Protest mural takes form in downtown Raleigh
Dare Coulter has been a fixture on Salisbury Street for the past 10 days – and nights – painting and talking to passers-by, who stop to stare, ask questions and take photos of the mural that has been slowly taking shape under her paint-covered hands.
The mural, commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, gets its “official” debut at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 28. Images of the January Women’s March on Washington, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute look down from the back side of the vacant Boylan-Pearce building.
“It’s really important to recall that the right to protest wasn’t always something that people had,” Coulter said. “It would be naive to say this won’t ruffle some feathers because these moments that are in this are very intense things.”
Coulter started the mural on June 19, using spray paint, paint rollers and a scissor lift. Her goal was to finish it in a week (on Monday), but due to challenges like metal tabs in the wall that had to be removed with “a hammer and brute force” as well as pouring rain on Saturday, she had to work through the night on Monday, stopping only for a few hours of sleep before climbing back on the lift Tuesday morning.
Her mother, Alnita Coulter, kept her company at night and even helped by painting some of the protesters’ blue hats – a far cry from the days when she used to tell her daughter not to draw on the walls.
Conversations with passers-by may have also contributed to the tardiness, Alnita Coulter said.
“My daughter is a gracious person, and she wants to talk to everybody,” she said.
People walking and driving by have had positive reactions to the mural, she said, recalling a bus driver who passes by every afternoon and gives the artist a big thumbs-up.
This isn’t the first mural Dare Coulter, a 24-year-old N.C. State College of Design grad, has done, but it is her first permanent outdoor mural. While she was creating sketches for the protest mural, she completed an indoor mural, “Colors of the Nile,” at the N.C. State University Crafts Center.
Dare Coulter has been on board with the project since January, but ACLU of NC community engagement coordinator Jessica Turner started the ball rolling in August 2016.
She partnered with the Raleigh Murals Project led by Jedidiah Gant, who founded the blog New Raleigh. The Raleigh Murals Project website is a dating service of sorts that matches organizations who want murals with the artists who want to paint them.
Turner didn’t have a location or design, but she told Gant she wanted a black woman to paint the mural, he said. By December, he was in touch with Dare Coulter, and in January the three met at Lucette Grace, the Salisbury Street bakery, to brainstorm. The bakery turned out to be just a few doors down from the building they later got permission to paint the mural on.
The Boylan-Pearce building used to house a popular department store; now, despite a restored facade, it’s “completely gutted” inside, said its owner, Dean Debnam. Eventually, Debnam envisions it renovated for tenants, but until then, the mural will stay.
One of the next blank walls the Raleigh Murals Project will fill is at Chuck’s Burgers in downtown Raleigh. Gant wouldn’t say what the mural will look like, but said it’s a collaboration with Red Hat that will be painted by Casey O’Connell, an artist based on the West Coast, and called “Open to All.”
During her nine days working on the protest mural, Coulter became something of a fixture on Salisbury Street. She was surprised by how many people wanted to talk to her as she painted.
Once she’s gone, people can become a part of the painting.
Coulter included a blank space in the middle of some protesters for people to stand in front for photos. Above their heads will be the words #DARETODISSENT.
Evie Fordham: @eviefordham 919-829-4654