Greensboro residents and shoppers now have a new public art attraction to flock to this summer when they visit The Shops at Friendly.
On Friday, Friendly Center hosted a ribbon-cutting, along with the Greensboro Chamber, debuting the new 15’ by 7’ mural installations in the Gathering Area and Art Yard at The Shops behind Ben and Jerry’s.
Sarah Kotelnicki, Marketing Director for Friendly Center, said that initially, the shopping center was looking to jump on the brick mural trend blazing throughout the country but, after some brainstorming, decided on something a little more versatile, which is how the courtyard came to be. With the help of a local manufacturer, the panels that would hold the artwork, printed on outdoor-safe fabric, were engineered.
“Obviously, last year was a really challenging year for retail, and we needed that lightness and that joy more than ever,” Kotelnicki said.
The ribbon-cutting included free scoops of ice cream, pictures with and postcards prints of the new murals, and a chance to speak with the Greensboro artist who created them, Gina Elizabeth Franco.
The mural installation includes four art pieces, with one specifically highlighting historic moments and landmarks in Friendly Center’s history. Franco turned to social media for ideas, which is how the mural highlighting historic moments and landmarks at Friendly Center was created. She said it was important to incorporate the memories of local residents. Those memories included residents getting their first job there, the waving Santa, the trolley, and first dates.
“My work depends on community involvement, and it’s not activated unless someone comes and spends time in the space, takes pictures, and can actually interact with it. I’m a public artist. It’s all about the public,” Franco said. “People were really excited to share their memories. You could compare the different generations, and there were certain elements that were generational which is really exciting.”
Kotelnicki said it felt good hearing how many traditions were started and memories people had of Friendly Center.
“That really made us feel much more rejuvenated, motivated, inspired, and encouraged to keep doing the work during a year that was incredibly deflating for the retail industry.”
Franco said she was excited about the opportunity, having spent so much time in the shopping center herself. She spent a little more than a month doing research and said the process was fun.
“For me, it was an opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and dig in to try to figure out what elements I want to highlight in the pieces,” she said. “I think the pieces are immediately eye-catching. I love that they printed them on the outside and the inside so you can have two different experiences. You can drive past and look at them, or you can come, sit and have a more intimate experience.”
Kotelnicki said that while Friendly Center has no definite plans or schedule as to when they will update the installation, she hopes that it will reflect cultural, seasonal, and local changes in the area. She said they would be connecting with the Arts Coalition and other nonprofits thru the Chamber to reach local artists.
“That’s what art is all about, reflecting the community that you live in. We want to be fresh, modern, and be able to keep this a true living installation,” she said. “My vision is to work with other local artists and students. I think it would be a really fun opportunity to see the world and community through their eyes.”
Franco encourages other artists that get the opportunity to display their works to “have fun with it and understand what your personal connection is to the subject you’re working on and how others can connect to the art.”
“I always feel like public art is more fun and more successful when people can connect with it,” she said.
Billed as a lifestyle shopping center, Friendly Center, owned by Tennessee-based CBL Properties, features more than 120 stores anchored by big-name retailers like Belk, Macy’s, and Sears while highlighting smaller retailers such as Kendra Scott, Dry Goods, and Anthropologie.
The shopping center encourages shoppers and residents to enjoy the murals at the Friendly’s Art Yard during shopping center hours and to interact with them via photos on social media. All photos tagged with center’s hashtag, #ShopFriendlyCenter, will be entered into a monthly gift card drawing.
Franco wants residents to interact with the space and tag her in their photos, noting that she wanted the space to be accessible to everyone.
“I hope that people who didn’t know that this space existed now know. People can interact with art safety, and this encourages people to be outside and gather. It’s definitely not meant to be here, and no one interacts with it.”
Kotelnicki said that the surrounding shops and their employees enjoy the new space.
“We have over 1,500 employees that work in this shopping center and come here to enjoy lunch, after work, to enjoy dinner and just relax,” she said. “It spills right into Ben and Jerry’s, so as we kick off their summer music series in May, it will just be an enhanced attraction and a really Instagramable moment for kids and families. Hopefully, this will become a tradition for the next generation to come out, enjoy some ice cream and check out the art.