Monday, August 24, 2020

Wilmington’s Cultural Street Art Program Opens with Art Installation at Peter Spencer Plaza

The content of this post comes from a City of Wilmington press release...

The City of Wilmington, which supports Black lives and the ongoing effort to promote racial justice reforms locally and nationally, today (Monday, August 24, 2020) opened a community designed and executed cultural street art program. Organized by community activist and artist Vanity Constance and managed by City Cultural Affairs Director Tina Betz, the first of a series of cultural street art installations is underway beginning this morning at the King Street entrance to Peter Spencer Plaza.

“This new art program is a community expression that comes from people’s feelings about the current state of racial justice and racial relations,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki. “This effort has the wholehearted endorsement of City government because it is also about supporting better things to come for all of us who live in, work in, and visit Wilmington. Council President Hanifa Shabazz and I, respectively representing the Executive and Legislative Branches of government, embrace the colors, images, themes, and individual artistic efforts of this program and thank Vanity and all of the participating artists for helping us appreciate art while we learn and heal.”

Monday’s opening cultural street art installation was organized by the Local Street Art Group, a non-profit founded by Vanity Constance. The lead designer and artist facilitator on Monday’s project is local artist JaQuanne Leroy who created the image to be painted entitled “Freedom and Justice.” The work, pictured at the beginning of this news release, features African tribal patterns and symbols. It is expected that this initial artwork will be completed by Tuesday.

The section of sidewalk that is being decorated crosses the western entrance to Spencer Plaza, named for Peter Spencer (1782-1843), who founded the Mother AUMP Church (African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church) on the site of the plaza in 1813. The church was the first independent Black denomination in the country. The plaza was also the site of the first Big Quarterly (or August Quarterly), which was started by Spencer in 1814. The plaza statue, "Father and Son," was erected in 1973 and depicts a Black male figure cradling a sleeping child in his arms. Larger-than-life and dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, the man is not a direct representation of the religious leader but rather a symbol of the hope for the future that he inspired. The remains of Peter Spencer, his wife Annes, and ten of his followers are interred in a vault beneath the statue. After Spencer’s death in 1843, there was a split in the church. The African Union Methodist Episcopal Church (AUMP) and the Union American Methodist Episcopal (UAME) both trace their history to the original church at 819 French Street.

Vanity Constance and Tina Betz said the first art installation site that was originally selected — crosswalks at 4th and Market Streets — could not proceed because of a series of technical problems such as needing to prep the asphalt for a few days before paint could be applied. Instead, it was decided that the Spencer Plaza sidewalk artwork would be an appropriate way to start the program.

Betz and Constance said other art installation sites will be announced soon, which will include a new mural in Freedom Plaza, the courtyard and public meeting space in between the Louis L. Redding City/County Government Building and the Elbert C. Carvel State Government Building on French Street. The mural will replace a sky and cloud patterned mural that graces a side wall of the Redding Building and serves as the backdrop for a stage that is used for music performances and other community-related events.

On August 13, a community-led ceremony was held in Spencer Plaza to unveil the permanent home of the Pan African RGB Flag. The date of the flag-raising — August 13 — is significant because it marked the 100th anniversary of the signing in 1920 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro People of the World by the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) chaired by Marcus Garvey. This document is one of the earliest and most comprehensive human rights declarations in U. S. history.

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