October 14, 2021|By Kelsi Eccles

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

The Conservation Fund’s Parks with Purpose program takes a unique approach to community engagement in park development. Our approach focuses on inclusive development alongside communities to ensure that greenspaces address environmental challenges such as food access and flooding. We also recognize the historical significance of these communities, so we have worked with artists to incorporate community stories in the greenspaces through creative expressions.

When Aleemah Ali, our 2020 Charles Jordan intern, suggested adding art installations to the parks we’ve helped establish, community members welcomed the idea and our Parks with Purpose team gained an outlet to continue safely engaging with the community during the pandemic. Aleemah’s idea was remarkable as it addressed multiple principles of our program: beautifying park space, supporting minority owned businesses and conserving culturally significant places to enhance lives and biodiversity. Her idea was seeded in both the Lindsay Street and Kathryn Johnston Memorial Parks in Atlanta, Georgia, and blossomed at the Bailey Drive Gateway space in Raleigh, North Carolina, and we are proud of what has grown so far.

Vibrant & Inspirational Mural Celebrates Community at Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park

Sydney Washington, known professionally as SydPeaceArt, worked with us to create a mural in Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park that includes a portrait of its namesake, Kathryn Johnston. Sydney’s inspiration stemmed from ideas provided by community members and the fact that nothing in the park, at the time, paid homage to Ms. Johnston other than its name. As an Atlanta transplant originally from Newport News, VA, Sydney admitted that she was nervous to take on this project in a community that wasn’t her own, but felt supported by the English Avenue residents.

“As my first mural, I appreciate the support I received from the community and how I was able to use my skills to tell a grander story than myself. While given the opportunity to pay homage to many lost lives, I got to learn about present lives that make the neighborhood real and authentic. I am so thankful to now be an artistic voice for the people and an extension of this community.”

—Sydney Washington, SydPeace Art

Community members young and old helped get the mural painting started during Community Art Day in April 2021. Photo by Muhammad Suber.

Photo by Kelsi Eccles.

The mural reflects the community’s longstanding role in the civil rights movement. A portion of the mural appears as a bookshelf lined with works written by famous Black authors and interspersed with volumes named for the untold, unfinished stories of victims of police brutality or hate crimes in Georgia. A depiction of a young boy looking at Kathryn Johnston represents the intergenerational opportunities that this park gave to the community and reminds visitors of the importance of education to continue toward a bright future.

Capturing the Beauty of Biodiversity at Lindsay Street Park

Lindsay Street Park opened in 2015 as our first Park with Purpose. Since that time, we have remained actively involved in the development of this park and worked closely with the Moore family who stewards it. As part of a park beautification process, artist Muhammad Suber worked with Annie Moore and the Friends of Lindsay Street Park to create panels that depict wildlife once found in Proctor Creek, which flows through the park. Now the park has a backdrop that reflects native plants and the vast biodiversity residents remember seeing in the creek years ago.

Photo by Muhammad Suber.

“Through the entirety of this project, I intend to bring forth my creative vision for purposeful public art installments that replicate plant life and animals accompanying the Proctor Creek watershed’s tributaries while promoting its de-pollution through creative community engagement opportunities during the process.”

—Muhammad Suber, Artist InUs

The Reflective History Art Exhibit at Bailey Drive Gateway

Artist Tiffany Baker was selected by community members to create a temporary art installation to share the oral histories of longtime residents in Rochester Heights and Biltmore Hills, two of Raleigh’s first historically Black neighborhoods at the Bailey Drive Gateway at Walnut Creek Wetland Park. Using glass and portraits as her story-telling medium, Tiffany’s artwork was installed as part of the project’s community engagement process, establishing the future park as a place for gathering, reflection, interaction, and learning.

Tiffany Baker (left) explains her artistic process during the art reveal celebration for The Reflective History in July 2021. Photo by Corey Dodd.

“I would say that the message of this project is similar to the community. We, Black people, are beautiful and resilient. We are withstanding. We also let the light shine through us and reflect light that others have shown upon us and pass it down. It’s no coincidence that glass and the community’s past history have so many things in common.”

—Tiffany Baker, artist

We worked with the Raleigh’s Design Workshop team and Jackie Turner Consulting to gather community stories and host events that allowed community members to interact with the Bailey Drive gateway as part of this park development. Our goal was to get community members in the space and incorporate their wishes to highlight the cultural significance of this community.

Willie Taylor Hicks (center) poses in front of her portrait displayed as part of The Reflective History. Ms. Hicks is a local homeowner since 1957, retired schoolteacher and the oldest living member of five generations of the Hicks family who have all lived in Rochester Heights. Photo by Tiffany Baker.

This project is important to the neighborhood and city of Raleigh and even people who might read about it in the future. It represents a preservation and honoring of the culture and history of this particular neighborhood which was Raleigh’s first Black subdivision [post World War II].”

—Jackie Turner, Jackie Turner Consulting


Click to the links below if you’d like to see more from these artists:

ArtistInUs, Muhammad Suber: https://www.artistinus.com/  Instagram: @artist_inus

SydPeaceArt, Sydney Washington: https://www.sydpeaceart.com/ Instagram: @sydpeaceart

Tiffany Baker: https://tiffany-baker.com/ Instagram: @hiccupbk

Cultural Conservation Through Art Webinar

ART Screen Shot 2021 10 01 at 12.46.17 PMHear directly from the three artists that worked in Atlanta and Raleigh about the process and the critical importance of conserving culturally significant aspects of communities while protecting greenspaces. You can view our Cultural Conservation Through Art Webinar here: https://youtu.be/W4M5uQQ3gTY


Written By

Kelsi Eccles

At the time of publication, Kelsi Eccles was Urban Conservation Coordinator for The Conservation Fund.