Addressing the question of cultural relevance

Categories: Annual Fund Drive, ASC, Blog, Cultural Partners

By Robert Bush
ASC President

ASC President Robert Bush.
ASC President Robert Bush.

If it were possible to put a mirror in front of all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural experiences, you should see a familiar face – your own. I, along with ASC’s staff and cultural partners, are always working to ensure the image in the cultural mirror is a reflection of you. That keeps one question at the forefront of our minds: “What’s culturally relevant, and how can we find innovative ways to support and share those experiences with donors, residents and visitors?” That question has an evolving answer, and that’s what makes my job fun.

As we become a more diverse community, the question of ‘cultural relevance’ becomes an even more important issue. While traditional experiences and programs are still appreciated, ASC recognizes that our community is begging for more; more diversity, more access, more inclusion, more innovation and more engagement. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s new Cultural Vision Plan addressed those issues by directing the arts and cultural sector to take a deeper look at the face of our community and find ways to do more where it is needed, as well as reflect the diversity of voices and culture expressions surrounding us.

Theatre Charlotte is a cultural partner that has already taken a step toward understanding new reflections in our cultural mirror and finding innovative ways to meet the needs of the images it sees. The theatre’s 2011 production of The Glass Menagerie is a great example. By taking Tennessee Williams’ play, which traditionally has an all Caucasian cast, and casting it with all African-Americans, Theatre Charlotte found a new approach to tell a well-known story in a more diverse and inclusive way.

The Theatre Charlotte 2011 production of "The Glass Menagerie." (Theatre Charlotte photo.)
The Theatre Charlotte 2011 production of “The Glass Menagerie.” (Theatre Charlotte photo.)

Their non-traditional approach allowed them to show how Williams’ play could be seen from a different perspective. It enabled them to include the talents of actors that normally wouldn’t be cast in such roles. And in the end, their innovative approach exposed their usual attendees to a contemporary twist on a classic work. It also provided a welcoming atmosphere to new patrons that attended because of their support for the cast or their intrigue/curiosity of the new casting approach.

Charlotte Ballet is another cultural partner that is taking steps to ensure their programing is a true reflection of the changing face and tastes of our community. Associate Artistic Director Patricia McBride recently took George Balanchine’s Tarantella, a ballet he originally choreographed in 1964 with McBride in one of the featured roles, and restaged it with Charlotte Ballet’s Emily Ramirez and Jordan Leeper.

Tarantella was created more than 50 years ago, and although it is timeless in its artistry, audiences are not as enthusiastic. McBride recognized that change, casting talented young artists that would appeal to a new generation, and also adding her own intuition to the interpretation of Balanchine’s work – staying true to his original and addressing the preferences of today’s audiences, yearning for fresh, new work.

Like Theatre Charlotte, Charlotte Ballet and countless other cultural organizations and individual artists, I love trying to anticipate the cultural needs and desires of our community. I love helping create unique solutions used to meet those needs and desires. But most importantly, I love being a part of our community and seeing my reflection, alongside yours, in the great cultural experiences made possible through support from ASC.

I hope you see your reflection in the many cultural experiences and organizations that surround you. ASC is dedicated to making that kind of engagement happen for everyone.

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