LOCAL COLOR/Art imitating life
Lots of new faces filled the hallways in Chapel Hill, N.C., government buildings this spring. Rather than new employees, though, they were the faces of Chapel Hill residents in art form.
This spring marked the town’s first Self-Portrait Project, sponsored by the Chapel Hill Arts Commission, which called on residents to produce works of art depicting how they viewed themselves. The commission received self-portraits from people ages 3 to 85, which were then displayed in venues such as the Chapel Hill and Carrboro town halls, the Chapel Hill Museum, libraries and community centers.
The idea for the project began when commission member Erica Rothman travelled to England and saw a similar project there. After Rothman described what she saw, members decided to recreate the project locally and called on area residents for submissions in the beginning of February. By the deadline on March 15, the commission had received 340 entries — far exceeding their expectations of about 50 entries.
“There has been so much attention for this particular project,” says Kate Billings, director of the Chapel Hill Arts Commission. “The response to our call for entries [was] amazing.”
The goal of the project was to “celebrate the identity, individuality and diversity of the community.” Entrants were encouraged to create imaginative works of art that depicted their feelings, personalities, hopes and fears. Submissions ran the gamut from paintings and charcoal sketches to less traditional creations that included fabric, sculpture, boxes, hats, digital images, collages, written text and poems. One entry was a quilt, and another even incorporated a lamp. While some of the participants were professional artists, many had never produced art for public display. Some entered a series of portraits, each representing a stage in the person’s life. Each submission was accompanied by an entry form where residents could write a personal statement about their artistic work. Anonymous entries were allowed.
On April 1, the town kicked off the exhibit’s opening with a reception at the Chapel Hill Museum. The submissions were displayed at various city buildings through May 21. A video montage of all the entries aired at the museum for the duration of the show. Admission to the exhibits was free and open to everyone. The arts commission also hosted a community discussion in April where local government leaders, artists and educators discussed the self-portraits, their meaning to the artists and viewers, and community-based public art projects in general.