5 Questions with Street Artist and Downtown Girl Asher Gannon

Asher Gannon, who was recently involved in creating the End Racism Now mural in front of CAM, shares her latest
by Emily Clemente

Asher Gannon is a North Carolina native, living out her big city dreams in downtown Raleigh. When times of crisis hit in early June, Gannon decided to spread a message of love and activism to the community through art through cataloguing of plywood murals and the “End Racism Now” outside of the Contemporary Art Museum. We spoke with Gannon to talk about Raleigh, murals, street art and activism.

Tell us a little bit about your general background.

I grew up in Fuquay-Varina, a small town about thirty minutes from Raleigh. I had an okay time there (laughs), but if you ever visit, you should definitely check out Nil’s Bakery in the downtown area. That was my favorite place to eat there.

In my adult life, I worked as a contractor for the US Military for a little while, doing some work in logistics and customer service in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But eventually North Carolina was calling me home. I worked for Raleigh Denim when I first moved back as their master of ceremonies for about 5 years before moving to the Raleigh-based shampoo company, Virtue Labs. I purchased my home on the south side of downtown Raleigh, and I’ve been living here since 2010. I absolutely love it here–that strong feeling of city and community–it’s a small town girl’s dream.

Can you tell us a little bit about the plywood murals in Raleigh and your involvement?

The plywood murals in Raleigh emerged as an effort to beautify the downtown area after damage to some of the buildings. A lot of local artists came together to spread positive messages and show how beautiful Raleigh is as a place and as a people, even in times of crisis.

Myself, Sarah Yarborough and Gab Smith at CAM took on a project in the gathering and safe keeping of many of these murals. I helped in collecting and cataloging artwork to be exhibited at CAM, and sorting out what everything will look like long-term. We’re hoping to preserve a lot of these murals and keep them on display.

Whose idea was the End Racism Now street art? What was the process like in creating it?

The original idea for the End Racism Now art came from the street art created in Washington D.C. in collaboration with their local government. It gained national attention, and also caught the eye of Charman Driver– former CAM board member and also the founder of blog BY: Nest. She thought, “Why not do something like this in Raleigh?” And after contacting Mayor Baldwin of Raleigh and Gab Smith of CAM to get the appropriate approvals, the project was launched.

I was a part of the small group that helped implement it alongside community members and graphic artist Kyle Hayes. The main group consisted of Charman Driver, Frank Thompson, Victor Lytvinenko, Sarah Yarborough, and me. The creation process was incredible. We started the day at 7am with Hayes measuring the street, taping, filling in the spaces, and then we got to work. Throughout the day, we saw so many different people walking by. Some of them were leaving brunch, others were heading to Weaver Street Market, a few were just walking their dogs. And so many of them came up to us and asked, “Can I help? Can I be a part of this?” It was so awesome. We finished around 2 p.m. with the help of a lot of friends, and celebrated by listening to Beyonce’s Love on Top, all of us laughing and crying and hugging. It was great.

How have people responded to the street art?

Feedback was super positive. What was most exciting about this piece is that once we completed it, we saw it everywhere. One of my friends sent me a screenshot from his friend in Pittsburgh. He shared our photo with some friends and said, “Meet me downtown, we’re going to paint the street!” We also got people reaching out to us that we don’t even know, like one person who contacted us at 2am one day and said, “I’m so inspired, can you tell me what you did and how you did it?” It just had this cascading effect, and now we see so many others doing their own murals all over the country.

I think a lot of that had to do with Raleigh itself. While we weren’t the first people to do it, Raleigh made it feel more attainable. The D.C. street was massive, and went on for blocks. Ours felt smaller, more scalable, and helped other cities and other citizens be able to see what we did and realize that they can start their own street art projects too. You might be excited to know that the END RACISM NOW piece has been a huge inspiration to local communities. A group of citizens led by Pepe Caudillo is painting Erradica el Racismo in Davie street this week next to Artspace. Citizens from Fuquay and Smithfield are also planning street projects inspired by ours!

What can we expect next from you?

Well, next is to continue working on getting the murals catalogued, and eventually collected and brought to CAM. We want to give the artists as much recognition and agency as possible, let them have a say in what happens to their art and how it’s shown.

I’m also working on a voting initiative with local attorney Morgan Davis on how we can get local people to the polls as we get closer to election day. My goal is to inspire the people of Raleigh to see how their voices can be heard, and voting is one of the best ways to broadcast that voice.

Photo by Ashley Jane Georgia