Hooman Ghashghaei displays resilience, embraces Iranian roots in life in US

By Emery Summey

On the other side of a Zoom call sits Hooman (Troy) Ghashghaei, a neurobiology professor, former college soccer player and the father of my gymnastics teammate. Looking at his life today, few would guess the hardship and turmoil Ghashghaei endured to get to where he is now.

Ghashghaei grew up in Tehran, Iran, during the Iranian Revolution, which lasted from 1978 to 1979, and he permanently moved to the U.S. 36 years ago, where he created a successful life for himself, his wife, Mette, and their daughter, Tina.

Childhood defined by two cultures

Ghashghaei’s earliest memory is his family’s travels between Iran and the U.S. before the Iranian Revolution started. Ghashghaei’s grandmother lived with them and would take care of him while his parents worked and attended school. His mother worked in a burn unit in Iran as the head nurse, and his father was finishing his Ph.D. in Boston, Massachusetts. Growing up as an immigrant and balancing American and Iranian culture was a challenge, but Ghashghaei said he thrived in the U.S.

During the time his family traveled back and forth between Iran and the U.S., Ghashghaei was in primary school, and he noted the stark differences between the two countries’ school systems. He attended a Montessori school in the U.S. and noted that it was laid-back compared to his private religious school in Iran. The Montessori school allowed for considerable freedom during lessons and playtime, but at his Iranian school, the staff were strict about what students wore, how they walked, and how they learned. Ghashghaei also remembers that the level of math and science work he was assigned at his Iranian school was far more advanced than what American children were studying.

This was the largest difference that Ghashghaei noticed between the U.S. and his home country. He also recalls how every day for about a year in Iran, he and his classmates would be forced to line up outside and told to stand completely still. As the students struggled to stay still, the sharp “BANG” of a gunshot would cut through the morning air, and if any students broke formation or flinched, they were forced to stand there even longer.

Finding refuge from revolution

In Iran, Ghashghaei’s family did their best to hide the conflict from him and his brothers, and he said he didn’t feel the effects of the Iranian Revolution until a few years after the following Iran-Iraq War occurred. Ghashghaei felt privileged to live in Tehran since it was not at the forefront of the revolution, and the war between Iran and Iraq mostly occurred far from his home on the border between the two countries.

However, despite his physical distance from the conflict, he and his family were not completely safe. As a nurse, Ghashghaei’s mother treated victims of the war, and she developed severe mental health problems due to the traumatic cases she encountered. Ghashghaei, with fear in his voice, also recalls the family members who were kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned and executed after a civil war broke out and the Iranian government sought to push “Western-minded and progressive” citizens out of the country.

Meanwhile, a young Ghashghaei found soccer as a way to escape from this grim reality around him. Ghashghaei recalls watching the 1978 World Cup, which was the first time the Iranian soccer team had qualified to play. After watching his country play in the World Cup, Ghashghaei was inspired to pick up soccer as his new passion, and he started practicing every day.

Challenge and triumph in new country

In 1982, Ghashghaei’s parents decided to leave Iran and permanently settle in the U.S. They lived in several different states, including Massachusetts, Texas and Connecticut.

When Ghashghaei and his family first moved to the U.S., he was afraid of embracing his culture because of the backlash he endured for being Muslim. He was subjected to hate crimes and racist comments from Americans and said he felt ashamed to be who he was.

“I never felt like I fit in with my neighbors or peers in school. I was an outcast and it hurt to feel excluded for something out of my control,” Ghashghaei said.

While trying to hide his identity, he lost touch with his Irian roots and culture. Now, as a father, Ghashghaei seeks to carry on his family’s Iranian traditions. Ghashghaei’s family celebrates Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, with traditional food, clothing and music, and he taught his daughter Farsi, the official language of Iran, at a young age. He is now proud of his roots and his ability to embrace both Iranian and American cultures.

A difficult decision Ghashghaei faced in the U.S. was where he wanted to go to college. He was offered scholarships to play college soccer in the south, but he wanted to stay up north so he could be close to his family. Ghashghaei ultimately attended Boston University, where he was a walk-on for the soccer team. He was overjoyed to have gotten everything he wished for in a college experience.

However, Ghashghaei’s sophomore year brought a devastating turn of events when he tore his ACL and was not able to return to the soccer field. During this time, his grades and his motivation to continue his studies dropped. Once he was able to come to terms with the end of his soccer career, however, he decided to continue his education and get a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Ghashghaei found his new passion working in a lab and conducting research on the brain.

After graduating with his Ph.D., Ghashghaei completed his postdoctoral research at UNC-Chapel Hill. From there, he once again had to decide between staying and working in the south or moving back up north. This time, he chose to stay in the south, where he has lived ever since and now works at N.C. State University researching and teaching biology and neuroscience. There, he works alongside his wife, who is a math professor.

Ghashghaei has been back to Iran twice since moving to the U.S. In 2004, he went by himself to visit his parents, who had moved back to Iran in the early 2000s while he and his brothers attended college, and he visited again in 2008.

Since then, there has been devastating turmoil in the country, and Ghashghaei and his family haven’t been able to return, and they believe that they never will. While he may be unable to visit Iran again, Ghashghaei has built a life for himself in the U.S. that proudly embraces his Iranian roots.

Edited by Caroline Bowers

Folklore or falsehood? Gimghoul Castle remains a haunting legend at UNC

By Charity Cohen


According to popular legend, in 1833, at what is now the location of Gimghoul Castle, two UNC students stood ten paces from one another, waiting anxiously with pistols in hand. Filled with fear, but motivated by love, with hearts racing, palms sweating, and shallow breathing, they prepared for their pistols to be drawn at midnight.

Following a heated exchange earlier that day between Peter Dromgoole and another male student who has never been identified, it was decided that the two would meet in an open field at the eastern edge of UNC’s campus to duel for the love of Miss Fanny, a well-admired woman in the town.

It is said that both students were excellent marksmen, but this proved to be less true for Dromgoole, who was said to be fatally shot in the duel, and died on a large rock nearby that is rumored to still be stained with his blood.

The tragic story of this ill-fated love triangle is one that has been told throughout the town of Chapel Hill for generations — except apparently, none of it actually happened.

 It’s true that Dromgoole was a student at UNC, and he did mysteriously disappear around the time of the duel; however, not much can be confirmed about the duel’s existence. In fact, some have argued the folk story was based on a duel fought by Dromgoole’s uncle, George C. Dromgoole, years after in 1837.

 Liz Howard, a former UNC student, said she has always been puzzled by the uncertain nature of this legend. Each retelling of it made it even more difficult for her to discern what really happened that night.

