Local Arts

This Charlotte Wall was built one good deed at a time

The Wall of Compassion at the Government Center, where it’ll be until moving to Romare Bearden Park on June 9.
The Wall of Compassion at the Government Center, where it’ll be until moving to Romare Bearden Park on June 9. Courtesy of About Face CLT

A wall’s gone up in Charlotte — one that organizers hope will bring people together, not separate them.

About Face CLT, an organization on a mission to tell the stories of Charlotte’s homeless residents, built a “Wall of Compassion” that celebrates thousands of acts of kindness in and around Charlotte.

Photographer and cinematographer Scott Gardner, who finished a nine-month artist residency May 2 at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, explained the project, which started before Christmas, this way: About Face distributed nearly 2,500 cardboard boxes to schools, churches, synagogues, businesses, families and individuals. Inside each “Blessing Box” were 100 strips of colored paper and a pen. When a person performed an act of kindness, no matter how small, they were to document it on one of the strips and put it in the box. When all 100 strips were used, the box would be returned to About Face CLT for art projects to be constructed around town. (The boxes link together like Legos.)

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About Face CLT took boxes and colored strips of paper to groups, families and individuals, and those became building blocks. Courtesy of About Face Charlotte

The Blessing Boxes are a way to “create a visible community of kindness,” said Dana Endsley, an artist and activist with About Face CLT.

Endsley came up with the idea after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott. She was in Austin at the time, and saw images on TV of her city burning. Endsley wanted to show Charlotte’s compassionate and caring side. She awoke one morning with the idea, what she calls a “divine download”: Why not a wall that brings people together, unlike the proposed wall along the Mexico border?

Building the Wall

The Wall was first installed in late April at historic Grace AME Zion Church, the perfect venue for the unveiling, Gardner said. “You can feel the goodness that’s been in that building for 120 years.”

Also part of the installation: a 20- by 20-foot banner showcasing some of the more touching acts of kindness, from opening doors for others to donating money to keep a family from being evicted. (Reading them was “like filling up your bathtub with goodness and soaking in it for an hour – an hour of reading about the goodness of humanity,” said Gardner.)

Ten portraits of homeless people who shared their stories with Gardner encircled the wall, with an audio track playing snippets of conversations from the 10. About Face CLT has been telling stories of Charlotte’s invisible people for about 18 months, said Gardner, who co-founded the organization with Hannah Blanton.

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Among the people who shared their stories and were photographed by Scott Gardner: Moses. Courtesy of Scott Gardner

In early May, the Wall was moved to the Government Center, where it will stay until June 8. It travels June 9 to Romare Bearden Park, for a Charlotte Symphony community concert, then on to Spirit Square June 19-24.

On June 24 and July 8, the Wall will morph into another form of public art: Artists at Spirit Square and Behailu Academy (June 24) and at Charlotte Art League (July 8) will lead people who come out that day in taking the thousands of strips and creating something new, Gardner said.

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Among the people who shared their stories and were photographed by Scott Gardner: Wanda. Courtesy of Scott Gardner

A profound thing happens when you listen to someone without judgment, said Gardner. Once you know their story, “there’s no way you could be hating on somebody.

“This isn’t the warm-up,” Gardner said. “We are attempting to be an organization that continues to tell these stories and offers new ways of getting the community involved, getting to know each other and engaging with each other with kindness and compassion.”

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Among the people who shared their stories and were photographed by Scott Gardner: Sue. Courtesy of Scott Gardner

About Face CLT wants to take small steps over the course of 10 years and slowly transform the cultural landscape of Charlotte. “Real change is slow change,” Gardner said. “We’re not trying to be viral, the hot thing of the moment. We’re in it for the long haul — definitely.”

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