Ambling around Asheville, you’ll find plenty of artistic beauty along the city streets. From a steel pergola adorning Pack Square to carefully crafted downtown fountains and fixtures to sculptures that greet visitors at the art museum, there are many displays of public art around the city. However, Jared Wheatley, a dual citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the U.S., noted that up until 2022, there was no public indigenous art in Asheville. Wheatley’s realization led to the inception of the Indigenous Walls Project, an ongoing project that supports Native American representation in public places, primarily through murals.
In April 2022, Wheatley painted the first display at 217 Coxe Avenue; along the building, simple black-and-white calligraphy shares the words Cherokee Nation in Cherokee syllabary. “My business partner and friend David Moritz said, ‘Do it yourself. Go out there and paint what you know.’ That’s when I put Cherokee Nation up on the wall,” remarked the artist. The project’s first true mural followed—a fist of solidarity painted and designed by Wheatley, his two children, Nex and Ezekiel, as well as his mother, Brenda. Their multigenerational teamwork kickstarted an interest in the intertribal project, inspiring other indigenous artists to join. “When we started the project…there was no public representation of native art. And now, we’ve brought more than 15,000 square feet of native public art to Asheville.”
One year after that first mural, Wheatley reflects on the change and progress. “We’re seeing not just individuals, but businesses and the community get behind our indigenous community in a way that nobody has seen happen in Asheville since the 80s,” Wheatley explains. Besides the additional art downtown, the project has hosted several events since its inception, and are planning for more. The Indigenous Market showcasing intertribal makers is scheduled monthly through 2023, and The Hop Ice Cream has also partnered with the project, planning to create a new custom collaborative flavor each season this year. Moving forward, Wheatley’s shooting for an Urban Native Center in Asheville, “where we can have a permanent safe space for studying indigenous ways of being, honoring our indigenous ways of being, having ceremony, and just being represented in an honorable way.”
For more information on the Indigenous Walls Project, visit indigenouswallsproject.com