WILSON — From a Syrian refugee waiting patiently in Lebanon to couples dancing on a boardwalk to travelers boarding a bus in the 1940s, main streets all over the world tell their own story in variety of ways serving as a cultural junction for the crossing of conversation and history.
“There is an element of a main street in every city around the world whether it’s Michigan Avenue in Chicago or a dirt road in Africa. Main Streets are a crossroads of culture. They provide social orientation of the human spirit,” said Jerome De Perlinghi.
De Perlinghi is the artistic director behind “Eyes on Main Street,” an outdoor photography festival in historic downtown Wilson that aims to transform the storefronts in a display of the visual arts through photographs depicting main streets from around the globe.
“The goal of the festival is to bring people inside the city center of Wilson from other parts of the state and country,” said De Perlinghi.
“In the 1940s, people were walking down the street elbow to elbow,” he added. “It’s not the same now. The foot traffic has slowed, and we need to bring life back to our city.”
Opening April 8 and running through July 16, the streets in Historic Downtown Wilson will feature 100 photographs by 100 photographers from 31 countries. Notable artists include documentary and award-winning photographers Olivia Arthur of Great Britain, Linda Bournane-Engelberth of Norway, John Feely of Australia, and Eugene Richards of the United States.
The first “Eyes on Main Street” festival was held in 2015 in a unique attempt to revive the downtown area of the city and to provide a new array of expressing and experiencing art. The attraction of residents and tourists and positive response has brought the festival back again.
De Perlinghi, artistic director of “Eyes on Main Street” and a world photographer himself, oversees the fundraising, cultivation, and exhibition of the project.
From Brussels, Belgium, he moved to the United States in 2000, spending 11 years working in Chicago before finding his was to Eastern North Carolina.
De Perlinghi began his photography career in the late 1980s working for “Liberation", a daily newspaper in Paris, France. As a freelance photographer, he traveled the world capturing the candid details of natives in their home countries.
“This festival has become a really sought after event in the photography world,” said De Perlinghi. “We even pay of our photographers $200 for their participation, and I’m really proud of that.”
De Perlinghi said the festival itself is an $80,000 project with funding provided by the Wilson Visitor’s Center as well as company and private donors and includes the donated printing costs.
“The exhibit of photographs is a nice addition to storefront windows in downtown Wilson, and the event is scheduled during a beautiful time of the year,” said Sandra Homes, executive director of the Wilson Visitors Center.
“We encourage visitors to partake in the Historic Downtown Walking Tour, leaving from the Wilson Visitors Center and including the exhibit,” she added.
“Wilson needs more people on Nash Street (the main street of downtown). The more people we bring, the more we can grow,” said De Perlinghi. “Through an exhibit in downtown, we are creating an interest in the buildings in hopes of inspiring future business owners to start a coffee shop or boutique.”
De Perlinghi uses the photography festival not only as a means of encouraging growth in downtown, but also as a way of educating attendees on the craft and invoking a response to the 6-by-6 feet images that cover the storefront windows.
“When you see the photographs, you’ll be drawn inside the print to dream of the world being captured on film,” said De Perlinghi.
To add to the education and experience, QR codes are attached to each print. One can use their iPhone to scan and learn more about the artist behind the print and to see more photographs relating to the subject matter presented.
“We are using art to bring an entire community together,” added De Perlinghi.
“Eyes on Main Street” is free and open to the public with numerous community events and lecture. throughout the run of the exhibit. More information can be found at eyesonmainstreetwilson.com.