“I thought that I would move far away,” Morrison said. “Part of the reason that I chose Auburn University was because of the distance that it is from Mount Airy.”

She came back for what she thought would be a year but has turned into roughly a decade.

She’s now the Main Street Coordinator, working to bring public art and change the face of Mount Airy.

When she first took the position, there was no public art downtown. Now, large murals decorate the sides of buildings and painted walkways brighten the streets.

“We’ve gradually introduced more and more art as being part of downtown, and now I’m just really seeing that snowball like rolling much faster now,” Morrison said.

Next, she’s working to get students involved in the project. In May, they’ll have a parking spot painting competition with local high school students showing off their artistic skills.

Over the past 50 years, the rural areas of North Carolina have seen a shift in populations.

A 1970s census report showed 55% of North Carolinians lived in rural areas. In a 2017 study, however, 72% of people had moved to urban centers.

Morrison has high hopes for Mount Airy. Based off the impact she’s been able to have, she knows you can move the needle faster and harder than if you try to do the same thing in a bigger city.

That’s one reason she wants the students to feel invested in downtown Mount Airy, so they see they don’t have to leave to have an impact.

“I firmly believe that the reason why Mount Airy thrives is because apathy has not taken over here. There’s just a lot of people that care, and I think that it’s important not to just disregard your small town for a larger city, nothing against larger cities, but if you care about your small town I guarantee you can do something about whatever it is that you think is lacking there,” Morrison said.