon their ideas and projects. I see Durham as a city that has an awareness of the complexity of its individual interests, and at the same time is open to allow those interests to thrive together as one community.“ This concept of promise and prosperity paired well with Odita’s oeuvre and own family history.
Odita was born in Enugu, Nigeria, and brought to America by his parents when he was only six months old, right after the Biafran War (Nigerian Civil War). He was raised in the Midwest and found that assimilation was an important aspect of postmodern America. With an educated African background, he lived through the tension and psychological devastation of being black in a country that, more often than not, defines idtimeuntity according to one’s race. Thankfully, Odita’s strong sense of Nigerian identity was kept alive through family traditions, including stories told by his parents, the collection of African art and artifacts in his home, and his family’s constant reminders of their African roots. With an art historian for a father, Odita grew up reflecting upon two separate layers of aesthetic understanding: one intrinsic to his birth language and roots, and the other adopted and learned through American culture and everyday life. This dichotomy has become an important aspect of Odita’s work.
After spending the year of 2015 researching, visiting, and exploring the rich histories of present and past Durham, Odita decided that a large kaleidoscopic mural in the heart of Downtown Durham would best represent what he learned about the city. He wanted to capture the multi-dimensional history of Durham as well as the vibrant, hardworking determination of its people through the visualization of time passing and converging, and with a warm and varied color palette. Through this mural he seeks to remind both visitors and residents of what has continued to make Durham unique; that no matter the difficulties faced, the people of Durham have continued to press on with strength and ingenuity, inspiring others in neighboring cities and across the country.
The mural Two Way Bridges (Puentes de Doble Vía) is part of a larger project in which Duke faculty and staff, with the Center for Documentary Studies, Spanish Language Program, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, and DukeEngage on the Border/Encuentros de la Frontera, and local organizations representing the Latino community, came together to find new ways to engage and create an exchange between the Latino community in Durham and Duke University. The ongoing initiative is supported by a Duke Humanities Writ Large grant, and includes university-level courses, workshops, documentary filmmaking, and exhibitions. The first iteration of this program began in 2013 and included Duke students, faculty, and staff, as well as four visiting artists from the Dominican Republic and two Durham-based Latino artists.
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Latino residents in North Carolina increased from approx. 76,000 to 302,000, a growth rate of 400% (Durham was a county with no ethnic majority according to the 2000 census). Today the Latino population in North Carolina has increased to approximately 845,000 residents, representing 8.7% of the state’s population; 38,000 of these residents account for about 14% of Durham’s population.
In order to depict this change visually, the Two Way Bridges (Puentes de Doble Vía) mural project goes beyond numbers and utilizes the voices of the community. At the center of the mural, a Roman handshake symbolizes community and strength. Since ancient times, the handshake has been a gesture signifying a bond and mutual trust between two people. For the Two-Way Bridges project, these qualities are the foundation for building a stronger and more inclusive community in Durham and beyond. The project provided the opportunity for education, peer communication, and human connection. Through the act of art-making, the project realized its goals of building relationships and communication among members of a unified community.
Developer Alex Washburn owns this building. In 2013 he renovated the backside of the building in an effort to accommodate retail in the “DIY District,” as dubbed by the area’s business owners. Soon after renovations were complete Washburn brought in colleague and fellow developer Robert “Bob” Chapman to manage the rental of the space. In an effort to attract more attention to the space, which is nestled behind Motorco, he decided to commission a colorful mural by local street artist Josh McBride. McBride painted the north- and west-facing facades of the building that same year. Later, in 2014 when Mercury Studio – a co-working space – moved into the building, they invited McBride to come back and paint the remaining walls.
McBride has recently painted a mural inside in the Greenhouse located on Duke University’s campus, and in 2015 he repainted the locally famous American Dance Festival bus.
