Who would have ever guessed that an alley which has historically and still, judging by smell, been the site of not-always-savory activity would turn into one of the most photographed spots in the city. The question is a bit rhetorical, but there is actually an answer: Jayne McGowan.
Jayne, who has degrees in art, and is often spotted around downtown, recognized the alley’s potential in 2012 when she organized the Artist Alley Revamp Project. She gathered permissions from the city and from building owners (except for KUB – come on, guys!), she solicited donated paints and brushes and organized local artists for a first round. It was a service to the city. You can read about the original project from an October 2012 article here and a look at the next wave of art from 2014 here.
The alley in question, if there should be any doubt at this point, is Strong Alley, the alley that runs between Gay Street and Market Square. It’s been improved in subsequent years by the addition of a pathway of sorts down the middle and fresh pipes underneath, all supplied by the city. CBID funded approximately $20k for aesthetic improvements including additional lighting and bistro lighting directed to the Downtown District Association. Bernadette West used those funds to provide the cool bistro lights strung overhead on the northern end of the alley as well as other improvements.
The art has enjoyed mixed fates. Taggers have done their thing and marred a number of the paintings. Some have remained amazingly unscathed from the earliest rendition. Others, sadly, have been obliterated by crude markings of various sorts. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would cover a cathedral by Brian Pittman, for example. But they do.
There have been a couple of waves of semi-organized art activity in the last seven years. Some excellent art has been added and some excellent art has been lost. Through it all band photos, graduation and prom photos, engagement photos, selfies, vacation photos and more have been the single constant. It has literally become a tourist attraction.
The latest effort has been mounted by Art in Public Places and it is continuing, though it’s already made significant changes to the alley. Dolly Parton’s portrait has gotten a lot of the press, but there are other contributions which are very strong, including Lauren Lazarus’ flowers and others. Some of the artists have signed their work and I tried to include those signatures where possible in the photographs.
Today starts the Dogwood Arts Festival downtown, sort of the grand finale equivalent of a fireworks show. I’m told there are more artists than ever before and the entertainment is always fun, so get out and enjoy all of that. And check out what can be done with a once dingy alleyway.