Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Receives $50,000 Grant from Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

As a participant in the Inclusive Public Art Initiative, the College will launch a unique project aimed at highlighting stories of diversity and inclusion

The Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Foundation has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSR) as part of its Inclusive Public Art initiative. The College is one of 10 recipients in the state and the only North Carolina community college to receive a portion of $500,000 in total grant funding.

The Rowan-Cabarrus Foundation, in collaboration with the College’s Department of Fine & Applied Arts, will implement a project that centers around community engagement, storytelling, and sharing personal narratives that emphasize diversity and inclusion in the community. Faculty will work with Rowan-Cabarrus students and alumna Bailey Wingler, who will serve as the project assistant, to record community members’ stories.

The team will construct three audio-enabled benches to be located in public spaces in Rowan County. Rotating audio clips will feature individuals’ accounts of the past and present in their own voices, with the goal of increasing community collaboration and highlighting how racial, cultural and ethnic diversity makes communities stronger and more resilient.

“We are extremely honored to be chosen by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to execute this project in Rowan County,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “We believe we have come up with a creative, unique and personal way to increase community conversation around diversity, equality and inclusion. By listening to others’ stories, we come to understand and bond with one another, and what unites us as people makes us better as a community.”

Community stakeholders, including representatives from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Rowan County Public Library, the City of Salisbury, the Rowan County Public Art Committee, Salisbury Pride, Hood Theological Seminary and Livingstone College have collaborated to identify potential participants and stories.

“We want to encourage people to sit down and listen to, rather than look at,” said Jenn Selby, director of philanthropy, transfer and the arts at Rowan-Cabarrus. “We tend to think ‘diversity’ refers to how people look, but it is far deeper than that.”

The storytelling audio benches will be located on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus, at the main branch of the Rowan Public Library, and at the historic African-American Dixonville Cemetery. The benches will feature a large, S-curved steel design with ample seating on each side. Audio narratives will play through an embedded sound system, and inspirational words and quotes from individual stories will be inscribed on each bench.

The project will allow for participation through high schools, colleges, libraries, churches and cultural organizations, with opportunities for people to share their own stories and sign up for future recording sessions, creating the potential for ongoing engagement and growth.

Inclusive Public Art is the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s investment in the idea that art can open the door to community conversations that result in a fuller understanding of our common history and bonds as North Carolinians.

“ZSR is looking forward to partnering with communities across the state as they showcase contributions and achievements of North Carolinians, especially women and people of color, whose story in a particular part of the state has not been or is not often told,” said Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, assistant director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

ZSR has launched a microsite to share information about all of the Inclusive Public Art sites across the state. The microsite will follow the progression of each community’s project. In addition, UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina will work with ZSR to capture and document the projects as they unfold.

For more information about art and design at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, or for specific questions about how to get involved in the project, please visit www.rccc.edu/finearts or contact Jenn Selby (jenn.selby@rccc.edu or 704-798-5241). For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, please visit www.rccc.edu or call 704-216-RCCC (7222). For more information about the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, please visit www.zsr.org.

Opening its doors in 1963, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is one of 58 colleges in the state-supported North Carolina Community College System. Rowan-Cabarrus is a comprehensive, community-focused institution of higher learning, serving the residents of Rowan and Cabarrus counties at multiple campus locations and through on-line programs. Rowan-Cabarrus offers fully-accredited associate degree programs in more than 30 areas of study, including arts and sciences, business, information technology, health and public services, engineering technologies, and biotechnology, as well as dozens of diplomas and certifications. Rowan-Cabarrus provides more than 2,000 course offerings, serving a yearly overall enrollment of more than 20,000 students. In addition, Rowan-Cabarrus provides the education and job-training programs needed to meet many of the workforce demands of the North Carolina Research Campus being developed in Kannapolis.