This article was written for our sponsor, Gig East.

Art is quite literally at the heart of Wilson.

At the center of Historic Downtown Wilson is the one-of-a-kind Whirligig Park, an art park filled with massive kinetic whirligig sculptures created by the late Vollis Simpson. The two-acre park features 30 whirligigs created by Simpson and acts as a hub for tourism and activity across the City of Wilson.

In creating the Gig East Exchange, the city wanted to intentionally build on the already strong arts scene in the town. In order to do so, they enlisted the help of local artists to custom-make decor, signage and more for the Gig East building.

For the interior, Jeff Bell, the arts innovation coordinator and director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum enlisted the help of Durham artist and Duke University art professor Bill Fick.

“I came over with Jeff, and I looked at the space, he told me what they had in mind. Basically, they came to the idea of using local imagery that showed the history of Wilson with a specific focus on businesses. So Jeff talked to some of the folks he works with and gathered up some historical images,” said Fick. “Initially the idea was to screen print directly on the walls, but some of the walls aren’t totally flat, so I ended up putting on a wallpaper-type material, then adhering that to the wall. I got to learn a little bit about the history of Wilson, and Jeff got some really wonderful images for me to use.”

Included in the screen-printed images are portraits, important landmarks and miscellaneous local businesses that have all had a role in Wilson’s past and present. From start to finish, it took Fick around two months to complete the project. In total, he used around a dozen pieces and incorporated repetition to fill the space.

“On the walls of the Exchange, my idea was to take an image and repeat it, sort of like wallpaper,” said Fick. “I wanted to replicate a grid and bring in the concepts of telecommunications and technology — showing this idea of moving data being transmitted.”

Fick isn’t the only artist that was enlisted to help with the Gig East Exchange building. Design Dimension Inc. already had connections in Wilson after creating signage for the Whirligig Park, and as a longtime, city-wide partner, the design firm was again tasked in creating signage for the Exchange.

“We came up with the idea of trying to find a way to brand the space, especially downstairs, as a backdrop for community meetings. We have a very collaborative design process, working with the client and giving feedback. In this case, we talked a little bit about their visions for Gig East, which really focused on sharing that community outreach, the technology and the innovative networking,” said Betsy Peters Roscoe, a Wilson native and president and lead designer at Design Dimension. “We wanted to portray that, but also connect it to other things in the gigabit city. We came up with a couple scaled renderings, and then made a selection from there, making sure the design was cohesive with the rest of the building.”

The final product features the Gig East logo layered on top of a circuit board-style background. Between the work from Design Dimension and Fick, Gig East has become an artistic monument to the past and future of Wilson.

“They could have said they were just going to paint this different colors, but they thought about it. They said, ‘Hey, let’s do something a little beyond that.’ Anytime an artist has an opportunity to do a big project like this, it’s very exciting, and it’s great that they’re thinking this way instead of just finding artwork online,” said Fick. “It brings a rich environment to the space by tying into things that people are going to connect with, especially people from Wilson.”

“There were some really other interesting pieces that they’re including there, like a long table that’s connected to the wall, done by a local business there, that embeds tobacco leaves into the surface,” said Fick. “Not only are these pieces beautiful, but they also speak to the history of the area.”

While the Exchange hasn’t been able to open to its full potential due to the pandemic, both Fick and Peters Roscoe are excited to see how the art lends itself to the co-working space inside.

“They did a great job architecturally highlighting the nature of the building and keeping it open for that community emphasis, and the art pieces inside bring some of that story to life. It’s setting the tone of the space, showing other local entrepreneurs over dozens and dozens of years to hopefully inspire that next generation,” said Peters Roscoe. “It’s really awesome that they stay pretty much local with the folks who came and gave them some creative freedom. It definitely sets the tone, and it’s fostering a connection between different businesses in this startup environment.”

“The community leaders in the city have done a good job using arts and culture as a driving factor in the growth and rebirth of the city, which has been really nice,” finished Peters Roscoe. “Seeing things like this, murals outside, and even the Whirligig Park just a short walk away — it’s really cool to bring all of those parts and pieces together.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Gig East.