Keep Charlotte weird: Yard Art Day is coming Sept. 1

If you see plastic pink flamingos pop up in your neighbor’s yard on Labor Day, don’t panic. It may be part of a community art installation.

This Labor Day marks the third year Charlotte photographer Deborah Triplett has planned and orchestrated Yard Art Day, a citywide celebration of creativity and community. It’s a labor of love for Triplett, who dreamed up the concept and is the driving force.

The first Yard Art Day was on Labor Day 2012 during the Democratic National Convention. While the city’s attention was hyper-focused on our moment in the national spotlight, there were still about 250 “yardists,” as Triplett calls participants.

There’s no entry fee or panel of judges. There are no “best of” awards, even though people have suggested Triplett add an element of competition. She insists on keeping it free – and free of pressure.

Participating is easy. Just send Triplett a Facebook message. That’s it. She doesn’t even require yardists to tell her what they plan to create. “A lot of people wait until the last minute to decide what they’re going to do, and that’s OK,” she says.

Triplett takes an expansive view of what art is. “It can be anything,” she says. “It’s not just visual. You can read poetry in your yard, tell a story, dance, play a musical instrument – any creative expression is welcome.”

If that sounds like something more likely to happen in Austin, Texas, or Portland, Ore., Triplett invites you to see the QC in a new way.

“For years, the rap on Charlotte was that we were a sterile banking town,” Triplett says. “But there is a big creative community in this city. I wanted to show the world that side of Charlotte and maybe introduce it to people who live here and aren’t aware of it.”

A movement is born

The idea came to Triplett when she saw something in an online arts newsletter about a public outdoor art exhibition in Times Square.

She wants to give people an excuse to create. She also hopes people will connect with their neighbors. “I was born and raised a front-yard kid,” says Triplett. “We’ve now become a backyard culture, and that’s affected society in ways that aren’t all good.”

She envisioned individuals, couples and families using paint, fabric, chicken wire, lights and other materials to create art installations in their front yards. She imagined neighbors walking or biking through neighborhoods and stopping to ask questions.

She has help from a few dedicated friends: Tom Petaccia creates the map of all Yard Art locations, Kari Herndon designed the logo, Garland West helps with social media and Susan Walker is in charge of yard signs. (That’s the major expense. Triplett says producing the signs costs about $1,500 – and for that she sought, and found, corporate and individual donors.)

There are now more than 1,700 members on Facebook, and others follow along on Twitter and Pinterest.

This year, someone in Michigan and another in Poland heard about it and contacted Triplett to see if they could participate. (Of course, they can. Anyone can. This year, even businesses can.)

Yarnhouse in NoDa will be one of those businesses. “We don’t have a yard … but we do have a storefront and a sidewalk,” says co-owner Christopher Wysocki. “We will be making the most of all of the outside space we’ve got.”

Wysocki scheduled a workshop and invited knitters to make “swatches, granny squares or even bring in their unloved unfinished objects (UFOs).”

Most yardists, like Rachel Nemecek, are not professional artists. Yet she and her husband, Jeff, and son, Max, 10, have created a stunning work – the color spectrum in grosgrain ribbons. The installation, 5 feet long and made of 75 ribbons, took weeks to plan and a couple of weekends to make.

While some yard art is created at the 11th hour, that’s not the Nemeceks’ style. They are perfectionists. (“We’re mostly geeks who watched ‘Cosmos,’ ” Rachel Nemecek explains about their interest in the color spectrum.) They carefully sewed and even grommeted their creation. The ribbons are removable, and the family may repurpose their durable art for other occasions.

Anything goes

This is the Nemeceks’ second Yard Art Day. They love the “anyone’s welcome” approach. “What you see in museums and galleries all looks very curated,” Rachel Nemecek says. “You get a completely different feeling on Yard Art Day.”

Lynn Lewis saw the call for entries on Facebook and decided to participate. She helped start the Crestdale community garden in Matthews and thought Yard Art Day offered the perfect opportunity to promote community gardening – and have fun at the same time. Her scarecrow – stuffed with straw – will have a funky sense of style. She’s outfitted her with brightly colored clothes and accessories from Goodwill. She’ll wear a pink lampshade as a hat. “You’ll notice her,” promises Lewis.

Some professional artists, such as Ilisa Millermoon, participate each year – and the results are often extraordinary. She will continue the “Alice in Wonderland” theme she began last year – but will only say it will be perched in a cedar tree branch.

Millermoon doesn’t limit her creativity to this annual event. “Yard Art Day is every day in my yard,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for all to tap into their creative spirit – something most have forgotten. And it’s just plain fun!”

On Sept. 1, Triplett will be in her own front yard saying hello to passers-by.

Much like the cobbler’s family with no shoes, the founder of Yard Art Day has never had time to create her own yard art. But she knows exactly what she’ll do if she can find time. She’ll string a clothesline and hang, with wooden clothespins, photos of clothing from her mother and grandmother as a tribute.

At some point, she’ll drive around to check out the creations.

But it will be strictly for fun. Just as Triplett doesn’t judge the entries, she refuses to pick a favorite from the hundreds she’s seen. “Each and every yard art concept,” she says, “is my favorite.”