On a clear day, painter Vera Weinfield and a team of volunteers put some of the final touches on a large, colorful outdoor mural in downtown Greensboro.
The painting is spearheaded by the Greensboro Mural Project, a group that formed around the shared vision that murals can help create social change.
For the latest project on S. Church Street, the group asked people from around town to write a love letter to their city. One of the group's founders, Alyzza May, says the results surprised them.
“Going into it we were kind of assuming that it would be more of a lovey-dovey type of project," May says. "We were caught off guard in the sense that the letters themselves weren't all positive. There was definitely this fraughtness with the city, or with love, even.”
Demetrius Noble grew up in Greensboro. His letter was emblematic of many that the organizers received.
Noble writes, “Dear Greensboro, We will smash you, we will crush you, we will burn you to the ground, and out of your ashes, we will build a city more egalitarian for everyone. In revolutionary love, D. Noble.”
And so the project evolved. It became the “Tough Love Mural.”
May says, “Ultimately we see this tough love letter to Greensboro as a, 'we want to see you do better, we believe you can do better, here's some of our feedback.'”
Over the next seven months, artists and community members came together to translate that feedback into a painting. The design celebrates Greensboro's people and its landscape. And it also reflects a city with work to be done, a city with a history of social justice, but one that's still divided.
Weinfield points out the painted train tracks that traverse the mural. “Along the tracks there are fires, symbolizing burning down the tracks which have been used to divide the city, and all over the country, different neighborhoods by race and class.”
Organizers put the mural in a place where people would see it: the heart of the city, directly across from the bus depot and train station.
“We get a lot of traffic from all over the city, and people come by and are interested in the process," Weinfield says. "Some just want to talk and see it, and some people actually want to stop and paint.”
But they won't be able to do that much longer. A month ago, organizers were told that the building on which the mural is painted will be torn down; it was stunning news.
The owners say there's irreparable damage to the building and that the demolition will increase the price of the property when they sell it. The artists had been told that would be years down the road.
But organizers kept painting, and encouraged the community to join them. Alyzza May says they even adjusted the design in order to formally reveal the mural this weekend.
Those involved say they are incredibly disappointed and sad, but they don't see the project as a failure.
“Now we have at least 400 people who can walk by and be like, 'I helped create that, this is an important place to me, this tells a story,'" May says. “The ability to have ownership over a place and pride in a place is really important and a beautiful thing."
May believes murals with social meaning draw people in, inspire conversation and allow people to create something together. And The Greensboro Mural Project says it will continue "building bridges by painting walls."
The Tough Love Mural Unveiling is Sunday, February 18th from 1-4 p.m.