 “I read that the spirit of whoever died in that duel still lives in that castle, but some say that no one actually died,” she said. “No one seems to be able to prove anything.”

 This legend hasn’t proved to be completely useless though, as it inspired the founding of the Order of Gimghoul, a historically white secret society for male upperclassmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

According to a digital exhibit from the university, the Order was founded in 1889 by Robert Worth Bingham, Shepard Bryan, William W. Davies, Edward Wray Martin, and Andrew Henry Patterson — all undergraduate students at the university at the time. Membership was eventually extended to faculty members, and is now said to be comprised of students, faculty and alumni.

 Veronica Kirk, a first-year student at UNC, became obsessed with The Order’s mysterious history while she was researching interesting attractions at UNC.

To Kirk’s surprise, her search pointed her in the direction of Gimghoul Castle, which was built by the Order in 1915 after they purchased 94 acres of land to keep the land from development and to build a sacred meeting place.

 Housed at the end of the road of a quiet suburban neighborhood, the castle holds whispered stories of local lore, of a fatal love triangle and memories of a secret society. As the road leading to Gimghoul Castle transitions from pavement to dirt, the atmosphere shifts from warm and comforting to cold and sinister. It’s as if the curtain of reality lifts, allowing entry into the fantastical world of the members of the Order.

The castle is closed off for entry, but can be visited and viewed from the dirt road that it is situated on.

Kirk said when she and her mother visited the castle, they felt the castle’s heavy, eerie presence. For Kirk, part of this strange feeling comes from the looming presence of the Order’s members on the university’s campus.

“I know in some of the research I did, they talked about various people who UNC buildings are named after that might have been involved,” she said. “I feel like it’s a weird, kind of eerie presence on campus that does create some level of discomfort.”

Between the years of 1895 and 1946, members of The Order of Gimghoul would insert coded messages into the university’s official yearbook, along with images of the Gimghoul emblem, which features a grinning ghoul wrapped around a column holding the “Mystic Key” and the “Cross of Gimghoul.” The Gimghoul ghoul is depicted with a moon to the left of its head and seven stars to the right of it.

After their last recorded message in the university 1946 yearbook, the Order’s communication with the world beyond the castle’s walls was limited. 

Yet within the past few years, instances of their continuance have been seen. A fairly recent account of a sighting of members of The Order marching to the cemetery on Halloween sporting black hoods accompanied by a photo of this sighting can be found on the internet.

This is something that Kirk found to be disturbing.

“They say that sometimes the Order marches through the cemetery to the castle on Halloween with candles and in hoods,” she said. “Thinking of them marching around in black hoods and candles at night is scary.”

Alexis Jamison and Mykēl Yancey, two seniors at UNC, caught wind of this sighting and decided to see if they could see this ritual happening live. They visited Gimghoul Castle on the night of Halloween, but said they never saw any hooded figures entering the castle.

“It felt very spooky because it was Halloween,” Jamison said. “The thought of seeing people marching in hoods also gave me KKK vibes.”

Yancey said the castle seemed out of place and secluded. That alone was unnerving for him.

“I felt uneasy and terrified because it was a medieval castle in the middle of Chapel Hill,” he paused. “In the United States.”

The current status of The Order’s activity is unknown, offering another level of mystery to their history and status — but there’s little doubt that the Order is still around.

A zoning and development application visible on the Town of Chapel Hill’s website said the Order celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2014 and planned to commemorate the milestone with renovations to the castle and the property.

Beyond this record from 2014, there isn’t much to be known of the Order’s current whereabouts, or the capacity in which they operate — as to be expected from a secret society founded on the premise of a folklore legend.

Edited by Brian Rosenzweig

Remember your heritage (apples)

By Sarah Gray Barr


About a week past his 80th birthday, Tom Brown of Clemmons, North Carolina, plans another trip to find lost apples. He rises early, putting the sun to shame, and comes home late. He crosses many states in a day in pursuit of these forgotten fruits.


The type of apples Brown looks for are not the common Red Delicious, Granny Smith, or Honeycrisp. No, he looks for heritage apples, the type of apples that served the palate of grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. The apples of the founding fathers and the first Americans.


Greasy Skin, Stump the World, and Rusty Gabe may not sound as appetizing as Lady Washington, Carolina Beauty or Golden Harvest, but all are equal apples of the eye to these fruit fanatics.


“I just want to get these apples back into circulation. It’s important to preserve our agricultural heritage, and these apples don’t live a long time. I might see a tree on one trip, and it’s gone by the next,” Brown said.


For over two decades, Brown has hunted for these Appalachian apples that have potentially been lost to time. Once a research engineer, Brown spends his retirement days organizing visits to fruit festivals and apple adventures. When he is not crossing the Virginias and Carolinas, Brown works on his orchard, which boasts hundreds of heritage apples.


Apple hunting is a word-of-mouth business. Many of Brown’s contacts are older, the remaining population who remember the days when families bragged about these heirloom apples. For them, the apples provide a source of food for the stomach and pride for the heart.


To date, Brown has discovered over 1,200 types of apples thought to be extinct, fighting bugs and blights that seek to kill these trees.


“The time to find them is running out,” Brown said.

 Keeping their memory alive

UNC-Chapel Hill senior Erin Owens reaps the fruits of these heritage trees. She cannot remember a time when these rare apples were not a part of her life. About 20 years ago, her family purchased property in Avery County, North Carolina. The property itself is wooded, but toward the back lies a secret meadow, forgotten in the past.


Blackberry brambles stand guard around the meadow. A little creek protects the acreage from the side. The land bears a crumbling homestead, abandoned by its former residents.


But the meadow’s boon is the scattered apple trees that brandish Erin Owens’ favorite sorts of apples. An American Russet, Yellow Winesap, Lowry, and a Mammoth Black Twig grow in the meadow, each tree several hundred years old.


“We have to keep these apples alive, their memory alive. They are the heart of America,” Owens said.

  Lost in time, or are they?

The Avery County Extension Service helped the Owens family identify these apples and graft them. One apple that was unidentifiable is both green and red and covered with spots. Owens dubbed the mysterious fruit the “Sweet Creek” apple after its flavor and proximity to the creek on the property. She said it was crisp, sweet, and a little tart and reminded her of the creek. A box of Sweet Creek, Lowry and American Russet apples made its way to her home in Chapel Hill after Fall Break.


The Owens family opted to have the trees grafted and new trees planted in front of their house. Doug Hundley, former agricultural extension agent and apple enthusiast, helped to both identify and graft the apples. He said that grafting is the best way to make sure that these apples live on for future generations.


“Old antique heirloom apples were just as good or better than commercial, but have been lost to the test of time. That’s why we have to save what we have left,” Hundley said.


