Drivers rushing in and out of downtown on Blount Street will have a good reason to slow down in the coming months.
Hundreds of feet of concrete walls along the Shaw University campus soon will be painted with murals that explore the history of the university and its relationship with the city.
The goal is to bring public art to the South Park neighborhoods that aren’t often the focus of beautification projects. The area sits on the edge of a wave of downtown redevelopment.
Gaddis J. Faulcon, Shaw’s interim president, said the project will highlight the successes of the university, both past and present, and strengthen the school’s relationship with the Southeast Raleigh community. Shaw, a historically black university, was founded in 1865.
“This is a signal, a way to connect, but we have to follow up on it,” Faulcon said, adding that the university should take an even greater interest in the churches, schools and neighborhoods that surround it.
Many of the blocks surrounding Shaw are part of the East Raleigh-South Park National Register Historic District, the city’s largest historic African-American neighborhood. The 30-block area drew many black residents after the Civil War. The university, and a growing middle class, made the area a cultural center as early as the 1890s.
Scott Nurkin, founder of The Mural Shop in Chapel Hill, will paint the murals below the university’s Blount Street pedestrian bridges, between East South Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Student artists and other volunteers also will participate.
Nurkin is expected to begin painting next month and complete his work in about three months. The mural will be unveiled in November during Shaw’s homecoming celebration, when it will mark its 150th anniversary.
The project also includes new landscaping and fencing.
Shaw has raised $80,000 of its $135,000 goal for the project, with donations from PNC Bank, Duke Energy, the city of Raleigh and Cherokee Investment Partners.
The project is the latest to focus on the Blount Street corridor. The city this summer will install public art banners along the street that recognize the history of the area.
Bill King, planning and development manager at the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said the Shaw mural will strengthen the relationship between the university and other parts of downtown.
The mural will be a sign that people are entering the downtown community, and it gives pedestrians something interesting to walk to and see beyond the downtown core, King said.
“We’ll start to see people filter that way, which is good,” he said. “When people spread out around town, they support businesses around the area.”