Massive UNC-CH art project turns into a chalky mess

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 27, 2013 

— Coated brick pavers were a dusty reminder Tuesday of an art project that took an unexpected turn overnight on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

The Ackland Art Museum’s 48-hour project, “Chalk,” started innocently enough around noon Monday when staff delivered 12 giant sticks of chalk – 5 feet long and 8 inches in diameter – to the student union.

By 6 a.m. Tuesday, the chalk was gone.

In its wake, messages and art scrawled on brick, across walls and down the stairs and sidewalks as far as Kenan Stadium.

Most was artistic: trees, sunshine, swirls, connect-the-dot puzzles. A few people advertised events, and some scrawled “Happy Birthday” messages.

Initial reports suggested there might have been foul language, but Carolina Union interim Director Tony Patterson couldn’t confirm that Tuesday.

Ackland spokeswoman Emily Bowles said the public art project was meant to spark spontaneous expression. The installation, part of the Ackland’s “More Love” contemporary art exhibit, was conceived by Puerto Rico-based artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Peruvian police shut down a similar project in 2002 when anti-government messages showed up on buildings, Bowles said.

UNC-CH students were more restrained when the project started Monday, Bowles said.

“At first, people didn’t know what they were for, what to do with them,” she said.

An hour later, there were 30 to 40 people, she said. Some broke off smaller pieces of chalk and worked alone; others maneuvered the 100-pound sticks together.

One person expressed his frustration, writing in pen on a stick of chalk: “It’s too big.”

“I thought that was pretty funny,” Bowles said.

By 5 p.m., the project was spreading toward The Pit, a nearby gathering place.

The calls from UNC Student Stores, Lenoir Dining Hall and others started at 1:30 a.m., Patterson said.

As dawn broke, environmental services, landscaping and housekeeping staff started cleaning up the mess. The chalk couldn’t be sprayed away, because bigger pieces and sediment could clog pipes and a nearby creek, Patterson said.

Instead, they wrapped storm grates in cloth, and workers scrubbed most of the day with a machine and by hand with brushes. The rain will have to wash away the rest, he said.

The biggest issue is chalk coating “The Gift,” a Native American mosaic installed in the sidewalk, Patterson said. Artist Senora Lynch, of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, will be on campus today for American Indian Heritage Month, he said.

Future chalk projects are possible, Patterson said, but there will be more guidance and they will bring the chalk inside at night.

“I definitely think folks got to use the chalk yesterday,” he said. “While the results are not something conducive to what we expected, I’m sure they had a good time.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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