Grafting takes the scion of an original plant and binds it to another plant stock within the same genus, allowing for apples that would otherwise die out to be recreated. The days of Johnny Appleseed have long since ended.


In the past, seedlings were used to create more apple trees, but apples are cross-pollinators, which means that cross-bred apples could potentially be weaker. Within the heritage apple community, mother apple trees are essential because they provide the necessary scions to reproduce the trees.


The Southern Heritage Apple Orchard at Horne Creek Farm holds 850 trees of 425 varieties of heritage apples. Horne Creek Farm works to recreate the lives of the Hauser family in the early 20th century. In 1989, a restoration project took place to restore the former Hauser family farm to its early 1900s appearance, including replanting the former apple orchard, which at the time ironically held only a pear tree.


Through the work of Lee Calhoun, a southern apple expert, Horne Creek was able to restore the Hauser family orchard and also create the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard. Through Calhoun’s donation, the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard is home to the last trees of nearly 200 heritage varieties.


“Once you lose an apple, you can’t just get it back,” Lisa Turney, the site manager for Horne Creek, said.

The “backbone” of Appalachia

Historically, American families in the 1800s and beyond kept apple trees that ripened at different times of the year. It was a constant food source that could feed large families. Apples could be eaten, turned into cider, or used as animal feed. The versatile fruit was the backbone and cash crop of southern agriculture. Apples ripen within a two-week period. Depending on the variety, heritage apples ripen as early as July and as late as November and can last through the winter.


When other crops failed, apples fed Appalachia.


“It’s not just about apples, it’s about the family stories behind them,” Turney said.


Today, commercial apples grace grocery store shelves. Gala, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith are the most popular choices. These apples cover acres of North Carolina. But these commercial apples are threatened by the same challenges that heritage apples face.


Kenny Barnwell is a seventh-generation apple farmer on one side of his family, and eighth on the other. Except for college, there has never been a time when Barnwell has lived without an apple tree 50 yards away. He knows apples. And he knows that in Henderson Country, the threats to his commercial apples are fire blight, microclimates, and urban encroachment.


One cold frost at the wrong time can kill an entire apple crop, and there were two bad frosts this past April. Barnwell has taken to spreading his trees across Henderson County. Heritage apples do not have this luxury. It only takes one bad frost, one rezoning order, one tree being cut down, to lose an entire heritage apple variety forever.


In 1905, there were at least 14,000 varieties of apples grown by Americans. Now, a grocery store is exceptional if it has more than 10 options.


To the apple enthusiasts and experts, losing the heritage varieties is losing pieces of history forever. But with enough dedication and enough time, these heritage fruits may be restored to their former glory.


How about them apples?

 Edited by Izzy D’Alo

The amazing ability of Bree Reed’s four-legged best friend

By Jordan Holloway

For someone like Bree Reed, getting behind the wheel becomes a danger to herself and others if she is impaired. But her impairment isn’t the type most people would think of.

Reed was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on May 23, 2013, a few weeks after her thirteenth birthday. Every day Reed must check her blood sugar and remember to take an insulin bolus whenever she eats. Unfortunately, over the past few years, Reed lost the ability to sense when her sugar levels fell. Low sugar levels could lead to hypoglycemia, a dangerous condition to be in while driving.

One morning, Reed was driving to her high school, unaware that her blood sugar was extremely low. As she approached the road to her school, Reed began to swerve. She started to lose consciousness behind the wheel and nearly struck a tree. Thankfully, she was unharmed.

“I was extremely thankful I was OK, and I didn’t hit or injure anyone else,” Reed said. “But this incident really put into perspective that I needed something that would prevent these dangerous lows from happening, and myself not knowing it.”

She spoke with her doctors, but they did not have much to offer in terms of prevention. They recommended adjusting her carb to insulin ratio, and the insulin basal rates she received throughout the day.

“At the time, I had all the recommended tools to help me combat this disease,” she said. “I had an insulin pump. I had a CGM (continuous glucose monitor). I had updated settings in my pump which my physicians provided.”

Reed thought she was doing everything she could to keep herself safe and healthy. Until she learned about a new furry therapy.


The assistance of man’s best friend.

For years, dogs were trained and used as assistance animals for people with disabilities. Examples include guide dogs for the blind, and psychiatric dogs for veterans with PTSD. Today, dogs are trained to assist diabetic individuals thanks to their great sense of smell, which allows them to detect high and low blood sugars.

Reed received a gift from her aunt in Nov. 2019, a 1-year-old Australian Cobberdog, named Bodhi. After learning about the amazing assistance that dogs could provide for people with diabetes, Reed wanted to train Bodhi to be her Diabetic Alert Dog.

“Because of all of my concerns about losing the ability to feel my blood sugars dropping and just learning about the ability dogs had to smell fluctuating glucose levels, I thought receiving Bodhi was kind of ironic and an opportunity I needed to jump on, especially as I moved away from home to come to Carolina,” she said.

Bodhi began his training that same year, and finished his training in Aug. 2020. When he came to live with Reed full time, Reed felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Bodhi gave Reed a sense of security and allowed her to spend more time focusing on things she enjoyed, without having to worry about her blood sugar levels.

“Living with this disease for eight years, I now have a better understanding of how my body works, and what I need to do on any given day to make sure I am at my best and having Bodhi by my side each day helps to make that even more possible,” Reed said.


A dog brings comfort

Bodhi not only serves as a lifeline for Reed, he also provides a feeling of reassurance for Reed’s parents, Scott and Stacey Reed.

“Knowing that no matter if Bree is in class, at her apartment or out with friends, Bodhi is by her side, ready to alert her if the need arises,” Scott said. “That gives me a sense of comfort, like no other, when she is hours away from home.”

“The first night that Bodhi stayed with her, I think was the first time that I actually got a full night’s sleep,” Stacey added. “It gives me a great sense of comfort knowing that something is watching out for her. He’s also just super cute, so that is also comforting.”

For Scott and Stacey, fretting about their daughter 24/7 for the past 8 years has become the norm. They are constantly worried about Reed not knowing her glucose levels are dropping or that an accident similar to the high school one could occur again. However, Bodhi is able to detect the change in levels fifteen minutes before her CGM is able to.

“It is crazy to think that this dog is able to outsmart and outwork a piece of technology,” Scott stated. “But it is not crazy when he belongs to our daughter. It truly is life changing and an added piece of comfort for us as her family.”


Teamwork makes the dream work.

Reed graduated from UNC in Dec. 2020, and is currently getting her master’s in social work at UNC Charlotte.

Jessica Martin, a friend and classmate of Reed, met her and Bodhi on the first day of class, and was amazed by the life-saving assistance that Bodhi provided. Martin believes that Bodhi is a blessing for Reed as he helps her live life to the fullest while protecting her.