Between 2007 and 2009 14 murals were completed in Durham as part of the collaborative public art project “Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life.” The project was organized by the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University, which worked closely with the Southwest Central Quality of Life Project (QOL), an organization that represents six neighborhoods of southwest central Durham and is dedicated to improving the lives ofresidents. With documentary arts as a center point, these two groups came together to ignite what is now known to many as “Face Up.” It resulted in an archive of interviews and research on community history and people, 14 murals, a book, and a gallery exhibition.
During the fall of 2007, artist Brett Cook began working on the project as part of a two-week residency. In the spring of 2008, he continued his work as the Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke and UNC–Chapel Hill. Cook’s passion for and experience with art making rooted in collaboration and community provided the foundation for the mural project. Cook led the mural portion of the project, directing the creation of 14 murals in 6 different neighborhoods: Burch Avenue, Lyon Park, West End, Lakewood Park, Morehead Hill, and Tuscaloosa-Lakewood.
In researching the project, Cook’s team of collaborators identified a figurehead for the murals, someone who embodied the ideals of community life that the murals were meant to portray: Pauli Murray. Pauli Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1910, and later moved to live with her aunt in Durham after her mother passed away. She had a passion for academics from an early age. In 1928 she attended Hunter College in New York City and, shortly after graduating, began teaching with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and as an activist for the Workers Defense League. Later, Murray applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate program and was denied admission because of her race. This spurred her to go onto to study law at Howard University and to combat issues surrounding race, gender, and politics. Murray was not only an important figure in Durham’s history, but she was also a critical player in the American Civil Liberties Unions and the National Organization for Women. Her work gained her the respect of many prominent figures of her time, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall (who described her 1951 book, States’ Law on Race and Color, as the bible for civil rights lawyers). Murray was the first black female to be ordained by the Protestant Episcopal Church, and she was a life-long crusader of civil and human rights. For this and much more, the group decided to memorialize her through the mural project.
Five of the sites depict Pauli Murray, and others include subjects that further enhance the project’s central theme of community. The Avalokiteshvara Buddha, a figure in Buddhist culture who works to instill well-being in others, is painted on the historical Broadway-Ward Grocery building in Lakewood Park now occupied by the Chameleon Nightclub (2013 Chapel Hill Road). The Aztec Calendar was painted on the wall of the Azteca Restaurant located at 1929 Chapel Hill Road. It embraces a lesson from the Aztec calendar, which notes how the universe consists of two contrasting forces and thus brings equilibrium. Cook’s goal for these additional murals was to offer representations of what a multicultural community should be – a group of individuals whose differences make them stronger and foster awareness and empathy for others.
Cook provided a preliminary outline of the images, and the rest of each mural was left for the community to fill in together. Cook believed that, through the act of artistic collaboration, the individuals involved would come to understand their connection to others, and be open to “the idea that we don’t have to be limited by one identity…we can be seen as inﬁnite and connected to all things.” In bringing different groups together, he emphasized the power of creating things collectively. When the murals were completed, the final products became extensions of everyone who contributed. The portraits of Pauli and the other murals in the “Face Up” project are lively, diverse, colorful works of art indicative of the communities that made them. Thankfully for us, they are peppered around town and act as daily reminders of the power of community and collaboration.
True Community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.
– Pauli Murray
The Wall of Hope mural projectarose as a fundraising effort for the nonprofit organization Threshold Clubhouse, located in East Durham. Since its opening in 1985, the organization has supported adults who struggle with severe and persistent mental illnesses. The organization aims to keep members out of the hospital, advance their education, help them to succeed in their professions, and achieve their personal goals. “Threshold provides support… in good times and bad,” said Marya McNeish, Threshold’s development director. Threshold also provides pre-vocational, vocational, social and educational opportunities for its members. One of their most outwardly successful programs is the “Transitional Employment Program” in which a number of local businesses, including Ninth Street Bakery, collaborate with Threshold to hire its members.
Wall of Hope is a celebration of life and sends a message of community empowerment. The connected chain of individuals depicted represents themes of togetherness and support, while the open hands and doves portray love and friendship. Through a variety of brilliant colors and figures in her mural, Andria Linn shows viewers that mental illness affects everyone in a variety of ways. It can mark the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family members. It does not discriminate and it isn’t the choice of those it affects.
