Wilson Artsy Alleys: Creatively Connecting the Community

May 15, 2018 | Main Spotlight | Wilson Artsy Alleys: Creatively Connecting the Community | 

As part of the Edward Jones Placemaking on Main Challenge, Historic Downtown Wilson creatively connected the community —  one artsy alley at a time. Ellen Hoj of Main Street Wilson shares more about the project that transformed their alleys into fun passages and destinations.

Historic Downtown Wilson is home to several alleys, which, like many in Main Streets, are underutilized public spaces. Wilson Artsy Alleys is an initiative of the Wilson Downtown Development Corporation which takes the arts to new locations in forgotten places. In various areas of the downtown, these alleys link the community together, from the newly developed Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, to cultural attractions, to the shops and restaurants, to the parking lots servicing all those amenities. In addition to physically connecting parking to sidewalks in a safe manner, these alleys provide pedestrians with opportunities to enjoy art while navigating Historic Downtown Wilson. 

Completed Alleys and Partnerships

Vaudeville: Performing Arts and Ironwork 

Thanks to fundraising efforts beginning in 2015, the Wilson Downtown Development Design Committee completed the first alley next to the Edna Boykin Cultural Center, a vaudeville theater built in the 1920s. With funding from a small grant from ElectriCities, the city and volunteers installed security and decorative lighting, rebuilt and repainted an existing park bench, and purchased and installed landscaping. The highlight was the installation of ironwork art manufactured by local artist, Jimmy Sink. The alley was named Vaudeville: Performing Arts and Ironwork to recognize its historic connection to the theater. 


With one project completed, the challenge moving forward was securing funding for the rest of the Artsy Alley plans throughout the downtown. We were ecstatic when we were accepted as one of the 10 Main Street America communities nationwide to participate in the Edward Jones Placemaking on Main Challenge, which provided much needed momentum. Today, we have completed three alleys, with the fourth alley underway!

Tobacco Road: Painted Heritage Mural Alley

To engage the community in this work, we formed a partnership with Sallie B. Howard School and held a competition to select a student team to design and complete a mural on Tobacco Road. These students are from diverse backgrounds representing many cultures. During the blistering heat, a dedicated team of art students from sixth through eighth grades completed the large mural representing Wilson’s agricultural history. One side of the mural was completed in the fall of 2017 by the art students. If funded, the 30-foot mural effort could be continued on the other side of the alley.


Tin Pin Alley: Musical Theme

This once dimly-lit alley is filled with tremendous ceramic tile artwork that is decades-old, and the acoustics in the tunnel offer a unique opportunity for the musical theme. The city has committed to provide LED lighting, update the trash containers, and power wash the entire space. Wilson’s first outdoor public piano was brought in and painted to engage people and bring joy to the space. This particular alley also provides ample space in a cooler, covered environment for seating. 


Hackney Wagon Way: Mosaic and Painted Boarded up Windows

Nestled between City Hall and the Nash Street Lofts, Hackney Wagon Way is a perfect location for the next Artsy Alley overhaul. Steeped in local history, this block was home to the world-famous Hackney Wagon Company where they manufactured tobacco wagons in the late 1800s. Existing mosaic work and painted designs on closed-in windows provide a great starting point for future artistic interpretations of this passageway. In addition to art, the landscaping is sparse but provides ample places for gathering. Providing seating, small events spaces and art can be incorporated here.


The Wilson Artsy Alley project filled our city with vibrant places of all sizes and settings and has encouraged our neighbors to recover and activate Wilson’s lost spaces. 

About the Author:

Ellen Hoj is the Senior Urban Designer for the Wilson Planning and Community Revitalization Department. She has been dedicated to the Artsy Alley Project by creating partnerships and applying for grants.