“Whether seeing them in class or walking around on campus, it just puts a smile on my face knowing that even though Bree has a life-threatening disease, she is able to live a semi-normal life because of the great teamwork that her and Bodhi have,” Martin said.

Edited by Peitra Knight

A bonding experience for any gamer: the UNC Rocket League Club is growing

By Eric Weir

When Alex Ho arrived on campus as a freshman in 2018, he believed he was done playing his favorite video game, Rocket League, competitively.

It’s not that Ho was unable to play, or was not good at playing – Ho is a highly ranked competitive Rocket League player and was the highest ranked player in the club when he joined in 2018.

Ho believed no one would be as passionate about Rocket League, but to him, it was more than a game.

To others, Rocket League was a strange video game that loosely combined soccer with gravity-defying, rocket powered cars straight out of a “Mad Max” movie.

‘Hey, let’s grab dinner’

When he arrived to campus in 2018, Ho was surprised when he found a small group of people within the Esports Club that liked Rocket League. There were about four seniors and one junior in the initial group.

After a couple weeks of only online play and interaction, Ho wanted to meet them in person.

“Hey, let’s grab dinner,” Ho said.

The club happily agreed and they had their first “Rocket League dinner” together at Chase Dining Hall. It has since become a special tradition.

In spring of 2020, Hall plopped down next to other club members at the Ms. Mong Restaurant on Franklin Street. He kept his head down and said, “Hey guys,” with a defeated tone.

“I feel terrible about this chemistry exam I just took,” Hall said.

“Which class was it,” his teammate asked. “I’ve taken that class, it’s hard, but you’ll be fine.”

Hall says its moments like these where he understands why the number of members has grown so much since his Freshman year.

‘Welcoming community’

The UNC Rocket League Club has grown at a fast rate over the past couple years and its leaders have created a culture of inclusivity that has exploded into one of the fastest growing clubs at Chapel Hill.

In 2019, the club had around 100 members and two competitive teams. In 2021, the members had more than doubled with around 260 members and four competitive teams.

One reason for the jump in membership comes from a competition held between club members in 2020. Suddenly, juniors and seniors were hearing about the club for the first time. Players who casually enjoyed the game but were hesitant to join signed up.

Junior Henry Hall said the welcoming community made a big difference for new members.

“Rocket League is a game where you can play with anybody no matter how good they are,” Hall said. “Like casually and have a good time.”

Similar problems 

Ricardo Tieghi came to UNC this year with similar problems as Ho. He was an avid Rocket League player, but had no one to play with back home in Brazil and expected nothing different in college.

Weeks before heading to Chapel Hill for his freshman year, Tieghi discovered the Rocket League Club through the Esports page on the Heel Life website and happily joined.

The day he arrived, before he had a chance to admire his new room, he made his way to the gaming arena for a welcome back tournament. Problems arose when Tieghi’s teammate did not show up

“Oh my god, I shouldn’t have even come,” Tieghi said.

After contacting Ho and another administrator, they quickly found Tieghi a new teammate.

“We had never seen each other before,” Tieghi said. “We had never played together before, but we went into this competitive tournament playing against the best players here at UNC and we managed to do well which was amazing,”

Tieghi said the club has given him a sense of belonging on campus especially early on in the semester this year.

‘A big factor’

The club’s leadership has been a big factor in the club’s image. For the past four years the leaders have been David Gallub and Ho.

Gallub was one of the founders of the Rocket League Club and he set a standard for being inclusive and kind to one another.

“He was always there to calm you down if you’re feeling doubtful,” Hall said. “He’ll give you some confidence.”

Even though he graduated in 2019, Gallub is still willing to look at members’ resumés and offer advice.

After 2019, Gallub passed the torch too Ho to continue growing the club.

“From the moment I met Alex I instantly realized he was someone very approachable,” Tieghi said. “He’s kind and caring. He makes you feel welcome and makes everyone feel good when you’re playing.”

Rocket League may only be a game but the way the game has brought together a group of people in Chapel Hill has transformed it into something much more.

What was once an exclusive group of avid players has blossomed into a large community spreading laughter and friendship.

Edited by: Anna Blount/Austin Bean

The Meantime Coffee Co.: A glance into UNC’s student-run café

By Ellie Heffernan

 At 6:30 a.m. the Chapel Hill sky is far from Tar Heel blue. The sun still hasn’t risen, and the clouds cast a dirty shade of lilac. Most students will not be awake for hours. The unlucky minority with 8 a.m. lectures will try their hardest to roll out of bed at 7:45 a.m., sprint across campus and somehow still arrive on time.

Alyson Cabeza is already riding her cherry-colored moped to the Campus Y. That way, she will arrive on time for her 7 a.m. opening shift as a barista at the Meantime Coffee Co., UNC-Chapel Hill’s nonprofit, student-run coffee shop.

Open for business

If you arrive exactly when the Meantime opens, hoping to witness the first morning rush, you’ll be disappointed. It already happened. The coffee shop technically doesn’t open until 8 a.m., but Cabeza and her co-worker, Ryan Weston, have already served multiple early worms who arrived as they were setting up. 

Handling pressure is second nature to UNC students like Weston and Cabeza. In one way or another, they are experts at jumping through the hoops of the campus rat race. They run from job, to second job, to third job and finally to the library. But they do it so effortlessly that when asked to describe them, your mind initially jumps to words like “lowkey,” “chill” and “down-to-earth” – as opposed to hard-working.

Maybe this is why the Meantime maintains a cult following among students. Why shop here when dozens of other coffee shops in the area sell coffee from Carrboro Coffee Roasters and baked goods from Durham’s Ninth Street Bakery? Maybe the Meantime’s customers are also buying an idea, a goal to work toward.

For students, by students

 They purchase their coffee from student baristas who work hard, play hard and make it look easy. These baristas are the kind of students you wish you could be and maybe already are, although you probably forget it most of the time. That little voice in your head is too busy distracting you, making you feel as though you are the pile of finely ground beans in the Meantime’s pressurized espresso machine. Despite the internships, part-time jobs, extracurricular clubs, and 16 credit hours’ worth of classes, you’re afraid it won’t be enough to win.

 This feeling is familiar to most UNC students, including Cabeza. She typically works at the Campus Y seven hours weekly, which she says is pretty manageable with her school work. She also has a second job working roughly 10 hours weekly in the Global Office at the Campus Y, and she used to have a third job working at the UNC Student Stores.

Weston works at the Meantime about 10 hours weekly and has class today until 6:00 p.m. When asked how many classes he has, he responds modestly.

“That I’m going to?”

