Stories from Main Street: Episode 4

Art and Culture in Morganton

By Karl Galloway

Alexa Eliana Chumpitaz and Kathryn Ervin

There’s a new mural up in Morganton, North Carolina! The 13 by 58 foot piece is part of a 3-year initiative to highlight cultural and ecological diversity in the town and surrounding Burke County. The project brings together the combined efforts of the Foothills Conservancy, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and TOSS, a Morganton-based arts non-profit.

Alexa Chumpitaz and her work

The mural portrays a Latinx woman and the beautiful flora and fauna of the Catawba River, and was painted by Alexa Eliana Chumpitaz, a Latinx visual artist based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. Her specialties include painting, illustration, graphic design, and art installation. Alexa has lived all over North Carolina and left her mark in murals along the way. This piece is particularly special to her, telling the story of Morganton and its diverse community as much as it does her own. Alexa is inspired by herself and her culture and for her, one of the main goals of this project was to create something that local Morgantonians could see themselves in. Morganton’s community is very diverse, with a large Latino population; 19.1 per cent to be exact, standing out in Burke County, which has a 6.5 per cent population overall. Many of the Latino residents are Guatemalan and indigenous Maya and the cultural center Little Guatemala (where you are just as likely to hear Mayan dialect spoken in addition to Spanish) reflects the prevalence of the culture. The book Maya of Morganton tells the story of industry and immigrant labor in the town, which to a great extent defines it today. Now, local organizations like The Industrial Commons and the Carolina Textile District are building new and innovative pathways to commerce, in partnership with the Mayan and Latinx community.

TOSS is in the business of arts education and has been the local partner most involved with this mural project. Kathryn Ervin, co-founder and director of the organization, has a background in social action and collaborative art making. She co-founded TOSS in 2015 after recognizing the extreme need for arts education and integration in the rural South. TOSS currently incubates in The Industrial Commons, which further bolsters its mission of incorporating art into local economy.

Education and connection across disciplines and organizations have been integral to this project. Of the partnership, NCMA Director of Education Michelle Harrell said “NCMA is thrilled to partner with Toss Studios to support this project through educational programming for the next three years. We have worked with art teachers from Burke County Schools to brainstorm interdisciplinary resources and programs that connect the biodiversity and cultural diversity across grade levels and subjects.”

Fomenting an understanding of cultural and ecological diversity is incredibly important, particularly in rural spaces that have experienced shifts (small and large) in industry and wealth. TOSS and this partnership highlight the resources that abound in our own backyards, including that most essential ingredient for sustainable economic and social success, creativity.

Listen to the episode on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Full interview transcript here.

The official Medium account of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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