The Daily Gamecock

Columbia public art thrives through pandemic

<p>The Architecture of Strength monument, designed by DeeDee Morrison.&nbsp;</p>
The Architecture of Strength monument, designed by DeeDee Morrison. 

The past year has seen a budding growth and newfound success in the public art world, which has not only allowed new artists to foster modern ideas of representation, but has brought a new level of inclusivity and history to the public art sphere.

One Columbia, a non-profit organization formed to support and promote tourism in Columbia — and a major proponent of this growth — has facilitated over 50 public art projects since 2014, executive director Lee Snelgrove said. This year alone, Snelgrove said, One Columbia has finished nine pieces despite obstacles such as COVID-19, and the organization is planning future ideas 

Of these nine pieces, four are murals telling "the amazingly challenging, sometimes painful but beautiful story of the African seed in the American sun," Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a comprehensive documentary about these four pieces.

The first of the series is "The Pursuit of Opportunity: Celebrating African American Business" by Ija Charles, which was finished in April.

Following Charles’ mural, the second of this series is "The Pursuit of Justice: Sarah Mae Fleming” by Hand in Hand Creative, which went up in Woodland Park in May. The creators are a married couple, Andrew and Sarah McWilson, who travel the country in their tiny home creating their work.

The work depicts Sarah Mae Flemming, who in 1954 sat in a “whites only” section of a local bus. The responding legal presiding greatly influenced Rosa Parks and the desegregation of Columbia buses, according to Snelgrove.

The third mural, "The Pursuit of Education: Rosewood Elementary and School Desegregation," is in Valencia Park and was finished by McClellan Douglas. It depicts a photo of the first day of desegregation at Rosewood Elementary, according to Snelgrove.

The final piece in this series is "The Pursuit of Citizenship: Benjamin Mack, Septima Clark, and Listervelt Middleton" by Charmaine Minniefield in Hyatt Park. These three people were major contributors to both local areas and the nation with various efforts.

Mack was a proponent of community organization and helped people get registered to vote. 

The second recognized person, Clark, was named "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" by Martin Luther King Jr. She worked with Mack on this campaign and was a major figure in the education sphere.

Middleton was a producer of a pioneering TV show that showcased Black and African history.

Outside this series, other major works include a parklet by Frankie Zombie, which was created out of a Columbia city grant from the AARP in connection with One Columbia to create a vibrant, accessible utility of the city, according to Snelgrove. Parklets are small seating or gathering areas in parking spaces, One Columbia said in an Instagram comment.

The city is also currently working on another parklet. More information can be found here

Local resident Jared Johnson was inspired by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement protests in 2020 and sought  to paint a street mural in its honor, Snelgrove said. Johnson and other artists are now painting a BLM mural at Sweet Temptations Bakery on North Main Street.

The Architecture of Strength Monument — about the women of Columbia — is another addition to Columbia's streets.

This pillar monument, located across from the Statehouse, is a towering structure by DeeDee Morrison created in partnership with an initiative called Columbia City of Women by Historic Columbia.

"It's pretty exhilarating to see it, to see this powerful visual symbol of a project, and really have a movement that so many folks have been part of," Ann Warner, the CEO of the Women's Rights and Empowerment Network, said. 

The Columbia City of Women created this piece to combat the absence of female representation in art in Columbia and to honor women that have made significant contributions to the city, its website said.

Warner said she feels this is a long-due celebration of inclusivity for the city, but also a sign of the necessity of  future work that needs to be done.