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Raleigh sidewalk art project begins with a big slice of pizza

Graymon Ward’s painting “Pizza Time” on a traffic island at Peace and North Salisbury streets in downtown Raleigh is the first of 16 pieces of sidewalk art planned for Raleigh ArtBeats, a joint project of the city transportation and arts departments.
Graymon Ward’s painting “Pizza Time” on a traffic island at Peace and North Salisbury streets in downtown Raleigh is the first of 16 pieces of sidewalk art planned for Raleigh ArtBeats, a joint project of the city transportation and arts departments. tlong@newsobserver.com@newsobser

Graymon Ward recently created his first piece of public art, and for his canvas he chose a traffic island at the intersection of Peace and North Salisbury streets in downtown Raleigh.

Ward’s “Pizza Time” is a giant slice of pepperoni pizza painted on a pizza-slice-shaped section of concrete where three crosswalks meet. The pole holding the crosswalk signals acts as a sundial that at various times of day points to small slices of pizza painted around its base.

The message? “Any time of day is a reasonable time to eat pizza,” Ward said.

“Pizza Time” is the first of what will be 16 pieces of sidewalk art painted by 16 artists in and around downtown in the coming year. Called Raleigh ArtBeats, the project is a joint effort of the city arts office and the department of transportation, with help from Artspace and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

The idea originated with Jen Baker, the city’s downtown coordinator, said Kelly McChesney, the public art director. Baker works with the transportation department to ensure downtown sidewalks are maintained and are aesthetically pleasing, McChesney said, and was also aware that artists are always looking for new platforms downtown on which to work.

The city put the word out in July that it was looking for proposals for sidewalk art, with plans to accept 12. Sixteen artists answered the call, and the transportation department decided to make space for all of them, McChesney said.

“They really loved the ideas, and they really wanted to support the creative community,” she said.

The second piece of sidewalk art will be done sometime in the next couple of weeks, with others to follow every few weeks as weather allows through next August, McChesney said. The city is not releasing details about the future works to avoid spoiling the surprise.

Art is a hobby for Ward, 32, who works as a teacher’s assistant at Broughton High School and is working toward a degree in education at Peace University. He got the idea for “Pizza Time” when he was on his way to class one evening. He was hungry and wishing he had a slice of pizza when he noticed the suggestive shape of the traffic island.

Ward painted the slice in two days over Labor Day weekend, with two coats of a paint designed to be walked on. He knows it won’t last forever, perhaps a couple of years.

“But if at some point it starts to look kind of gross or the parts people are walking on start coming up, the city may decide to pressure wash it off,” he said.

Ward said he chose to cover his slice with big round pieces of pepperoni for practical reasons.

“Personally, I’m vegetarian,” he said. “But I figured cheese pizza would not be recognizable. And I’m not confident enough in my skills to do bell peppers or anything else.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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