Walking through walls, reflecting on the commons

Lindsay St Mural in progress (via gsomurals.blogspot.com)
Lindsay St Mural in progress (via gsomurals.blogspot.com)

My name is Alyzza May and I am a pedestrian.

My main form of transportation is my body. I’ve never had a driver’s license, and get around by walking, taking the bus or train, and catching rides with friends, strangers, and loose affiliates. My great-grandmother’s name was May Walker, I wear the May in my name and the Walker, well as you can imagine, is a bit of a family heirloom, a state of being.

I walk for pleasure, for transportation to work, or to the bus stop when it’s raining or I have to go somewhere farther than I’d like to walk. I’ve walked in cities, towns, and rural landscapes all over this country. But what’s even stranger and more surprising a place that I walk, is Greensboro, where I’ve been walking for nearly seven years.

Walking in Greensboro has exposed me to the multidimensional nature of Greensboro’s character. People that drive register disbelief when they learn I walk around town. I get questioning looks from the drivers of passing cars while I’m walking. Greensboro is decidedly not a walking city, though traveling this city by foot over the past 6 and a half years opened the city to me in ways most people may not imagine. I have come to know the pain in Greensboro, the joy in Greensboro, and the possibility in Greensboro. By walking in Greensboro I have come to see how the city interacts with public space. These experiences contribute to how I have become an advocate for place-making and public art as a tool to reclaiming the commons.

As a pedestrian reclaiming the commons results in not feeling like I have to validate why I’m out in the public, on sidewalks, grass ways, or even the shoulder of the road. Reclaiming the commons is the taking back and re-establishment of commonly shared space, to have access to space, space that is more than just disregarded as in between space. In between in the sense that it is between where I am now, and where I want to be. In between is here, in between is now, in between is honesty, in between is where change happens, in between is often in public space.

As I walk in Greensboro, in this “in between” space, I see many canvases that are waiting to help bring people together, to brighten this fine city. These are the bridges made of walls. Yes, the canvases I speak of are the physical walls of buildings across Greensboro. For me walls are wonderful spaces for murals.The process of creating murals is one way to provide access to fine quality art that anyone can enjoy, critique, or even feel indifferent about, without having to pay an entrance fee or purchase price. By painting walls as a form of public art I believe the internal walls that separate us have the potential to be brought down. So two years ago I started doing just that, here in Greensboro. My friend, Kat, and I started interviewing what ended up being 300 people. We asked so many people the same question, “What would make Greensboro a healthy city?

As you can imagine I conducted many of my interviews while taking the bus somewhere, or while I was walking down the street. These answers I am honored to have shared with me, and further illustrate the multidimensional nature of Greensboro. They show the beautiful imagination of Greensboro! So with the help of a seasoned muralist we set to work to capture as many of the answers about a healthy Greensboro as we could on a concrete canvas. Now we’re onto our second mural public mural at the Interactive Resource Center, a day shelter in Greensboro. The focus of this mural is home, and what makes home. Like the first mural we asked people about home, and the majority of the answers that we got were based around a sense of home. The emotion, characteristics of home were shared, but not necessarily that it is found in one singular place. Walking, in between, in transit, where the walls are painted, are all home. Creating these murals has begun the rebuilding and reclaiming of the commons with highlighting the presence in the in between. With each wall we are building home in Greensboro, we are making our claim to the city. Greensboro, a city I am glad to walk within, to call home.

For more information on The Greensboro Mural Project check out our website: http://greensboromuralproject.com

And consider supporting the “home” mural through our Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/846823987/home-is-where-the-mural-is