Over the next two days, a team of power-washers will take to Charlottesville’s sidewalks. But it’s not just the dirt and grime of daily traffic they’ll be scrubbing free. It’s also the stain of a half-told history.
UVA students and staff from the Virginia Humanities watch as a stencil with a quote is placed on the sidewalk near a busy downtown bus stop, mere feet from the pedestrian mall and the federal courthouse.
The quote reads: “You can’t tiptoe towards justice.” It’s on the site where a large African-American neighborhood once stood, before the city bulldozed it, and it’s the first of ten quotes that will be power-washed throughout the city and the University of Virginia as part of an art-in-place exhibit called #UnseenCville.
A power-washer sprays a stencil that will leave behind a quote on a busy Charlottesville sidewalk for the next month. The project was funded with a grant from UVA’s Office of the Provost and the Vice Provost for the Arts. CREDIT JORDY YAGER
“One of the powerful things about this project is that we’re power washing these quotes into the landscape and so there’s that element of removing away dirt to make the truth more visible. Then there’s also representative of the fact that a lot of these histories and stories do fade with time, and eventually these power-washed stencils will fade from the landscape.”
UVA students taught by Carmenita Higginbotham and Maggie Guggenheimer selected the quotes from The Fire This Time, an essay collection inspired by James Baldwin.
“And James Baldwin’s also quoted as saying, ‘If we love each other, then it’s our responsibility to help one another see the things we can’t see.”
The quotes will last for about a month and are matched with specific sites — some call attention to gentrification, others to protest or enslavement. The project was funded with a grant from UVA’s Office of the Provost and the Vice Provost for the Arts.