A new mural was painted across the outside of Whirligig Stage at 628 S. Pitt St., featuring African American jazz pianist and composer, Dr. Billy Taylor, who was a native of Greenville.
The mural project began on May 31, and was completed two days before the dedication, Sierra Jones, director of communications & marketing in Uptown Greenville, said. The dedication event for the mural was held this past Friday from 4:45 to 5:15 p.m.
“The mural features Dr. Billy Taylor. He was an American jazz pianist and composer. He was born here in Greenville, and he helped found the ECU School of Music jazz program. He was a mentor to Caroll Dashiell, who is currently the head of the jazz program at ECU,” Jones said.
According to Jones, Jason Coale, the executive director at Whirligig Stage, and Dashiell came up for the idea of the mural during one of Uptown Greenville’s First Friday Art Walk sessions, as they both shared an interest in honoring native Greenville musicians.
Jones said Coale is into “developing the creative culture” in the Dickinson Avenue Arts district as he is a big proponent of getting more art into the Uptown area and Dashiell thought Billy Taylor would be a good subject for the mural.
“Dashiell thought Billy Taylor would be perfect, and they were looking for a partner to help sponsor the mural and the materials, and that’s something that our office wanted to be a part of, as the art makes the area more attractive to visitors and residents,” Jones said.
Jones said Coale and Dashiell worked on the original image together and made the design for the outline. Coale stenciled the design onto the side of Whirligig. He and different volunteers throughout the community came together and painted different portions of the mural at Whirligig.
According to Jones, the mural is important to Uptown because not only does it make the area more attractive to its residents and visitors, but it additionally tells a story of the City of Greenville’s history.
“Greenville has a rich musical history, especially with jazz and African American music. This mural helps tell the story of a rich African American musical heritage in Greenville. Telling a story through public art is a way to get that story out there,” Jones said.
According to Jones, the mural should be appreciated by members of the Greenville community because it represents someone who is important to the town’s history, culture and pays respect to the “music legend.”
Jones said she and the Uptown Greenville office hope the mural will start a trend in the area and hope Greenville will see more murals around Uptown and the Dickinson Avenue Arts district.
“It makes our Uptown and Dickinson Avenue Art district more vibrant, and people are talking about it. Our art scene is growing and thriving. Hopefully, this will spur more murals like this to pop up in uptown. We would love to see more art in the area,” Jones said.
Coale said the mural took about two weeks to create, and it features Dr. Billy Taylor playing the piano. According to Coale, the mural was planned for several weeks prior to the initiation of the creation process.
Coale and Dashiell had to find the right subject matter, meet with city officials for the proposal of the idea, find local sponsors and project partners, as well as prep the wall where the mural is located.
“I created a mock-up of the piece in advance and used that to plan out the painting process and to make sure everyone involved was on the same page,” Coale said. “The Convention and Visitors Bureau has been a great partner in this process and we are very thankful for the assistance they have provided.”
Coale said the employees at Whirligig helped him create the mural, along with the help of an intern at the stage and various members of the Greenville community who contributed to different parts of the project.
According to Coale, the mural was made to celebrate the accomplishments of Billy Taylor, who made a “significant impact” on the Greenville community, as well as East Carolina University where he taught.
“His (Billy Taylor’s) legacy lives on through his music and the top quality educational programs he helped create and, as a result of which, the caliber of guest artists and former students that continue to make the trip to share their talents with us,” Coale said.
Coale said he appreciates the mural because it has “a lot of life and energy” to it. He said Whirligig likes to do projects such as the mural because they believe public art brings the community together.
According to Coale, the mural is significant because it is a potential stop on the African American Music Trails of North Carolina, due to Greenville’s African American musical history and the legacy of Billy Taylor.
“We hope it (the mural) can help create a sense of place too. The area has seen a lot of changes around here and there’s more growth on the way. We think that the mural will add to this destination,” Coale said.
Taylor Nishimoto, a junior majoring in Business Marketing, said she appreciates the mural because she believes it adds “character” to the developing Uptown area.
Nishimoto, who has lived in Greenville for two years, said she is a fan of art and history, and she enjoys the story behind the mural.
“I think that the mural is an important addition to the uptown Greenville area, as it symbolizes a significant time in Greenville’s history. The mural adds interest to the growing uptown art district, and I would like to see more murals around the area in the future,” Nishimoto said.
For more information on the mural, contact Jason Coale at Whirligig Stage at (252)-689-8092 or Sierra Jones at Visit Greenville, NC, at (252)-329-4200.