UNCG Magazine

Art as action, with Phillip Marsh

“One love.” It’s a radical lyric.

Phillip Marsh grew up as hip-hop music was emerging in popular culture. But the music and Rastafarian philosophy of Bob Marley was his guiding beacon.

Phillip’s neighborhood outside Washington, DC, was a tough one. He had some run-ins with the law. “Made some choices,” as he explains. Once you have a record, it gets harder to get a job, he adds.

For him, it wasn’t police. “My problem was with the system,” again and again, he explains. Finally, a drug possession conviction put him in prison for three years.

But he found his life’s calling.

Art put him on a trajectory to express his outlook on the world, and to make his livelihood.

Now, at age 45, he is a leader. Many of the public art murals in Greensboro were organized by him. He stirs the drink, bringing international artists and local constituencies together for the common good.

“I use my talents as a businessperson to elevate others.” Plus he works for an arts program with the UNCG School of Art and the public schools.

He’s a senior in the studio art program, set to graduate in May. He knows the BFA degree will further his career.

This year’s huge societal issues make his work even more important.

Public art is for everyone, he notes. It can unite – or inspire dialogue, as opposed to much of today’s media. “Social media? It silos everyone,” he explains.

“I stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.” But he draws a distinction with the BLM organization. He stands apart.

Last summer, he led a city-sponsored arts effort to paint the street between City Center Park and the Greensboro Arts Center. It was quite literally “street art.” He proposed a message of love, of healing, of righteousness. “One Love.”

Many Spartan artists joined in on the very first street art project.

An even more attention-getting project occurred in late June. In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests on Elm Street and vandalism, many storefronts were covered with bare, protective plywood. With ArtsGreensboro sponsoring some materials, Phillip stepped up as an arts integration facilitator to help organize an effort on South Elm for artists to express themselves – to express their selves.

By Mike Harris
Photography by Martin W. Kane


Related Stories

Art as action, with Phillip Marsh

Art as action, with Phillip Marsh

“One love.” It’s a radical lyric. Phillip Marsh grew up as hip-hop music was emerging in popular culture. But the music and Rastafarian philosophy of Bob Marley was his guiding beacon. Phillip’s neighborhood outside Washington, DC, was a tough one. He had some run-ins with the law. “Made some choices,” as he explains. Once you […]

Read more

Artist Kidd Graves gives BLM art extra dimension

Artist Kidd Graves gives BLM art extra dimension

Every artist has a story. Kidd Graves ’20 arrives for the planning meeting for the large plywood storefront at Elsewhere Museum. What’s the message, the tale to tell? The artists gather round, wearing masks or social distancing. They build on their discussions from the weekend before: it’ll be the narrative of a Black girl, developing […]

Read more

Paint it loud, with Essence Foster

Paint it loud, with Essence Foster

Near the Lewis St. corner, Essence Foster has completed her work, an image of a woman created with charcoal, spray paint, and a collage of magazine clippings. Through a mask, Essence speaks with the other artists, as dusk approaches. Essence, who already holds a bachelor’s degree, is on the pre-med track at UNCG. With an […]

Read more

Nejla Harris draws from the Black experience

Nejla Harris draws from the Black experience

If you were walking on South Elm Street on June 22, you’d have seen Nejla Harris putting final touches on her art work: the faces of two Black males. “Breathe for those who don’t get a chance to.” – Londrelle “Black love, Brown pride.” – Nipsey Hussle These quotes set the tone for Nejla’s mural: […]

Read more

Policing mental health: Timely research of Dr. Jocelyn Smith Lee

THE VIOLENCE OF GEORGE FLOYD’S final moments, witnessed through social media by millions, was revelatory for many Americans. Dr. Jocelyn R. Smith Lee has been focused on the relationship between law enforcement and Black males for years. Her 2019 research article published in the Journal of Black Psychology, “That’s My Number One Fear in Life. […]

Read more

UNC Greensboro logo
Share This