After several years of community input, planning and design, two new public art projects, collectively known as “Excelsior,” have been installed in Charlotte’s Historic West End.
Led by local artist Stacy Utley and aided by Durham-based designer Edwin Harris, the two sculptures honor the individuals and institutions that have contributed to the corridor’s history.
The first structure, titled “Ever Upward,” sits near the underpass at I-77 and W. Trade Street, where the city recently added wider sidewalks, landscaping and a public sitting area.
Utley said in his artist statement: “Ever Upward” consists of four seven-foot abstract forms representing ‘the walk upward’ that Dorothy Counts-Scoggins made to integrate public schools in Charlotte, ‘the charge upward’ that every student that passes through the arch of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) takes, ‘the road upward’ that is Trade Street from uptown to the highest point which is Biddle Hall and ‘the prayers upward’ as we continue this journey.
A few blocks up is the nearly completed Five Points Public Plaza — a $5.5 million gathering space for West End residents. The plaza is slated for completion by the end of the year and will feature an amphitheater, splash pad and public Wi-Fi.
The plaza will also be the home of the second piece of the “Excelsior” collection — “Ever Higher,” which stands 18 to 28 feet-tall.
Inspired by the folding narratives of a quilt, Utley says, the piece represents “perseverance, inspiration and icon.”
It consists of three metal panels and includes a reflective finish where viewers can see themselves reflected in the artwork. All combined, its panels form a torch that is illuminated at night by LED spotlights, Utley said.
Panels on the structure also includes images representative of the Excelsior Club, Johnson C. Smith University’s Biddle Hall, and Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, who in 1957 was the first Black student to integrate Harding High School, also appears in the artwork.
Counts-Scoggins said it’s a privilege to be honored in the community where she grew up and still lives.
“My hope is this will be a piece that will be able to teach the history of not only me but the university as well and the Excelsior Club,” she said. “That is what it’s all about. We’re losing so much of our history. At least I will know that this history will be standing there long after I’m gone.”
Change is coming
Counts-Scoggins said she’s excited about the change that’s coming to West End.
“The light rail will be good for us,” she said, referring to the CityLynx Gold Line Street Car, which is scheduled to begin moving riders later this year. “I think it will help in a lot of ways, especially around economic development, because a lot of the things that we don’t have will hopefully be coming back to serve this community.”
In addition to the streetcar, city government and private investors have committed to building and renovating new residential and commercial spaces along the corridor. Among those projects, a California developer has pledged to redevelop the site that once housed the historic Excelsior Club. The project is slated to include a boutique hotel with a small entertainment venue.
[Related: A 2040 vision for Historic West End]
Last month, a new public space was announced for Beatties Ford Road and Tate Street.
Much like the Five Points Public Plaza, the project will be a community gathering space wired for public WiFi, a performance shelter, outdoor movies, cafe-style seating and a play area.
Counts-Scoggins said that while she welcomes the recent developments, she doesn’t want change to come at the expense of the corridor losing its history.
“The two can go hand in hand,” she said.