Durham: The Flower of the Carolinas

Photo by Ilona Stanback

You may have noticed a bit more color in and around downtown Durham. Thanks to an innovative collaboration between a Duke public policy course, Mural Durham, and the City of Durham Cultural and Public Arts Program, local artists have transformed traffic boxes into works of art. Tucked into corners near busy intersections or neighborhood businesses, 6 “art boxes” now celebrate Durham in all its forms—even Baba Chuck Davis, local legend and founder of African American Dance Ensemble, now smiles from what once was a drab utility box. “This is a fun way to take something utilitarian in the urban landscape and tell a meaningful story about a neighborhood,” says Stacey Poston, special projects manager, City of Durham General Services Department.

Ilona Stanback, a Duke Arts CAST member, interviews a few of the people behind this project: Britt Flood, who painted a box near the Nasher Museum of Art (at Anderson Street and Campus Drive) and Hannah Wolfe and Caroline Wang, two students in the Community Benefit Project course who supported this project in Fall 2018.

Tune into the City of Durham’s public art announcements and follow Mural Durham on Instagram to learn of future traffic box opportunities. If you are interested in supporting this kind of public art in the Bull City, please contact Stacey.Poston@durhamnc.gov.

Students Support Public Art in Durham

Students Caroline Wang and Hannah Wolfe. Photo by Ilona Stanback.

Ilona Stanback: Will you introduce this project and how you were involved?

Hannah Wolfe: This project is part of Professor Tony Brown‘s enterprising leadership course, “The Community Benefit Project.” The class is split into teams and each team takes on a client. Our project client was the City of Durham Cultural and Public Arts Program. We are helping their traffic box mural project by developing a sustainable plan to continue to create these murals. We also commissioned one traffic box mural on Duke’s campus.

Caroline Wang: They already have a few around, but the City had not yet worked on a traffic box on Duke’s campus, so they came to us looking for advice. As Duke students, I felt like we were in the perfect position to help.

IS: How did you choose the artist?

HW: We had a series of meetings with the city staff, people from the public arts committee, and other key stakeholders in the project. We put out a call for artists through a variety of distribution channels and collaborated on a press release. We received thirty-two applications.

CW: Then we went through the selection process. We had a few criteria, including whether or not the artist was local, their connection to Durham, if they worked in acrylic on metal. . . We wanted to make sure their art would be transferable. We ended up picking Britt Flood because we really liked how her designs meshed with the Nasher’s contemporary aesthetic.

“It Takes a Village” is another callbox painted by local artist Brenda Miller Homes in collaboration with YouthWorks a program that teaches teens job readiness skills.

HW: We thought about a lot of different options. We thought about having a Duke student do it, but we came to the conclusion that we wanted the traffic box to be a symbol that the Duke art scene extends into Durham. Britt is someone who is involved in the Durham art scene and has shown work at a lot of local exhibitions.

CW: We wanted to be able to show that there’s a space for Durham on Duke’s campus and vice versa.

IS: What is next?

CW: We presented our final report and our findings to Durham’s General Services Department. We also developed a plan to move forward that includes engaging local businesses with mural projects that will also bring visibility to the art scene.

Britt Flood working on her callbox. Photo by Ilona Stanback.

Meet Britt Flood, Duke’s “Art Box” Mural Artist

Ilona Stanback: When did you start making art?

Britt Flood: I always kept a sketchbook in middle school and high school, and I was always drawing everyday. I didn’t start painting until art school at Appalachian State. Since then, I have found that I really love painting, and in particular, large-scale painting.

IS: How did you get involved with this project?

BF: Durham was the first place I moved after graduating about three years ago. Since then, I have been trying to be involved in community exhibitions and public art projects. When I saw this project for Mural Durham, I was immediately drawn to it because I used to live on the same street as the traffic box.

Photo by Ilona Stanback

IS: Have you done work similar to this project before?

BF: I usually work with paint or charcoal, and I do a lot of drawing. This is also my first project using a spray can. So, I’m trying new things. A lot of my work is black and white, and I do a lot of gestural line work. This is my first public art piece that is super colorful and bright. I am trying to get more into color, but color can be intimidating. I thought I would use this project as a starting point for using more color.

IS: What was your inspiration behind this piece?

BF: For this project, the theme had to be the history of Durham. I discovered that the explorer John Lawson dubbed Durham “the flower of the Carolinas,” and I have been into this glitchy style of art. So the concept behind it is flowers, glitches, and flower of the Carolinas.

Photo by Ilona Stanback.

“This is my love letter to Durham. I hope people feel inspired and happy, and I hope they smile when they walk by it.”

IS: Are you currently working on any other projects?

BF: I don’t have any coming up, but a month ago I did a sidewalk mural in downtown Raleigh for the Raleigh ArtBeats project. Sixteen different artists were chosen to create one sidewalk mural each around the downtown area. I’m trying to get a mural in Pittsboro, where I live now. Going into 2019, I have a goal of doing five murals.

IS: Why do you like to paint murals?

BF: I’m not the type of painter who can just sit and work on little stuff. I like to use my body, and I am usually dancing while I am painting. I like creating murals, because they are bigger than my body, very accessible, and I get to be outside.

IS: Who are some of the artists that inspire you?

BF: I have a lot, and it changes everyday. Right now I love the painter Doron Langberg and Felipe Pantone. Pantone does a lot of super colorful murals and he does a lot of glitch work. His work definitely was the inspiration for this piece.

IS: What are your future goals?

BF: Mainly, I would love to do more public art-focused projects. Projects like this, where people don’t have to go to a museum or pay to see an exhibition. They can see art in their community for free every single day.

Photo by Ilona Stanback.

Britt Flood grew up in the Apex/ area of North Carolina. She studied painting at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Britt currently lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina. 

Hannah Wolfe is a senior from New York City majoring in art history with a concentration in museum theory and practice and is pursuing a certificate in markets and management. Hannah is a member of Duke’s ballet company Devils en Pointe and is the co-chair of Nasher Muse, the student board of the Nasher.

Caroline Wang is a senior from Cary, North Carolina. She is majoring in public policy and minoring in psychology and education. Caroline’s familiarity with the Durham area, and experience seeing how public art can transform a city, inspired her to help bring out the spirit of Durham through small-scale public art projects.

Ilona Stanback (Class of 2019) is majoring in Psychology and working toward a certificate in Documentary Studies. She plans to work with victims of human trafficking and hopes to incorporate her passion for documentary photography by sharing the stories of the individuals affected by this issue. Ilona is currently a member of the Duke Creative Arts Student Team (CAST).