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Pop-up coffee shop, a shot of social justice
Artist lends voice as gentrification activist
Published Friday, September 22, 2017 11:23 am
by Ashley Mahoney

It’s more than a cup of coffee for Harvey B. Gantt Center Social Justice Creative in Residence Janelle Dunlap.

Dunlap’s pop up coffee shop on Sept. 23 in Belmont with Building Better Blocks acts as a double entendre as one of the first signs of gentrification is the arrival of a coffee shop. Her project stems from the Unite Charlotte grant she earned earlier this year.

“It’s an initiative to increase and reestablish trust in the community through art or humanitarian efforts,” Dunlap said. “I made a proposal for the pop up coffee shop satirizing the issue of gentrification, because often times, especially in larger cities, one of the first signs of a gentrifying neighborhood is a coffee shop. I’m doing a gentrification-themed coffee shop, and I’m partnering with two local coffee providers.”

Partnering with Comic Girl Coffee (a space designed to be inclusive for “LGBTQ, people of color and other marginalized communities”) Dunlap hopes to extend her work into broader aspects of the social justice realm as well.

“It’s a coffee shop owned by transgender women,” Dunlap said. “We’re also incorporating elements of social justice across the spectrum. Not just economic justice, but also sexual rights.”

By placing the shop in front of an empty building, Dunlap raises questions of purpose for various elements of the city.

“It’s a vacant building, which is susceptible to being bulldozed, but we hope that it can be revitalized,” she said. “We’re setting up shop as if that is a coffee shop. Part of my role as a social justice creative is to do creative place-making. The pop up coffee shop is my way of doing that—manipulating space and reimagining how spaces could be used.”

Through her work, Dunlap hopes to challenge viewers to consider the ramifications of gentrification and urban decay.

“I thought it was really important to have this be a coffee shop that features my artwork that has highlighted some of the gentrification, urban renewal and special inequality that’s currently going on in Charlotte,” she said. “It chronicles gentrifying neighborhoods such as Belmont, Cherry, Biddleville and West End, and it does a little bit of trick photography and collaging with those images to show the contrast between neighborhoods that are invested in, and neighborhoods that have been neglected due to urban decay. I’m really looking at the space, and not just the residents yet.”     

A key component to Dunlap’s work is “The Queen’s Cusp,” a community vision board which will also be featured at Festival in the Park on Sept. 24 at a Meet the Artist tent.

“I’m going to the next phase of the community vision board,” she said. “I’ll be transitioning where it is now—which is a community vision board—to more of an informational piece, and I’ll be doing that with the help of community residents. I always want people to be engaged in my art.”



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