He is scheduled to attend four, whether or not he makes it to all of them is another story.

Juggling work at the Meantime with other commitments can be challenging. When the clock nears noon, Weston says the job itself can also get stressful; especially if you are stationed at the espresso machine while an exponentially growing line of people waits for their coffee.

Most customers are patient, but many of them do not realize that espresso-based drinks, such as lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and mochas, take much longer to make than drip coffee.

For this reason, the Meantime created a giant flowchart explaining the differences between various coffees and teas.  

The flowchart and other signage sprinkled around the coffee shop creates a homespun, yet hip atmosphere. Like many UNC students, the Meantime evokes a sense of carefully constructed effortlessness.

Not like your other beans

When the shop opened, just over five years ago, “The Meantime Coffee Co.” was painted straight onto the Campus Y’s wall using two different fonts. The shop itself is little more than the necessary machines and beans. The only furniture to be found are two wooden serving bars. Along with the wall, they form the Meantime’s small boundaries.

 The Meantime’s baristas exude dogged, independent youth. On a certain level, they do not care what you think about them. This is hinted at by Weston’s choice to sport a bright, flowery apron with little regard for society’s rigid, gender-based rules regarding dress.

 A willingness to challenge the status quo is not surprising for a coffee shop run completely by students. The Meantime’s current CEO, Alaina Plauche, is a UNC senior. Like Cabeza and Weston, she is firing on all cylinders. She has had six internships since starting her undergraduate degree – seven if you include a position as a research assistant.  One of these internships was with the U.S. House of Representatives.

Like the baristas that serve them, the Meantime’s customers engage in hustles of their own. They slink down the Campus Y’s stairs, as the aging wooden floors elicit shrieks in response to their every footstep. They’re already heading to class, coffee in hand, although the Meantime still has not technically opened.

Close to opening time, the Campus Y remains relatively quiet. A few customers shuffle in, but UNC’s campus is largely devoid of human noise. Leaves crunch and birds chirp as nature reclaims the earth. Until campus groundworkers switch on the leaf blowers and Weston bangs the used coffee grounds out of the espresso machine.

 Minus the vrooming and clanging, the Meantime maintains a peaceful atmosphere. Some indie folk song that you can’t quite make out plays in the background. A customer cheerily promises to return tomorrow when her favorite pastry is back in stock.

Coffee that cares

The Meantime’s baristas seem to actually care if you have a good day. Weston says he feels genuine joy when he can provide customers with their morning fix of caffeine. Most customers respond to this gift with kindness – minus the one “coffee connoisseur” who mansplained how to make espressos, says Cabeza.

 For $15 an hour,  plus a free cup of coffee on the shift, a gig like this is worth the difficulties a student might face getting out of bed so early. Most on-campus jobs pay less than $9 an hour.

When asked what they like best about working at the Meantime, Cabeza and Weston don’t initially mention money. The relationships they form with their customers and coworkers are their favorite part of the job.

It’s clear that the Meantime’s staff are good friends outside of work. The wall is dotted with polaroid pictures of baristas hanging out and the entire staff is going on a camping trip this coming weekend. Cabeza says she still doesn’t know where they’re going, and she doesn’t think management knows either.

Friendship is also extended to customers, who like the baristas – and their beans – are constantly on the grind. This is most clear when an older woman sprints in, her hands wrung in prayer, basically shouting as if these students were gods.

 “You guys are lifesavers! LIFESAVERS!” she says, beginning to ramble.

 She had no idea there was a coffee shop here and after the morning she has had, facing bumper to bumper traffic amid construction on Raleigh Road, she needs caffeine. Now.

Cabeza and Weston smile, listen and get to work on making her drink. They get it. After all, they have places to go, too.

Edited by Jake Jeffries and Natalie Huschle


UNC tours now include more campus history, minority student resources

By Lindsey Banks

When Hunter Edkins gives tours of UNC-Chapel Hill, he shares some of his favorite traditions, but there are some stories he has to leave out. He doesn’t mention the hundreds of naked students running through Davis Library around the first day of finals, the burning couches in the middle of Franklin Street after a UNC basketball victory over Duke University, or students arguing with Gary, the anti-abortion “Pit Preacher” who sits in the middle of campus with a big, red “stop sinning” sign.

But that makes sense. There are some experiences students need to discover on their own once they get to campus. However, when Hunter first joined the Admissions Ambassadors program as a tour guide last year, there were more important things he left out of his tours. During his training to be a guide, he wasn’t taught the University’s history or the resources available to minority students.

New stops for campus tours

This semester, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions made some major changes to the Admissions Ambassadors program. The most significant change: a new tour route, including two new stops to incorporate the missing information.

The first new stop is at a brick walkway called “The Gift,” an art installation outside the Student Union on campus. The walkway was designed by American Indian artist Senora Lynch and incorporates elements of American Indian storytelling. At this stop, ambassadors share that the university was built by enslaved people on stolen American Indian land in the late 1700s. They also highlight the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program on campus.

“It’s something that in the first couple of tours was an adjustment period of becoming comfortable discussing it,” Hunter said.  

The second new stop is at the Stone Center. This building is named after Dr. Sonja Haynes Stone, a prominent Black faculty member on campus in the 1970s and 80s. She was named Woman of the Year by the NAACP and was the primary advocate for the African and African American Diaspora curriculum at UNC.

This information is important to acknowledge on the tour, but Hunter feels these stops do not flow well with the stops before and after, which discuss student life, academics and Carolina traditions.

“It feels a little disjointed because the tone goes from super passionate, super excited to something a little more solemn to then back to that right after,” Hunter said.

Helping minority students find a community

Lydia Mansfield, a new ambassador, has a personal connection with the sentiments behind “The Gift.” She’s a member of the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, North Carolina and the historian for the Carolina Indian Circle at UNC. A few weeks ago, professors of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program told students they would be leaving at the end of the year because they do not feel supported by the university. Because of this, the AIIS program is likely to end.

“The Gift” tour stop is dedicated to sharing information about this program, so Lydia hopes the focus of this stop will shift to the resources and organizations that offer minority students a community on campus. It’s something she wishes she had heard more of when she toured as a senior in high school.

When Lydia first arrived on campus back in August, she didn’t feel welcome. It wasn’t until Isaac Bell, a member of the Admissions Office and a fellow Lumbee Tribe member, told her about the Carolina Indian Circle that she found her community. She worries that the lack of outreach to American Indian students will turn prospective students away from UNC.

In her tours, instead of focusing on the negative experiences, Lydia focuses on how the American Indian students on campus today are working toward creating more spots for American Indian students in the future.

