by Sayaka Matsuoka
The rain finally subsided that frigid January afternoon and the sun poked through the clouds, beaming down on the few passersby in downtown Winston-Salem. They walked the streets hurriedly, covering faces against a bone-chilling wind that pierced like daggers and cut breaths short. They didn’t have the time or patience to stop and admire the newly decorated windows.
The Winston-Salem Storefront Project, headed up by the Associated Artists of Winston-Salem, is the second of its kind in the city, the first having taken place in September and October 2014.
The project aims to highlight underused storefront windows by installing complex artworks, bringing attention to each window’s potential and bringing art out into the public eye. Each series engages a theme — as the first round did with poetry. The newest installment focuses on themes in science.
The outline of the project and its five artists are listed online, where those interested could map out and hunt for the different storefronts, but someone walking past by chance would miss that context as explanations of the works themselves or association with the project as a whole aren’t given at any of the sites. The five windows, which span about a half-mile from each other, are different in size, materials and impact. The installations took anywhere from a couple hours to several days to finish, according to the artists and the coordinator for the project, and after all of the work put in, the exhibits sit lonely like underappreciated orphans.
Although the windows in Winston-Salem seem to be overlooked, they are also intricate, intriguing, and beautifully decorated with an array of materials such as chicken wire, fishing line, and broken windshield glass. Among the handful of windows decorated, the two that stand out the most are also the largest, including “Terra Luna” crafted by the Winston-Salem Light Project on 104 W. Fourth St. With its beautifully illuminated moon in the center with a small, floating, toyish rocket ship eager to land, it seems to come straight out of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” Set against a dark blue background with colorful hanging lights, the scene draws attention and transports spectators to another world. It spans across two windows that are cut in half by a vertical space, creating a semicircular moon on either side, engaging viewers to put the puzzle together. In a prominent location in downtown Winston-Salem, the work is bound to get some of attention from pedestrians brave enough to face the frigid temperatures.
“Tree of Life” by Melanie Troutman-Williams on 550 North Liberty St., takes the shape of DNA molecules and employs them in a wire tree to create a piece intertwined with different elements of science. Perhaps the most intricate of the installations, Troutman-Williams’ window is framed by hexagonal shapes that allude to the bonds in DNA. She chose the subject because, as she said in her opinion, “everyone knows about DNA and every living organism and some viruses possess it.” Plus, she loves the design. Paired with her recognizable tree-of-life motif, Troutman-William’s successfully creates a complex yet appealing work of art that brings new life to a previously empty and abandoned window.
Although smaller than “Terra Luna” or “Tree of Life”, Denise Warheit’s “Fibonacci Spiral”, catches the eye of pedestrians as sunlight bounces off the multiple fragmented pieces of glass that make up her spiral. Inspired by pattern and repetition, Warheit crafted a three dimensional shape that alludes to common ratios found in nature such as the human hand or plant forms. From a different angle, it could even be a galaxy or star formation shining in the window.
The project aims to beautify the city and connect everyday people with art in their routine lives. Diana Blanchard, the organizer of the project believes the project “helps the community to have access to the arts without having to go to an arts facility. It is a project that helps Winston-Salem truly live up to its name as the ‘City of Arts and Innovation.’”
Other cities in the area have undertaken similar storefront window projects including Durham and Greensboro, with the former being particularly successful. The Pop! installations in Greensboro began in early 2014 and collaborated with several organizations including Downtown Greensboro Inc. It spanned eight to 10 windows, significantly more than the series in Winston-Salem. The Durham project was volunteer-driven and took place in conjunction with the yearly Art Walk that the city hosts.
The Winston-Salem project will feature other installations including one inspired by great films in collaboration with the RiverRun International Film Festival this spring and one inspired by the National Black Theater Festival this summer. The project is small for now but as Troutman-Williams summed up, “the more people that become aware and get involved in the Storefronts Winston-Salem program, the stronger it will be. I can’t wait to see what the next series will bring.”