Uptown Charlotte Public Art Walking Tour
Are you an art lover? Charlotte is a great city to visit to find all kinds of different forms of art. From visiting “Museum Corner” in Uptown Charlotte to seeing the Mint Museum, the Bechtler, the Harvey Gantt Center, and more to visiting newer arts districts like Goodyear Arts in Camp North End. Charlotte really does have a lot to see for art lovers. One of our favorite things to check out is public art. It’s free to see, easy to access, and a lot of fun to enjoy!
Charlotte is a city that has put a large focus on public art recently and we absolutely love that about our city. They believe so much in public art that in 2003 the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners and the Charlotte City Council adopted ordinances that appropriate 1 percent of eligible capital improvement project funds for public art.
You can find public art throughout every corner and neighborhood of Charlotte from NoDa (the arts district) to Plaza Midwood, to South End, and even further. However, one very unique aspect of Charlotte is that Uptown Charlotte is very walkable. (What is Uptown Charlotte? That’s what we call our downtown, read why here.) Tryon is the main street in Uptown Charlotte that runs through the center of the city and it’s only about 1 mile from one end to the other. It’s very easy to see a lot of the city quickly by walking because of this!
Since it’s so easy to see so much of Uptown Charlotte quickly, we wanted to give visitors an Uptown Charlotte Public Art Walking Tour to do when they visit (or if you are a native, to enjoy again!). If you need a visual map, see the bottom of the post for a rough outline. We tried to pick the easiest pieces that are our favorites to access throughout Uptown in an easy-to-walk loop. So if we missed a piece you love, comment & let us know. We will go explore it!
We will start our walking tour in First Ward Park, which as you can tell by its name is the first of the four wards in Uptown Charlotte (you can read the history of those here). First Ward is a great starting point for any tour of Uptown Charlotte as it’s right on the edge of town off the 277 loop and typically has a lot of street parking. If you can’t find a spot, as it’s a busy day, head into the 7th street parking deck right above 7th Street Market for an easy starting point.
Stop 1: Ainsa III
Located: UNCC Center City Campus, adjacent to First Ward Park
This sculpture was a gift to the city by a group called the Queens Table Project. It is by artist Jaume Plensa and is a 12-foot tall statue. “Ainsa III” is comprised of die-cut, fabricated stainless steel letterforms, deriving from, among others, the Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Cyrillic, and Hindi alphabets. The subject is a young woman, poised serenely atop a stone base quarried from the town of Ainsa in the Spanish Pyrenees, a place the artist often visits.
You will then walk through First Ward Park to the next stop, so enjoy this beautiful urban park on your way! It has one of the best views of the Charlotte skyline.
Stop 2: Quill Pen and the Writer’s Desk
Located: ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center
This jumble of sculptures is aptly located right outside the children’s library, ImaginOn. It’s both a public art piece and a neat area for children to play. It is by artist Larry Kirkland and tribute to former Charlotte Observer publisher Rolfe Neill. It’s a collection of keys and stamps with the headline art piece a bronze quill pen atop a pile of books.
Head down 7th street to the corner of Brevard Street for the next stop.
Stop 3: Treloar House
Located: Corner of Brevard & 7th
This building is a bit of an enigma in itself. It’s striking because there aren’t really any houses in Uptown Charlotte and it looks odd beside all the new & shiny buildings. So what is it? It was a duplex built by William Treloar in 1887, who was a gold miner. It is the only row house left in uptown, though many used to stand in the First Ward Neighborhood. Since then it has been many things throughout its history but since 1980 has been vacant. So how is it public art? A project was started called “The Wall Poems” to write poetry on buildings. This poem is called “Bus Stop” by Donald Justice and was painted by Scott Nurkin of The Mural Shop.
Head across the parking lot down Brevard to the next stop, you should be able to see it already!
Stop 4: Awake
Located: Brooklyn Nightclub
This mural is by one of our favorite artists Nick Napoletano and is located at Brooklyn NightClub. The owner loved Nick Napoletano and was so lucky to have the city commission one for his building. We couldn’t find a story behind this one but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
After you finish here, head around to the other side of Spectrum Center (Hornet’s Arena) for the next piece. It’s in a parking lot!