Linn herself has struggled with mental illness, making her an appropriate collaborator for the project; not only could she use the stories and ideas she recorded while visiting with members of Threshold, but she could also bring her own personal experience to the process. Linn understood that the mural needed to send a universal message to the entire community. It also needed to tell those with mental illness that they do not have to embark on their journey alone and that they have the support of the entire community behind them. To further express this, Linn held a community event in which members of Threshold and the general public left their footprints on the mural’s border. Our city’s current and then-Mayor, Bill Bell, was the first to mark his footprint.
Despite the difficult subject behind the mural’s conception, Linn does not focus on the darker side of mental illness. Instead, she focuses on a message that resonates with everyone so that it can serve the entire community. Linn describes the Wall of Hope as a work in which “Each element of the mural orchestrates symbolism and a medley of hope. It creates an example of what we all experience everyday…It is conceptualized to communicate the unity that brings us all together with a harmonious blend and fusion of color and strength that joins us in similarity and against all odds.”
The Bull City mural was completed in 2004 as part of a student design contest lead by Durham School of the Arts. The mural spells out “Bull City” through the use of various images and symbols that are significant to Durham’s history: jazz, tobacco, the Durham Bulls baseball team, Duke University, etc.
Since the 1920s, there have been significant efforts made in Durham to expand the performing arts. These efforts, however, were held back at various times throughout the twentieth century. The Carolina Theater opened its doors in 1926, but with the emerging profitability and popularity of the film industry, the theater program was soon dominated by motion picture showings. Other groups concerned with cultivating the arts in Durham began to form at this time as well, but they struggled to secure financial support as their endeavors were overshadowed by needs associated with the Great Depression, war, and segregation. During these difficult times, art, viewed as a leisure activity reserved for the wealthy, became secondary to more pressing social issues. Following the Second World War, local citizens created an alliance in 1954 of cultural organizations that aimed to support the many arts and theater groups that emerged from the area.
Two of the main catalysts in furthering community participation in and support of the arts were North Carolina Central University and Duke University. These educational institutions began establishing art programs as more people moved into the area. North Carolina Central University broke ground on its new museum in 1977, and Duke University’s Art, Art History & Visual Studies department took its present shape in 1986.
In theater, however, professional performance artists, playwrights, and directors were still in need of spaces in which to perform their experimental scripts. This changed in 1987 when Manbites Dog Theater opened its doors to the public. In 1998 it purchased its current home located at 703 Foster Street. In the early 2000s theater founders Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt worked with Michael Brown to paint a mural along the south- and west-facing walls of the building (in an effort to mask the theater’s loading dock). As a result, Brown designed a cityscape of the surrounding urban neighborhood. His representation of the city calls to mind Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous 1927 painting Radiator Building, but with a surrealist twist similar to that of René Magritte’s L’empire des lumieres (Empire of Light)(1953-54). In this mural Brown sets silhouettes of the buildings and glittering lights of indoor settings against a bright daytime sky. Similar to O’Keeffe’s visualization of the most recognizable skyscraper in New York City, Brown portrays two of Durham’s major landmarks: the Lucky Strike Water Tower and the People's Security Life Insurance Company (now occupied by the Duke Clinical Research Institute). The two structures symbolize different parts of Durham’s history and identity. While the water tower references Durham’s roots in the tobacco industry, the triangular top of the Institute could now represent Durham’s role in the Research Triangle and the promotion of education and innovation that has helped rejuvenate the community.
The Los Primos mural, locally known as the Los Amos, One Love mural was painted by Artie Barksdale as part of the New Immigrants in Northeast Central Durham Project. Different from other areas of Durham that were impacted by segregation, the Northeast Central Durham area faced many changes in their community with the arrival of Latino immigrants.
