By Molly Moore
On Jan. 13, approximately 70 people gathered at the library in Walnut Cove, N.C., to celebrate the kickoff of The Lilies Project, a public art initiative spearheaded by artist, activist and Stokes County native Caroline Armijo and funded by ArtPlace America’s 2017 National Creative Placemaking Fund.
Armijo, along with scientists from N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, will encapsulate coal ash in polymer to create large lily sculptures for a public art space in Walnut Cove.
The communities of Belews Creek and Walnut Cove sit near an unlined, 342-acre Duke Energy coal ash pond. Armijo is a member of the local Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup organization, which has been working with Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper, and others across the state to push Duke Energy to fully remove the toxic ash that is sitting in groundwater.
According to The Lilies Project’s website, demonstrating how coal ash can be encapsulated and reused will “promote the building of a pilot plant at Belews Creek with the goal of eliminating the burial of new production coal ash.”
The lilies theme pays tribute to Jester Hairston, a composer and performer from Belews Creek, N.C., who wrote and sang the music for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field.”
The main installation is intended to provide a place for events, plays and other gatherings. Art will also be displayed throughout southeastern Stokes County.
Armijo aims to use the process of creating this space to bring community members together and share their stories — stories about Walnut Cove in general as well as residents’ experiences with the health impacts of coal ash.
Learn more at theliliesproject.org