The challenges of being an ambassador

Hunter has a similar approach to tours. He separates his feelings toward administration from his personal experience as a student on campus. Instead of commenting on the mismanagement of the mental health crisis this semester, he shares his favorite memories with prospective students and gives advice on navigating the sea of over 19,000 undergraduates.

In training, ambassadors are taught to lean into their storytelling abilities while weaving in important facts about UNC. For example, when mentioning UNC has over 800 student organizations, ambassadors share the clubs they are involved in.

It’s no secret that students and professors do not always agree with the decisions of the university. Within the last year, ex-ambassador Gabriela Duncan disagreed with how the administration handled the COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, the revocation of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure and the mental health crisis after multiple suicides on campus.

“Representing the university kind of conflicts with my values in a way,” Gabriela said. “A lot of the work that I do outside of school regards how UNC is funding the climate crisis, and I probably wouldn’t even be able to talk about this [on tours] because then if I’m talking about how UNC is funding the climate crisis, why would people want to go here?”

During training, Gabriela was asked a practice question: What is your least favorite thing about UNC? Her response: It isn’t as sustainable as it should be. “UNC greenwashes,” she said. An executive ambassador advised against sharing that and offered up her answer as an alternative Gabriela could use: “There’s just too much to do on campus.”

“I was like, ‘No.’ That’s not right to me,” Gabriela said. “Don’t have your negative be a positive thing.”

Gabriela also said that she didn’t feel valued as an ambassador. However, the Admissions Office has made another significant change to combat that feeling, which Hunter was also experiencing. 

Ambassadors are now employees of the university and receive an hourly wage. Before this year, tours were given on a volunteer basis. But because ambassadors are now paid, the Admissions Office had to cut numbers from about 120 to about 65. All previous ambassadors had to reapply to the program. Gabriela felt uninspired to reapply, so she decided not to.

As for Hunter, he was excited to get back out there and have a hand in helping students discover a home at UNC. Lydia shares this excitement, especially about leading a tour for a group of American Indian students on Nov. 20. She hopes to be a resource for them that she didn’t have coming into Carolina.  

Edited by Sara Raja


Paranormal Carolinas: Stories of unexplained encounters

By Claire Perry

Devil’s Tramping Ground Road may scare some, but Tamara Dowd Owens was not afraid as her Honda traversed its dirt that sunny afternoon.

The road is named for her destination: the Devil’s Tramping Ground, a circle of land outside of Pittsboro where nothing will grow, rumored to be the home of Satan himself. 

But Tamara has been driving that road since before the swaths of tourists and reporters, back when it was named Dowd Road for the century of ancestors that have lived in its stead. When she reached the tramping grounds that day, she tied up her hair with a blonde hair tie and told her middle son, Jackson, to get out of the car. It was time to pick up trash. 

The beer cans and chip bags that litter the tramping grounds are covered in a thin dust, salty — so salty that scientists think it is the cause of the circle’s antipathy to the parasitic kudzu that surrounds it.

Today, there are no goat sacrifices sitting in the circle’s center. The trees surrounding the barren glen are not covered in spray-painted pentagrams; no Ouija Boards litter the ground. Today, there is only a hornet.

She warns Jackson.

“Honey, be careful.”

Tamara takes his hand, and meanders away from the circle out to the paths in the surrounding forest. She remembers walking these paths as a girl, getting lost in their spiraling curls until the time was as matted as the briars.

Even now, she refuses to go to the Tramping Grounds at night. She never forgot the warnings of her father, the custodian of the grounds until his death in 2015. He had heard stories of coyote visits, whispers of an ancient native burial ground amplified by the arrowheads he found.

Today, though, there are no coyotes to be found. There is only a hornet, seemingly trailing the pair, stuck on them like one of the path’s stray briars.

She was at the circle a week before, shadowing a group of paranormal investigators. Tamara always watched the people the site attracted from a distance, but that time, she stuck around. She watched the investigators communicate with whatever lived in the circle—or more likely, died — from a paranormal communicator.

“Is anything there?” 


She drove home pretty soon after.

Tamara believes in things unknown, but can’t decide if they are bad or good, lost or found. She doesn’t know what spirits haunt that circle. She does, however, know what haunts the circle today, resting on her car’s rear view mirror until she turns onto Devil’s Tramping Ground Road — a single hornet.

Just a dream 

Barry Landrum struggled to maneuver his hands, pushing in vain against a feather-stuffed Sisyphean boulder that was slowly smothering him. 

Landrum woke up to his pillow in his lap.

He was staying in The Inn at Merridun, an antebellum-era bed-and-breakfast in Union, South Carolina, while covering the infamous 1994 Susan Smith infanticide trial for a local news station. Landrum put the pillow back under his head and tried to drift back to sleep, the thunder that rumbled outside the floor-to-ceiling windows an unsettling lullaby. 

“That was a really vivid dream,” he said to himself. “I’ve never had a dream like that before.” 

It was just that, he thought: a dream. Barry Landrum didn’t believe in ghosts. 

A pair of ice cold hands grabbed his knees, and pulled him almost to the end of the bed. 

Landrum didn’t look around. He didn’t want to look around.

For half an hour, he stared at the ceiling, caressing the masonry with his pupils to distract from his fear of spotting an unknown silhouette. Silent and still, as the lightning cascaded on the bed’s patchwork quilt, he drifted back to sleep.

What Barry Landrum didn’t know before that night was that the mansion housed a mysterious figure who lurked at the tops of stairwells and in the corners of eyes, gone by the time one could get a good look at it. As he scoured the guest book in his bedroom for its mention the next morning, he found nothing, but a clerk confirmed that he wasn’t the first person in. 

Barry Landrum drove back to Charleston the next morning. He wouldn’t tell his wife what had happened for four years, when his daughter Megan was born. Barry Landrum didn’t believe in ghosts — until he did. 

 “Go toward the light”

It was March 17, 2016, St. Patrick’s Day, when 55-year-old David Baxter Long drove his Jeep Cherokee outside of Winston-Salem to Union Cross Road. 

His sneakers hit the pavement. They walked into I-40. By the time the driver realized he had just hit a man, it was too late. David Long had committed suicide.

Julie Faenza was stuck in traffic on a work drive from Raleigh to Boone, her Silver Ford Escape reflecting the thick white sky.  She was talking with her coworker when she saw the firefighters leaning down to check a pulse, and Jones’ feet poking out from under a semi truck. That’s when her stomach started to sink.

Faenzi identifies as an empath, which means she was familiar with feeling others’ feelings, even their pain. This feeling was different.

“It was what I imagined somebody going to commit suicide would feel, that they were in so much pain that suicide would be the only way to end the pain,” Faenza said. “Depression, soul-crushing agony — it was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt.”

