Celebrating the Placemaking Program's Fifth Anniversary: Dyair

Published on May 30, 2024

mural depicting illustration of woman's flowing locks, with a queen holding a crown

Spring 2024 is the five-year anniversary of the Urban Design Center’s Placemaking Grant Program and Creative Pool

For five years, the UDC has been helping to transform Charlotte into a more vibrant city by providing opportunities to local artists; encouraging applications to the grant program; funding projects that preserve the identity and character of the city; and emphasizing the public good that comes from placemaking projects.

Chances are, you’ve experienced a project that was brought to life because of the Placemaking Program, from the signal cabinet wraps along Beatties Ford Road to the famed Rita’s Mural at Five Points Plaza to the living pillars in the Historic West End.

The impacts of the Placemaking Program fill the Queen City. To celebrate the five years of hard work and transformation that have taken place, we wanted to hear from a local creative who has been involved: Jamil Dyair Steele, a visual artist and educator.

*Answers edited for clarity.

Can you tell me about yourself?

My name is Jamil Dyair Steele (Dyair), and I am a visual artist based in Charlotte. My creative journey is deeply rooted in my experiences at West Charlotte Senior High School and further refined through my education at UNC Charlotte and Winthrop University. My artistic work focuses on minority narratives and the vitality of youth, expressed through portraiture, murals and illustrations. Known affectionately as Mr. Steele by my students, I am also a National Board-certified teacher who brings a passionate approach to education.

How did you hear about the Placemaking Pool Program?

My involvement with the Placemaking Program began in 2017 when it was known as the Paint the Pavement Program. This program has significantly expanded my artistic opportunities over the years, allowing me to make a substantial impact on the community. A pivotal moment came when a parent of one of my students applied for a grant that enabled my 5th grade class and I to create a street mural at the corner of Anne and Cheryl streets in Plaza Midwood. This mural served both as a pedestrian crossing and a visual reminder for motorists to drive cautiously.

The following year, I continued my engagement with the city-sponsored grant by painting three sidewalk murals along Montford Drive in south Charlotte. These murals, rendered in a Pop Art style, were designed to capture the retro aesthetic of the neighborhood. Upon the successful completion of this project, I was invited to join the Placemaking Artist pool, which opened up even more opportunities for me to contribute to public art projects.

Dyair art

In 2021, I was selected through the Placemaking Program to design a mural for the I-77 and W. Trade Street underpass retaining wall in Charlotte’s Historic West End. This 180-foot mural chronicles the rich history of this predominantly African American corridor, presenting a visual timeline of influential figures and landmarks such as Julius Chambers, Dorothy Counts, Johnson C. Smith University, Good Samaritan Hospital, and the Excelsior Club. The mural's design starts with the figures of a boy and girl, from whom a massive wave of color emanates, carrying the viewer's eye along the wall. Dogwood flowers and cardinals, symbols of North Carolina, are interspersed throughout to connect the local legacy to the broader history of the state.

In 2023, I answered a call for artists issued by the Placemaking Program and was selected to create 11 commemorative markers for the West Boulevard corridor of Charlotte. Each marker highlights a historical figure or monument from the area. Additionally, Curtis King and I were chosen to create a mural on the underpass pillars of I-77 and West Boulevard, a project slated for completion this summer.

How has the Placemaking Program opened up opportunities for you as an artist or changed the outcome of your career?

Through the Placemaking Program, I have been able to transform public spaces while honoring and celebrating the rich cultural history of Charlotte's communities. These opportunities have not only showcased my artistic talents but also reinforced my commitment to engaging and uplifting the community through art.

Dyair art

Do you have any upcoming projects with the Placemaking Program?

This summer, I will collaborate with artist Curtis King on a transformative public art project, commissioned by the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, as part of the City of Charlotte's Placemaking Grant Program. Our work will focus on the underpass pillars of I-77 and West Boulevard in Charlotte's Historic West End, aiming to create a powerful visual metaphor for investing in the next generation.

My contribution involves painting 16 diverse children gazing up at giant, towering bean stalks that will appear to grow up the entire length of the underpass pillars. Each child will be depicted holding a sprouting plant, symbolizing the importance of nurturing our youth. Curtis King will complement this with intricate African-inspired motifs painted onto each arch of the 16 pillars, adding cultural depth and vibrancy to the installation.

Additionally, I have designed 11 commemorative markers to honor notable figures and historic monuments within the 19 neighborhoods represented by the West Boulevard Coalition. These markers will be strategically placed along West Boulevard, serving as both educational tools and sources of community pride.

Together, these elements will create a cohesive and inspiring visual narrative, celebrating the past, present, and future of the West End community.