Stop 5: Innervision
Located: Innvervisions, across from Spectrum Center
In the parking lot beside the Spectrum Center is a gorgeous mural by Douglas “Hoxxoh” Hoekzema. Hoxxoh attempts to show us a different way of viewing time through a means of exploring its natural fabric. “The oscillation of the pendulum paints time through gravity’s natural pull. Expressing how we can be pulled in one direction when we are really meant to be going in another. How resistance creates a struggle and a false sense of control. Where if we follow the natural flow of times predetermined, yet unseen path, an experience of beauty and pure form will take shape.”
Head across the street to the Spectrum Center for the next pieces of art!
Stop 6: Flying Shuttles
Located: Spectrum Center
Stop 7: Queen City Mural
Located: The Local Bar, 5th Street
In front of The Local Bar is the Queen City Mural by Matt Hooker and Matt Moore It’s a neat mural because it includes so many elements important to Charlotte from the Panthers to the Queen Charlotte Crown.
Head up to Tryon & turn left to head toward the main city square of Trade & Tryon for the next few pieces.
Stop 8: Il Grande Disco
Located: Corner of Trade & Tryon
The Il Grande Disco is one of the older pieces of public art in Charlotte, NC. It was created in 1974 by contemporary Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro. There are actually 5 more of the Il Grand Disco throughout the world: the University of Chicago, on the Piazza Filippo Meda, in Milan, Italy, at the Theatro Strehler in Milan, at the Donald Kendall Sculpture Gardens at PepsiCo Headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., and at the monument for Georg Büchner in Darmstadt, Germany. The plaque on the art piece from the artist explains it best: “‘Our life today is one of crisis…of movement…of tension. We do not know what our world will become. I try to say something about this uncertainty in my work. I try to communicate a sense of vitality and connection with the movement of life today…and to be a part of its movement. The social challenge of art today, in my opinion, is to start a dialogue with the people. I hope that is what happens here with the Grande Disco.”
You won’t have to head far for the next pieces just look around the intersection of Trade & Tryon where you are.
Stop 9: Four Corners Statues
Located: 4 Corners of Trade & Tryon
These grand statues weigh 5,000 lbs each so they are hard to miss when you are in Charlotte. They also happen to sit at the main intersection in the city. They were placed here in 1995 by artist Raymond Kaskey. The Future, Commerce, Transportation, and Industry are figurative representations that link the city’s past, present, and future. These sculptures have a lot of symbolism in each of them, you can read all about them here if you love details like we do!
Just across the street from Il Grande Disco is the beautiful Uptown Clock, you should spot it quickly!
Stop 10: The Rousso Clock
Located: Corner of Trade & Tryon
The gorgeous Uptown Clock sits in Thomas Polk Park, which is a beautiful place in itself with a waterfall. This beautiful clock was custom made and installed in 1998 to replace a temporary clock one of our friends, Jim VanOrsdel, had loaned the city until a permanent clock could be found or made. Jim actually helped us restore a clock in Gastonia, NC we helped to bring home. He helped spearhead the project to bring Charlotte a permanent beauty.
Head down Trade Street a couple of blocks to the next stop!
Stop 11: Zygos
Located: Corner of Trade & Poplar
This beautiful piece was one we actually missed for a while, but it’s definitely worth venturing to check out! Plus it’s right near the stunning new Grand Bohemian Hotel in uptown. It’s by artist Sally Rogers. “Symbolically, that piece literally refers to the growth and development of Charlotte through cooperative efforts of various groups,” Rogers said. “I think that’s one of the reasons Charlotte has been so successful — is it has a lot of really engaged groups of citizenry that are very eager to make their city better and promote their city. Zygos, the Greek word, the interconnectedness refers to that.”
Head down Poplar street until you see Romare Bearden Park.
Stop 12: Spiral Odessey
Located: Romare Bearden Park
Spiral Odessey is one of the newest pieces in Uptown Charlotte. It was unveiled in 2017 by artist Richard Hunt. Romare Bearden Park is dedicated and named after a famous African-American artist who was born in Charlotte, NC. Both Richard Hunt and Romare Bearden were the first African-American artists to have solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art, both in 1971. These two artists were contemporaries of each other, so it was the perfect choice for the sculpture. In a statement, the artist said, “The ‘Odyssey’ in the title refers to Romare Bearden’s series of works that took Homer’s epic poem as a point of inspiration and departure. ‘Odyssey’ is also a way to refer to Bearden’s personal journey alone and with others, his peers, his artistic offspring, and his world of admirers.