Faenza is no stranger to death. Her mother was a trauma nurse, and a childhood friend of the Warren Family, the paranormal pillars of “Annabelle” fame. So as she cried, her eyes stormy like the clouds above as her partner pulled into a gas station outside of Kernersville, she dialed her mom’s phone number.

“What’s wrong?”

“Someone’s dead,” Faenza sobbed. “I feel him, and it’s agonizing and it’s awful and I don’t know what to do.”

Through her tears, she explained the traffic, the feet, the pit that was sinking to the bottom of her gut like a leaden Titanic. Maybe by instinct, maybe by luck, her mother knew what to do. 

 “Julie, you need to tell him to go toward the light.”

“Mom, I can’t.” 

 As her mother kept talking, Faenza thought back to her first interaction with death, shadowing her mother in an operating room when a person coded blue. She remembers crying while taking off the woman’s rings, and her mother’s ever-important words.

“This is a person. They’re not breathing anymore, their heart isn’t beating, but it is a person. That’s what you need to understand. It’s nothing to be scared of, it is a person.”

 Reflecting on her mother’s words, Faenza was not afraid. What happens next, she doesn’t remember well — her memories are fogged with tears. She remembers a one-ended conversation. 

“I’m sorry you’re hurting. Your family will find your body, and they’re not mad at you. It’s okay to go toward the light.”

 The feeling wouldn’t budge.

“Go toward the light.” 

And just like that, the feeling left, plopping out of her like Jell-O, and melting into the gas station parking lot’s iridescent shimmer. Just like that, David Baxter Long went toward the light.

Edited by Claire Tynan

Shooting the stars: Inside the life of a concert tour photographer

By Nicole Moorefield

Catherine Powell first picked up a camera when she was 4 years old at Disney World — or, at least, that’s how her mother tells it.

“That feels dramatic,” Powell says.

In Powell’s version, the story takes place in fifth grade at photography club. Regardless, she began shooting concerts at 14. Her first photo pass was for All Time Low and The Maine at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey.

More than a decade of determination later, the 27-year-old has a successful career as a tour photographer for artists like Dan + Shay and Kacey Musgraves. She shot All Time Low and The Maine on a bill together again in August — very full-circle.

She gets to live the life she once dreamed of — traveling the world, rubbing elbows with celebrities. But it’s not as glamorous as she might have imagined growing up.

An only child, Powell grew up in a sports-loving town in New Jersey that celebrated lacrosse as a holiday. However, athletics weren’t her strong suit — her father flat-out told her she wouldn’t make the softball team — so she found photography.

Amanda Schechter, Powell’s friend since they were 4 years old, likens a young Powell to Kimmy Gibbler, the overly enthusiastic neighbor from “Full House” who became an honorary member of the Tanner clan — “but in a good way,” Schechter says.

“She was always just barging into my house,” Schechter says.

She describes Powell as outgoing, determined and “kind of a tomboy” as a kid.

“She’s really confident, but she wasn’t always,” Schechter says . She grew through life experiences.

Flight after flight, shoot after shoot

Powell was only ever interested in shooting the entertainment world. Avid fans of the Warped Tour, Powell and her friend Ariella Mastroianni were frustrated that magazines weren’t covering their favorite artists, so they decided to start their own. In 2011, NKD Magazine was born.

NKD ran for 100 issues, with cover stars ranging from Kelsea Ballerini to The Madden Brothers. It grew from covering musicians to also featuring actors. 

Powell says deciding to end the magazine was the most difficult decision she has ever made.

“I started thinking about it two years before I actually did it,” she says. “There was no actual profit and I was putting literally every hour I was awake into it.”

By then, she was juggling too much. Powell was the only photographer for every issue. She oversaw a small team of writers herself — Mastroianni left in 2013.

It was a small miracle she graduated college — four years at the School of Visual Arts that she hated, except for the opportunity to move to New York City.

Her professors didn’t consider her work true art. Balancing shoots for the magazine with classes was difficult. For most of her final semester, she was on tour.

Her school had a strict absence policy — three missed classes per course — and Powell managed to meet that. But one professor had a limit of two absences.

“I had to petition my dean to let me graduate,” she says. “Yes, I missed three of his classes, but I also had the highest grade in the class with a 97.”

She fit photoshoots around tour schedules, touring with MAX and MKTO. Some weeks included three 5 a.m. flights. The lifestyle was exhausting, but she pushed on, undaunted.

Her ‘Golden Hour’ 

Enter Kacey Musgraves. Powell was shooting a festival in London that Musgraves headlined. She offered Musgraves’ team her services. They had an opening, and the rest fell into place.

This was three weeks before the release of “Golden Hour,” Musgraves’ fourth studio album that would go on to win Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammys. 

Suddenly, Powell was caught up in a whirlwind. She followed Musgraves on tour with Harry Styles and then shot Musgraves’ “Oh, What a World” tour.

The Grammy win was an exponential change.

“I think she shot up like half a million (Instagram followers) overnight after the Grammys or something absurd like that,” she says.

Powell got her first photos in Rolling Stone — first a small picture and then, a month later, a two-page spread of Musgraves backstage with drag queens.

Paying New York rent to rarely see her apartment finally became too much, so Powell moved to Nashville, where she lives today.

That was in 2019. She published NKD’s last issue four months later.


Now Powell could finally focus on her career.

Then COVID-19 struck.

The entertainment industry lurched to a halt, leaving her with few job prospects. It had all the makings to be the worst time of her life.

Instead, she found her life partner.

Powell met William Stone at a 2020 New Year’s party.

“After our first date, he never slept at his own apartment again,” Powell says. 

Six weeks later, his things and his cat, Ellie, moved in.

Dating through a pandemic means Stone knows a lot more about Powell than most relationships of the same length.

“The joke our friends always make is that our relationship is in dog years,” Stone says, because they covered years in the first six months.

“She is amazingly concise, professional, knows everyone, everyone loves her, good at everything she tries to do,” Stone says. “Except maybe hanging shelves.”

Now that the pandemic is nearing its final chapter, things look bright for Powell. In fact, with the release of Musgraves’ newest album, one could say things look “Star-Crossed.”

Stone says that, when they met, Powell had just finished touring with Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Dan + Shay, and Miranda Lambert.

“It’s like, ‘How do you go up from there?’ And she’s somehow found a way,” he says.

‘Just pushing buttons’

But Powell wants to highlight that life in the entertainment industry is not all that it seems from the outside.

“I think a lot of people assume, ‘Oh, you work for someone who is rich, so you must be rich,’” she says. “‘No, man, I am living very firmly in the middle class right now.’”

Some people assume her work is too expensive and unattainable; others think she can cut them a discount.

“I’m not doing well enough for you to not pay me,” she says.