Beginning in 1960, the United States saw an increase in Latino immigrants with an affinity towards the south. It was a combination of factors that pushed Latinos from Latin countries and those that pulled them towards the United States that created this increase. Conflicts in the Dominican Republic and the power of Fidel Castrol drove Latinos from their country while they were also drawn to the hope of a better life in the Land of Opportunity. The impact of their arrival was immense, changing the demographics and the social culture of Northeast Central Durham. Between 1990 and 1996 North Carolina had a 129% increase in their Latino community. By 1996 the NECD, previously 84% African American and 16% white, had an estimated 20% Latino community.
The New Immigrants in Northeast Central Durham Project explores the impact of immigration from the views of the black community and the Latino immigrants. The project highlighted the mixed reception of the new Latino population within the black community. For many African Americans their arrival was seen as an intrusion into their home and brought forth concerns of having a new, cheaper labor force. The new NECD area was a mix of ‘black and brown’ residents whose desire to maintain their own culture identity was challenged with the acceptance of new ones.
The mural that Barksdale painted is about and for the community. His love for the 80’s decade, with all its liveliness, influenced his art is reflected in the bright colors and lighthearted nature of piece. Sprawled across the mural in playful writing are the words ‘Los amo – one love’. In English, ‘Los amo’ means ‘I love them’ expressing a collective mentality and foreshadowing the idea of unity that is throughout the work. On top of the transitioning rainbow backdrop, the mural contains different scenes of life: a seated elderly woman with a group at her feet as if she is telling a story, two figures raising their interlocked hands, a musician, and a couple marveling over a star. One could view each scene as a portrayal of how unity can take shape within a diverse community. Barksdale has left the mural unsigned as a gift to Durham with his hope and belief that, “murals allow community members to start conversations and respect each other.”
When the Cookery opened its doors in 2011, the Durham Food Co-op mural was already a long-time resident of the West End neighborhood. The building, constructed in the early 1920s, had seen the neighborhood transform, from the boom of the tobacco industry to the social unrest of the civil rights era and the current economic revival of downtown. Throughout its history, the space has served as a place for residents to gather. It was a grocery store (1920s-50s), a cultural center and music venue (1970s-‘80s), a food distribution cooperative (1992-2008), and now a culinary incubator, commercial kitchen, and event space (2011–present).
The walls of this building have been a canvas for public art for some time. In the 1970s, when the Salaam Cultural Center (known for furthering the careers of such North Carolina jazz musicians and vocalists as Eve Cornelius and Nnenna Freelon) occupied the space, it featured murals on both its east and west walls. Images of these murals can be found on Open Durham’s online archive. In 1993, shortly after the Durham Food Co-op moved into the space, Edie Cohn painted a new mural. Cohn said, “I volunteered to paint a mural that would reflect the co-op’s mission: to build bonds of solidarity across racial and class boundaries while providing quality food for their members and the surrounding community. The mural was of a farmers market, populated by a diverse group of people—all working together.” Like the crowd drawn to the co-op, the mural depicts individuals of different races, genders, and ages, but these differences go unnoticed as they blend together in the lively market. The warm colors and energetic scene paint an image of what the members of the West End community had hoped for it to become: one community without racial tension or class divides.
The mural’s message remains relevant today as Durham cultivates a culinary identity that is both nationally recognized and homegrown. Durham will continue to grow, and its collaborative nature and harnessing of local assets to help drive economic development is what makes the city a desirable place to live. The building’s history, combined with the Cookery’s contribution to the revitalization of this area, has assured that the mural and building will remain a community landmark for years to come.
The mural Here Comes the Sun was originally painted in the mid-1970s. Over the years the mural experienced significant fading from sun damage and deterioration from a lack of conservation. It was in 1993 that Bill Kalkhof started Downtown Durham, Inc. (DDI), and that same year he raised approximately $5,000 to restore the mural to its original condition.
Little information is known about this work, but it brings to mind the one of George Harrison’s best-known Beatles compositions of the same name. In his biography Harrison states:
"Here Comes the Sun" was written at the time when Apple [Records] was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: 'Sign this' and 'sign that.' Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote "Here Comes the Sun.”
