Fort Mill Times

Art intimidation? Not in Fort Mill with Charlotte artist's public strokes.

Artist Sharon Dowell discusses one of her paintings, titled "They Never Saw the Ocean," at Gallery@LOOM where her exhibit runs through mid-September.
Artist Sharon Dowell discusses one of her paintings, titled "They Never Saw the Ocean," at Gallery@LOOM where her exhibit runs through mid-September.

As cyclists, pedestrians and light rail passengers travel in and out of Charlotte’s bustling city center, they see painted murals under the Interstate-277 overpass – one of the many works of public art by Charlotte painter Sharon Dowell.

Now through mid-September, Fort Mill residents can view a collection of Dowell’s paintings at Gallery@LOOM located downtown at 120 Academy Street.

Her recent commissions include three CATS Transit projects for Charlotte: the I-277 and 11th Street underpass murals, signal house art and art for the 25th Street light rail station, as well as murals for UNC Charlotte, the cities of Rock Hill and Concord and bus shelter art for Durham.

She said the CATS Transit projects were her largest art endeavors, in scale, budget and time – requiring eight years to complete. But they were also some of her most rewarding works of public art.

“I want to use my art to do more than just sell in a gallery, which is fine I do that, too, but it’s nice to be able to try to make change or help people,” Dowell said. “A lot of my work is about reflecting a place, capturing its energy. And I really enjoy working with the community.”

She also believes public art subconsciously removes the intimidation factor of art because it becomes a part of a person’s daily life. Prior to becoming a full-time artist, she worked in galleries and often overheard visitors saying they didn’t know anything about art.

“I’d tell them it’s OK, you don’t have to know anything about art,” Dowell said. “Then I’d walk around the gallery with them and ask them to tell me what they liked. Then I told them about the artist or the artist’s process.”

Removing the art intimidation factor is also a goal of Jen Belk, owner and programming coordinator of LOOM – a coworking, gallery and event space. This multi-functional environment is a home base for independent and remote workers that provides a professional image, keeps overhead low and increases productivity and networking.

With a background in corporate interiors, Belk understands the physical environment can help or hinder these goals. So she exhibits a rotating backdrop of local contemporary art to keep the office fresh and inspiring.

“We also love how the workspace gives the members a way to appreciate and really contemplate the art,” Belk said. “When we change out the exhibits the members always comment about how they miss the work and how, because they get to see it daily, their understanding of the pieces evolves, something many have never experienced.”

LOOM will hold an art reception for Dowell’s exhibit  7 - 9 p.m. on August 11.  Dowell will be there to discuss her work with anyone interested. Children’s art activities will take place next door and refreshments will be provided.

The reception is planned in collaboration with a Main Street block party from early afternoon through evening that same day. This is a free community event hosted by Hobo's and Amor Artis.

Main Street will be closed off and pedestrian friendly. So far, the block party will include four food trucks, two bands, two beer/wine trailers and a dunk tank. Downtown merchants and venues with be open with specials and activities to the community. An earlier block party is planned for July 14.

“Ultimately, our goal is the professional and personal success of not only our members but of the greater Fort Mill community,” Belk said. “We are so pleased that the gallery space and the studio have become a hub of activity and interest and has hopefully contributed to the cultural and economic boom of our amazing and historic downtown area.”

For more info about the Main Street block party, visit Main Street Fort Mill’s Facebook page. For more information about Dowell, visit

Stephanie Jadrnicek: