Downtown Greenway Freedom Cornerstone DedicationStaff Reports / February 3, 2023
The Downtown Greenway is pleased to invite the community to celebrate another milestone in the history of the Downtown Greenway. On Wednesday, February 8, at 4 p.m., a new major work of public art will be dedicated at the intersection of Murrow Boulevard and East Gate City Boulevard.
This new work, Ascension, by artist Radcliffe Bailey is the fourth and final cornerstone commissioned for the Downtown Greenway. The Freedom Cornerstone recognizes and honors the important role that Greensboro played in the national Civil Rights movement through the Sit-In movement that happened in the city. Ascension deals with the subject of freedom and what that means to the artist. The form of the sculpture references travel taken by Bailey and his family from the South to places throughout the East Coast by train. The Artists’ father was a railroad engineer, so trains and travel have impacted his identity both as a person and as an artist.Bailey’s own life experiences have inspired him to reflect upon the travels of those escaping slavery during the Underground Railroad and their migration towards freedom. By moving at night and using the stars as a means of mapping, those who followed the North Star were able to access paths to new lives. Three different shapes are seen in the work: first– a railroad track turned skyward, transforming itself into a ladder pointing towards ascension; second – an illuminated star; and third — the hull of a ship that has been dry-docked. These shapes recall the journeys of Bailey’s ancestors and speak to a universal journey towards freedom.
Radcliffe designed this site to add layers of meaning to the environment that surrounds his piece, Ascension. Crossing walkways are purposefully laid out in the shape of a Y and reflect the shape of a Dogon ladder, a tool common in Mali in western Africa. The Dogon people believe that the ladders, used for functional purposes, also facilitate a spirit’s ability to reach their ancestors. Several locations along the Y-shaped walkways consist of concrete sections embedded with sea shells. This is a reference to “tabby” a concrete and oyster shell material used to build slave quarters in the south.
Radcliffe Bailey is a painter, sculptor, and mixed media artist who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He brings an international reputation to the project and to the city as well as a history of telling stories of African American history and culture. His work is in the collections of many institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Weatherspooon Art Museum at UNCG, Greensboro; and many more public prestigious private collections. Radcliffe was a feature artist in the 2021 HBO documentary film Black Art: In the Absence of Light.
The Freedom Cornerstone site is located at the intersection of Murrow Boulevard and East Gate City Boulevard. The site for the Freedom Cornerstone was created in 2021 upon the completion of a more simplified intersection at Murrow Boulevard and East Gate City Boulevard. Designed to complement the Downtown Greenway’s route, this change, along with reducing the number of lanes on Murrow Blvd, reversed the 1970s era construction that was intended to be a by-pass around downtown —as well as a divide between East Greensboro and the city’s downtown. Now, the Downtown Greenway serves as a connector to all neighborhoods surrounding Greensboro’s center, including East Greensboro. This Freedom Cornerstone, with Ascension at its center, recognizes and honors the significant history of Greensboro and continues our goal of creating a more connected and vibrant city.
Project Manager, Dabney Sanders notes, “This is such an exciting time for the Downtown Greenway and our community. With three miles of the four mile loop complete, the addition of this major work of significant public art, and the plans ready for the final mile, the end of the project is in our sights. The community engagement and enthusiasm for this work has been so rewarding and we can’t wait to see it through.”
From its earliest planning stages, Downtown Greenway coordinators determined that visually appealing public art of various types and scale would be an important feature of the Greenway. Upon completion, the Greenway will wind its way through many neighborhoods, each with its own unique history and story to tell. Public art, paid for through a combination of grants, private donations, and corporate and foundation funding, are scattered along the Downtown Greenway. These art installations tell the story of these neighborhoods and the city.