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Neighborhood Works

Janna Siegel Robertson on the Forest of DREAMS’ continued impact

“Just don’t call it the field of dreams.” JANNA SIEGEL ROBERTSON says. And, she adds, don’t call the Forest of DREAMS mural project over.

Located on the Northside area near downtown, the Forest of DREAMS neighborhood art project came to life last year with the help of hundreds of volunteers designing and painting the 240-foot mural at the corner of 10th and Fanning streets.

A beatification project for DREAMS of Wilmington, a nonprofit that focuses on youth development through the arts, the mural also has helped the surrounding neighborhood. Creatures ranging in every shape, size, and color peer out from behind vibrant green foliage. Mermaids, fairies, frogs, lizards, and handprints make up a lush forest.

“The story of how it (the mural) has transformed lives is really humbling,” says Robertson, who organized sponsorships and volunteers for the effort.

Robertson, a professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Watson School of Education, also helped create “Wilmington in Color,” a coloring book to teach students about the area’s African-American historic sites, and recently earned a YWCA Women of Achievement Award along with many other notably important accolades. But, she is quick to note, that’s not what’s “important here.” What’s important, “what the media should focus on right now,” she insists, is to help everyone understand the project truly isn’t over.

Other additions include a memorial pathway, a concept brought to Robertson by Dexter James, a neighborhood fixture who worked diligently on the mural project and recently passed away. The pathway’s purpose is to honor those who once lived in the neighborhood but have passed, continuing the intent of the Legacy Tree, part of the mural that was Dexter’s idea.

And then, as Robertson jokes, there’s her specific secret (yet not so secret) plan to take over the city of Wilmington. Ultimately, Robertson would like to “streamline the permission process” when it comes to accomplishing projects in the city. Ideally, she’d like something akin to the Adopt-A-Highway system, in which different organizations could adopt different sections of the city.

“I’m very proud to be part of a project that is so much bigger than me.” Robertson says. “You don’t go into something thinking this is going to be transformational – but then it happens. It’s astronomical.

“And the entire process has even changed my outlook, too. It’s transformed me just as much.”

Instead of being an eyesore of a blank wall, the Forest of DREAMS is now a destination. And the stories are still going.

“You know,” Robertson says, “I go into project with no clue how I’m going to do things. I say yes to impossible projects. But, then I ask for help, and everyone helps me … This is certainly not my mural. It’s Northside’s mural. It’s Wilmington’s mural. It’s for everyone.”


To view more of photographer Chris Brehmer's work, go to www.chrisbrehmerphotography.com.


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