Emily Weinstein painted Black Wall Street in 1999 on the south façade of the Heritage Square Shopping Center (now known to many as the Food World plaza). The work, which was once an enchanting visualization of Durham’s Black Wall Street, has deteriorated over the years. The mural’s neglect and the challenges to restore it highlight the issue of conservation and spark an interesting discussion about public art on private property. Unlike art housed within climate-controlled museum facilities, public works of art not only compete with environmental conditions, graffiti, pollution, and wildlife, but also property owners, politicians, and changing opinions of the general public. As a result, the future and lifespan of a work is constantly at risk.
With the help of fellow artist David Wilson and over 200 Durham school children, Emily Weinstein painted a dynamic vision of the past that highlighted the history of Durham’s African American community. In the early 20th century, amidst the racially charged climate across the nation and particularly in the South, the four-block district of Parrish Street was a thriving center for African American entrepreneurial activity. Black leaders like W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T Washington called it a mecca of black business, and it was later given the moniker Black Wall Street. Hayti, whose residential areas radiated from the commercial district that straddled East Pettigrew and Fayetteville Streets, was founded as an independent African American community after the Civil War in which freemen moved to the city to work and start businesses of their own, from haberdasheries to insurance companies The name, Hayti, was inspired by the independent black nation of Haiti. In 1912, W.E.B. DuBois visited Durham and remarked that Durham was “a new ‘group economy’ that characterizes the rise of the Negro American – the closed circle of social intercourse, teaching and preaching, buying and selling, employing and hiring, and even manufacturing, which, because it is confined chiefly to Negroes, escapes the notice of the white world.” Between the 1880s and 1940s, Hayti was home to North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, Mechanics & Farmers’ Bank, Lincoln Hospital, and over 200 other black-owned businesses. In the 1960s, however, Durham’s plans for urban renewal, changing land policies, and construction of the Durham Freeway (147) cut right through the heart of the once thriving Hayti District. Countless families’ homes were relocated. The neighborhood’s economy, which was struggling at that time, was further damaged by these plans.
Here Weinstein memorializes such Hayti icons as the Biltmore Hotel, Regal Theater, St. Joseph’s Church, North Carolina Central University, and the North Carolina Mutual Life building. In addition to key landmarks, Weinstein illustrates significant figures in the history of Hayti and Black Wall Street. One such figure, standing in the center of the mural with his wife, is the Right Reverend Philip Cousin Sr. Rev. Cousin was elected the 96th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1976 and later named by Ebony one of the 100 most influential Black Americans.
Despite the mural’s historical significance to the community, it has faced deterioration over the years with little effort to restore it. The challenges faced in conserving the Black Wall Street mural are the same ones that thousands of murals in other cities with robust mural programs, such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have confronted. Part of the challenge is identifying who is responsible for the restoration, an expensive and multifaceted project. Public murals such as this would need to be repainted with a paint that can withstand all types of environmental threats. Unfortunately, the Black Wall Street mural is south-facing and battles the bright southern sun. Today, it is characterized more by the flaking paint than the once beautifully rendered images that made up its design.
Additionally, most mural commissions have only enough funds to cover design, painting, and materials. It is rare for these projects also to have budgets for annual maintenance, or a plan in place for preservation. The cost of restoring a public mural can be quite high, especially when there is severe damage, as we see with the Black Wall Street mural. A system of maintaining public art with regular cleaning helps to address damages as they occur, and also extends the lifespan of the work. In addition to physical maintenance, there also needs to be “cultural maintenance.” Cultural maintenance is the continued acknowledgement of a mural’s existence and significance to the community as a part of its culture. By sparking such conversations, the hope is that local nonprofits with an interest in preserving these projects will step forward and save Durham’s cultural history, from buildings to public works of art. The Black Wall Street mural has been a community treasure for years; its future, however, is unclear.
Additional note: Hayti was made up of the following streets Fayetteville Street, St. Joseph Street, Umstead Street, Mobile Avenue, Cozart Street, Roxboro Road/Pine Street, and Ramsey Street.