Despite that, she loves her life, and wants to be remembered for “not being an a******.”

“The tombstone could read, ‘Good at what she did and wasn’t rude,’” she says.

Stone wants to emphasize how “universally loved” Powell is.

“It’s amazing that she has managed to be a creative and be the force that she is without being a narcissist,” he says.

Spencer Jordan, one of her Nashville friends, says it took three months of friendship before he found out what Powell does for a living. 

He compliments her on that humility, saying that “she never throws it in anybody’s face” when she does bring up the names she works with.

As for her photography, Powell says it’s just pushing buttons.

It’s her passion, and it’s her livelihood. But it’s not her whole life. She’s an avid Marvel fan, always buying her friends tickets, and a surprisingly good cook, though she’s allergic to bananas.

But it’s not by luck that Powell is at the top of her field — she worked hard to get here, and she’s not stopping now.

Edited by Mary King and Montia Daniels 

With the Art-O-Mat®, art becomes accessible for everyone

By Mary-Kate Appanaitis

At Carrburritos, customers come to buy burritos, margaritas, tacos, and, if they know to look for it, artwork.

Located in the back of the restaurant sits an Art-O-Mat®.  It’s a restored cigarette machine that now doles out pieces of art, imprinted on wooden blocks or contained in small cardboard boxes, replaced every few weeks as customers purchase the available works of art.

Ranging from miniature sculptures to pieces of jewelry, to small wooden canvases painted in oils, each piece of art that comes from the machine is handmade and one-of-a-kind.

The small machine is part of a collection, with the Carrboro location being just one of over 175 venues that host an Art-O-Mat®. Spanning North America, Europe, and Australia, each machine originates from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and from the mind of artist Clark Whittington.

“It’s gone far beyond anything I ever imagined,” Whittington said. “The massive response was nothing I expected.”

In the late 1980’s, Whittington said a friend had a “Pavlovian response” to the sound of crinkling cellophane. The sound of a bag crackling sent him directly to a vending machine for a snack. Whittington became intrigued with the concept of vendable art. He envisioned that such a machine could bring the ease of a midday pick-me-up to the difficult to attain world of art that he had worked in for years.

Growing up as a lone artist

Born and raised in Concord, North Carolina, Whittington grew up immersed in the environment of the rural mill town. While most of his neighbors and family worked in the mills, Whittington’s interest veered toward art. Though mocked throughout his childhood and young-adult life for pursuing something “weird and unimportant,” his mother, a self-taught artist herself, encouraged him to follow his passion.

While he could practice art all he wanted, finding accessible art in his hometown was difficult. The closest galleries were in Charlotte, North Carolina, and were not open to just any passerby who wanted to enjoy artwork in the city.

“There was always an air of pretentiousness in those galleries,” Whittington said. “They didn’t want people to just appreciate their art, they wanted people who would come in and buy it. People who were ‘dressed to the nines’ and had their wallets out. And that wasn’t me at all.”

After graduating from Appalachian State University in 1988 with degrees in both Arts and Graphic Design, Whittington opened his own gallery in downtown Charlotte with the help of two college friends. The Rococo Fish Gallery was brought to life in the North Davidson Arts District and was the first gallery in Charlotte with no price tags connected to the art installations.

Working towards art accessibility 

Whittington’s goal from the start of his career was to create art that gave all sides of the spectrum of his community the chance to experience the gallery. No dress codes, no judgement for those who came in, and no focus on money being made. He collaborated with other local artists in the city who wanted a space to show off their own works, giving a stage to artists who would not have had the name recognition to be placed into other established galleries in Charlotte.

Whittington worked simultaneously as a graphic designer to pay the bills, running the gallery in his free time out of the office. He was committed to keeping his work-life separate from his art, a strong believer that art should not be associated with making money but should instead be focused on spreading love of the arts to people in his community.

This philosophy remained with Whittington.  As rent increased in the gallery, and the expenses of marriage and children became more pressing, Whittington took a step back from creating, focusing purely on graphic design work to provide for his growing family. It wasn’t until inspiration struck him with the concept of the Art-O-Mat® after moving to Winston-Salem that he once again was able to create art of his own consistently.

Art-O-Mat® takes the world

The first Art-O-Mat® machine was put into commission in 1997, at a solo art exhibit in a cafe in Winston-Salem featuring Whittington’s artwork. The machine, restored through hand-painting by Whittington and filled with miniature prints of his own creation, was a hit. Art was available on-demand for the low price of five dollars, and the citizens of Winston-Salem were captivated with the concept.

Restaurants, bars, hotels, and cafes all around the city began requesting an installment of their own Art-O-Mat® for their businesses, and Whittington became overwhelmed with the amount of art in demand. He reached out to local artists who were interested in collaborating on the project, and the company Artists in Cellophane was initiated, launching its first set of Art-O-Mat®’s.

The cigarette machines were relatively easy to source for the project, as they had recently become banned in the city of Winston-Salem and were being given away for little to no price. Whittington and his team painstakingly refurbished each of them with a freshly painted exterior, and handmade each of the pieces of art displayed on the blocks distributed from the machine.

Whittington watched as his creation of the Art-O-Mat® enabled people of all levels of income and art expertise to purchase and possess their very own custom piece of art. With the low cost, art reached communities previously unable to afford the experience of owning one-of-a-kind work; communities Whittington identified with personally, after being considered an outsider in his childhood. Too artsy for the people in Concord to understand, yet not artistic enough to be accepted in Charlotte.

Sticking to what matters most

Within only a few years, Art-O-Mat®’s had expanded far beyond the city line of Winston-Salem, and Whittington shifted to working entirely with the company, foregoing his day job of graphic design. As the machines were sent first across the country and then internationally, Whittington had to expand his artist list to keep up with the increasing demand for art supply. In each location an Art-O-Mat® was placed, he contacted local artists to recruit volunteers interested in creating art for the masses. Each piece of submitted artwork is sent to Whittington and his team at Artists in Cellophane and approved by him before being sent out for installation into the Art-O-Mat®’s.

“Our Art-O-Mat® is definitely something that people come back for,” said Sophie Thurber, an employee at Carrburritos. “We have to send out for more art every few weeks, and we aren’t even offering in-person dining right now.”

Though his work has infiltrated some of the most highly regarded art galleries in the country, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Whittington remains humbly committed that the art he creates is truly for everyone. He chooses his venues and artists for the Art-O-Mat®’s carefully, to ensure the people and places he works with are on the same page about what matters most in his work: the community’s ability to experience art, regardless of their social or economic status.

“This is an art project, not a venture capital scheme,” he said. “My work has always been about making art equitable, and that’s really what I try to do.”


Edited by Eva Hagan