Durham downtown crosswalks

Durham Arts Council is looking to mark the downtown arts district with decorated crosswalks. They have selected three local artists, including me, to develop designs. We were given a choice of 6 crosswalks that we were to pick 3 out of for our set. I have selected to do the Tobacco Campus, the Armory, and the Farmers Market crossings for their cultural significance and variety of markings. The winning design set will be applied to the road using thermoplastic paint and stencils. Below are my designs followed by the project statement.


Project Statement

My design uses local North Carolina plants as symbols for historical context, values and aspirations of the Durhams Arts District community. The inspiration for the concept came from a conversation between Dan and Sherry at the farmers Market, as well as spirited dialogues with some of the community members. Durham has been growing at steady pace, with many new buildings going up every year. It has come to a point now where the community is looking to preserve the green spaces, rather than build over them. I chose florals to help bring the beauty of nature into the busy downtown. Another feedback was to use the designs to express the past, present, and the future of the city. That steered me to choose plants based on their cultural and symbolic value.

The theme for theTobacco Campus crossing is “the past we stand on.” River Cane was used by the indigenous tribes for basket weaving. When the settlers came in they brought cattle which ate the plant, and the native craft was almost extinguished. Magnolia trees are a beautiful staple of the south, but the bigger they grow the more light they block preventing other plants from thriving under them. Magnolia and River Cane are both cautionary tales for dangers of unregulated growth and gentrification. Cotton and Tobacco fueled Durhams economic growth. Pecan trees are not native to NC, but they are adaptable and resilient. I used them as a symbol for the Durhams transformation after the tobacco industry collapsed.

The Armory crossing represents “the present we built.” Dogwood in bloom is the state flower of NC. Sycamore tree was referred to as “tree of life” in ancient Egypt and was used for medical purposes. Red Oak and Poplar are used as building materials, and symbolize strength and value. Rhododendron’s meaning is “better together.” The Carolina Rose and Service Berry honor the sacrifices of everyone who helped build and protect the city. 

The Farmers Market bouquet is inspired by “the future we covet.” To me that means a careful balance between preservation and abundance. Pitcher plants, Swamp Milkweed, Smooth Coneflower, Sharp-lobbed Hepatica and Iris Cristata symbolize the fragile parts we need to protect. Persimmon, Lowbush Blueberry, and Fox Grape are symbols of natural plenty. American Holly and Eastern Redbud represent traditions of the South. 

Many community members said they would like to see more art, color and green space downtown. I chose to do a full color design of local plants to bring nature and vibrancy into the world of steel and concrete. Thank you for considering my proposal.