Head down Mint Street to Bank of America Stadium for the next piece.
Stop 13: Panther’s Statues
Located: Bank of America Stadium
When Bank of America Stadium (then Ericsson Stadium) was constructed as the home of the Carolina Panthers in 1996, there were six larger-than-life Panther statues installed at each entrance. Todd Andrews was the sculptor chosen for the project. He said “There was a competition with over 100 sculptures from all over the world. One of the owners (of the Panthers) saw one of my sculptures and encouraged me to enter the competition. So I went in, and on the airplane, I carved a little panther out of wax,” said Andrews. “It was on my dime, so if nothing happened I was out all the money I had spent on the plane ticket, hotels, and rental cars. But I figured it was worth the effort.”
We are a little partial to this piece because we are major Panthers fans. Also, Heather’s family were one of the original PSL owners so her name actually is on one of the statues at the North Entrance. It’s neat to be a part of the art pieces!
Head up 1st street for the next piece. Once you see the orange building you have made it!
Stop 14: Firebird
Located: Bechtler Museum
The formal name for this statue is Firebird, but if you are from Charlotte you know it more fondly as “Disco Chicken”. It sits in front of the Bechtler Museum, which is quite a piece of art in itself. It was installed in 2009 by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. This beautiful piece is over 17 feet tall and covered with over 7,500 pieces of mirrored and colored glass. Andreas Bechtler purchased it in 1991 where it toured for a time before its permanent home was created in front of his museum. Why Disco Chicken? Well, the arch kind of looks like flared pants and has quite the resemblance to a disco ball. The statue does have to be repaired several times annually. The museum’s curator replaces broken tiles by hand, cutting each one to fit perfectly in the old spot.
Head directly across the street to the park you see for the next pieces.
Stop 15: The Green Literary Art
Located: The Green
If you walk through The Green you will definitely see a theme in all the works: Literature. There are giant stacked bronze books at the end of the park and you will see many classic pieces from Roots to Wuthering Heights by artist Jim Gallucci. Artist Jim Green created a sound art installation called Rythym Walk that features sounds triggered by motion sensors in the walkways.
The signpost, “Charlotte – The Center of the Known World,” created by Gary Sweeney is a centerpiece that points to mileage and direction themed in a literary way. Plus there were signs placed throughout the park which use the names of cities to create the names of famous authors.
The giant fish sculptures created by artist Carolyn Braaksma might not be literary-themed but they sure are fun in the summer as a children’s splash pad.
Now head back to Tryon to start finishing our loop back to First Ward Park.
Stop 16: Wells Fargo Plaza Fountain
Located: Wells Fargo Plaza
This fountain in Wells Fargo Plaza makes you want to jump in like you are a kid again. The life-size children’s statues are so fun playing throughout the fountain. This piece is by sculptor Dennis Smith.
Keep heading down Tryon almost the whole way back until you get to a beautiful old church that is now Spirit Square.
Stop 17: Strange Fruit
Located: Spirit Square
Many of the murals uptown were the results of the Talking Walls project. This piece by local artist Dammit Wesley spells out the word Strange Fruit. It is in reference to an Abel Meeropol song that was made famous by Billie Holiday and is about the lynching of African-Americans. Below the words “Strange Fruit” is eerily painted “Exciting Times,” comparing the time in which “Strange Fruit” was written to the social and political issues of today. The artist said “We need to not only be maintaining but documenting this history. The best and most beautiful way to do that is through art.”
Now that we have wrapped up this loop head down 7th Street to get back to your car at First Ward Park!
We hope you enjoyed the loop around Uptown to see some of our favorite public art pieces. Also if you need a visual guide of the loop you are taking here is a map to guide you! The light blue is the first half of the loop and the dark blue is the way to get back to your car at the beginning.
There is so much public art to explore in Charlotte from murals to sculptures to art museums. Are you looking for more spots to check out? Start with some of our other blog posts here: