New street art installation pays homage to legendary NC-born musicians

Eight neighborhood trash cans are being turned into pieces of art as part of the North Davidson Street Art Installation Project. Last month, we featured one completed by Jason “Tinker Bird” Parker (click here to read the article if you missed it). Now, we’ll hear from NoDa News’ own Evan Plante on his project and the inspiration behind it. To learn more about the project as a whole, click here.

Can you share a little about yourself and your arts background?

Sure, hi, I’m Evan Plante and I am a printmaker and graphic designer. I own Docklands Design here in NoDa, which is a boutique creative studio specializing in community engagement, music, art, and marketing. I like to work with grassroots businesses and causes, but I do have some high-profile clients that keep me very busy too. I also create art, prints, posters, T-shirts, etc., for retail shops all around the Carolinas and online.

Why did you want to participate in this project?

My friend Matt challenged me to submit a concept for this project, and I jokingly said I’d put The Clash on there. I didn’t really think about it again until a couple weeks later, when I was listening to Nina Simone and considered using her and Joe Strummer (from The Clash) as an homage to revolutionary musicians. I’ve done a lot of public installation projects that celebrate Charlotte, our neighborhoods, our people, our history…but I felt like this one afforded me some room to be a bit more provocative.

Tell me more about your design and its inspiration.

Nina Simone inspired me to think a little deeper about the concept. I had her and Joe Strummer picked out. I’m also a big John Coltrane fan; he and I have the same birthday, and I visited his birth site in Hamlet, NC, on the way to Wilmington on our birthday. Hamlet isn’t much to speak of, and Coltrane’s birth site consists of a historical placard pointing you toward a rundown commercial building two blocks away where he was born. The building is a NAACP meeting room now, and the second-floor apartment where he was born has been removed. When I visited, the only notable marking on the building was a faded sign in the back for “Coltrane’s Blue Room.” I consider John Coltrane to be revolutionary in his own way, but when I realized that both he and Nina Simone were born in North Carolina, inspiration struck. Joe Strummer got the boot (sorry Joe, I will make a Clash trash can someday I hope). I did about five minutes of research for other North Carolina musicians and it was clear what the project was going to be: Four Black North Carolina-born legends of music in front of the Neighborhood Theatre. Thelonious Monk was born in Rocky Mount, and the icing on the cake was to find out that George Clinton was born in Kannapolis. I remember at least one or two times George Clinton played at the Neighborhood Theatre in the past, too.

Did you come across any challenges in the design and installation process?

I really wanted the installation to be about Nina, John, George, and Monk and not about me as an artist. The original plan was to just put their black and white portraits up and let people uncover their significance slowly. But I don’t have George Clinton’s phone number, and the others are all deceased, and I couldn’t afford to license the original photos. I reached out to the Middle C Jazz Club in uptown and The Harvey B. Gantt museum to see if they would like to be involved in a larger commemoration, but this all unfolded in the first weeks of COVID-19, and there were no resources available. So I recreated and stylized them like an Andy Warhol-style collage and illustration, and prepped the artwork to be a silkscreen print with layered color blocking. I design a lot of posters for bands and festivals, so this fit in pretty well with my portfolio. But I decided that a digital vinyl wrap would last longest in the weather. Maybe someday I will get to silkscreen these prints and show them off in a gallery setting or something fun.

What do you think this project brings to the neighborhood?

NoDa has a wide story still needing to be told. There’s been acknowledgement of the mill workers, history, galleries, and artists, but music venues like Neighborhood Theatre, The Evening Muse, and the old Fat City Deli did a lot to open up NoDa to outsiders to come check out the creative scene here. So I wanted to celebrate the culture and power of musicians as artists.

What’s your NoDa story? How long have you lived here, what drew you to the neighborhood, etc.?

I first visited Charlotte and NoDa around 2001 on tour with a punk band I played in. We played at Fat City Deli (which, maybe I should remind people, used to be a hole-in-the-wall music venue where Protagonist is now). Honestly, I didn’t like NoDa very much at that time, but a couple years later I moved here and found a fledgling community just starting to get organized. I watched Fat City Deli crumble and be replaced with a sturdy new building, which is for the best, but also sad to know that culture and history will fade unless we find ways to talk about it. So I’m looking for ways to tell more stories through art all the time. And you know what? A couple months after I created my homage to Coltrane and crew, a giant building-sized mural was painted in Hamlet of John. I don’t know who the artist of that one is, but I’m glad there are others out there doing this work too.