Two artists chosen to create public art at John Chavis Memorial Park in Southeast Raleigh say they want to celebrate the neighborhood’s African-American history and culture.
Raleigh’s public art and design board recently selected David Wilson, a Durham artist, and Terry Naranjo, who works as a senior designer for the New York City parks and recreation department. They will work with Clearscapes, an architecture firm in Raleigh, to design art at the park.
“This is an opportunity to celebrate the local heritage,” said Wilson, who studied under renowned African-American muralist John Biggers. “It is a community that’s rich in history, proud of its accomplishments, has been through a series of struggles and changes and looks forward to a brighter future.”
Plans for public art are part of Raleigh’s efforts to revise Chavis Park. In 2014, city leaders approved a master plan for the park that would cost about $40 million, and a city park bond includes $12.5 million.
Raleigh spent more than $2 million to restore an Allan Herschell Company carousel built in the 1930s at the park.
Chavis was built for African-Americans by the federal Works Progress Administration during the Great Depresson. Black families from all over Eastern North Carolina visited the park to swim, play sports and spend time outdoors.
After segregation ended, the park’s popularity declined. Increasing crime in nearby neighborhoods also hurt attendance.
More recently, gentrification has brought changes to the area as more people choose to live near downtown Raleigh.
In May, the 29-acre park became the first Raleigh city park added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Wilson and Naranjo were chosen for the project because of their experience creating art in a variety of mediums and also their focus on connecting art elements with local communities, said Kim Curry-Evans, public art coordinator at the Office of Raleigh Arts.
“This is an example of wanting to finally do something in Southeast Raleigh which has never been done before,” Curry-Evans said. “Having Wilson and Naranjo is a huge plus.”
Naranjo said he applied for the project because of the history of the park and the neighborhood. There is a need for more public art focused on African-Americans in the United States, Naranjo said.
“African-American heritage is a rich history,” he said. “There are some stories to be told.”
Naranjo and Wilson first met when they worked together on a similar project at Kinston Music Park in Lenoir County. They created a sculpture featuring famous jazz, rhythm and blues and other musicians to celebrate the area’s African-American music history.
“The opportunity to collaborate is very exciting,” Steven Schuster, a founding principal of Clearscapes, said of the project. “There’s nearly a century of stories (about John Chavis) and the park has an embedded and rich history. Public art is an effective way to tell those stories.”
The city will host public meetings to gather feedback about the art project, Curry-Evans said.
A celebration at the park is planned for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler