CHARLOTTE, NC (David Perlmutt/The Charlotte Observer) - In the grey muck of Saturday afternoon, two dozen devoted east Charlotte residents gathered to celebrate the installation of a symbol of their efforts to lift their community above its image of decline.
The symbol is a piece of sculpture by Mooresville artist Dana Gingras, placed at the busy intersection of North Sharon Amity Road and W.T. Harris Boulevard through a grant from the city's Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative.
Here's how Gringas describes the piece he calls "Ascension," with its stainless steel disc rising forward at the end of an arm of steel that swoops from the ground: "It's a sculpture about hope and moving forward ... The large stainless disc, a symbol of unity, rises up on the shoulders of the past and into the future."
It represents forward progress, he said, with homage paid to the community's strength and history.
Yet part of the eastside's image in recent years has been a corner of Charlotte where economic development has been slow, with crime and poverty rising and neighborhoods declining as the once-popular Eastland Mall lost its appeal and was ultimately torn down.
That is the image many eastsiders are working to fix, using the sculpture to help reshape it, said Emily Wu, vice president of the Grove Park Neighborhood Association.
"People have the idea that the eastside has gone down, but really the eastside is coming back," Wu said. "We as a community are rallying together and we will make this a much, much better place."
The sculpture, installed Sept. 17 but officially unveiled Saturday, is the first of five installations in Charlotte neighborhoods as part of the initiative to bring more public art to where people live. The other neighborhoods are Elizabeth, Reid Park, Sedgefield and the Shamrock Drive Corridor.
The grant for the Gingras' piece went to the Grove Park community, but its neighborhood association decided to place it in a spot where all of east Charlotte could share in the pride.
"We decided that maybe taking something like this and just putting it in our neighborhood – on our own streets – wasn't exactly what we wanted to do," said Mimi Davis, the neighborhood association's president.
So they worked with the Arts & Science Council, the Public Art Commission and city transportation department to find a spot with better exposure. "It's a more suitable spot where we could ... share this public art with anybody who drove by and anybody on the eastside," Davis said. "It was simply too big to keep."
More than 20 Charlotte neighborhoods applied for the projects. The $118,000 funded for the first five neighborhood-based installments was divided equally among the five selected communities.
City council member John Autry, who represents the eastside, said Grove Park's determination to get the public art should be a lesson to other neighborhoods.