By Bernie Petit
There’s been a lot of talk about Charlotte’s brand, or lack thereof.
There’s “no denying that what Charlotte lacks relative to more established cities is a unique identity,” opined Charlotte Agenda.
A Chamber of Commerce tour of Nashville in June reminded Charlotte leaders “yet again that Charlotte hasn’t determined its own” brand, according to a Charlotte Business Journal editorial.
“If Nashville is ‘Music City,’ then Charlotte is…” read a headline from The Charlotte Observer.
How about “Queen of Arts”? After all, the Queen City is named after Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whose sculpture greets visitors at the airport.
The city already has cultural royalty in Charlotte Ballet Associate Artistic Director and Kennedy Center Honoree Patricia McBride and Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, who conducted the London Chamber Orchestra during the marriage ceremony of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, in 2011.
Plus, the show that broke box office records at Blumenthal Performing Arts in August 2013? That would be “The Lion King.”
Okay, we admit “Queen of Arts” may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but our suggestion that Charlotte build its brand around arts and culture is not. After all, the arts have played a crucial role in making the city what it is today.
A history lesson: Back in the mid-1970s, building Charlotte’s cultural infrastructure became an economic development strategy to attract business.
The reason you need to come to Charlotte, businesses looking to relocate have long been told, is because of the strength of our cultural sector.
“We don’t have mountains – we’re two hours away. We don’t have beaches – we’re three hours away,” said ASC President Robert Bush. “We also didn’t have any professional sports teams at the time, so the city and the county and the Chamber of Commerce decided that arts and culture was going to become the calling card when Charlotte went out on economic development visits.”
The resulting cultural plan proposed 40 years ago led to the creation of uptown cultural destinations Discovery Place, Spirit Square, The Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Gantt Center) and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
An uptown Mint Museum and an artist colony research and development area (McColl Center for Art + Innovation) were also envisioned, though they came later.
“They are what drove the growth of this community in many ways from an economic development standpoint,” Bush said.
We know the arts have been and remain central to driving economic development. We know residents expect the cultural sector to connect people and strengthen community – it’s what they told us in the Cultural Vision Plan.
We know arts and culture matter in Charlotte. Now we need to show it by integrating the arts into every aspect of our lives, from showing up to support original, innovative works to making culture central to pre-K-12 education. That’s how you build a brand.
So, with that in mind, here are four fun ideas to make Charlotte stand out through arts and culture, and four potential cultural taglines for the city.
Have your own ideas? Let us know on Twitter @ASCCharlotte.
Four Far Out Ways to Make Charlotte Stand Out Through Culture
1. Establish a premier Fringe Festival. It would celebrate challenging and innovative art and introduce the community – and the nation – to what’s next on the horizon.
2. Create an annual dynamic temporary public art exhibition that connects the city. Imagine Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates,” the temporary exhibit of “[f]ree-hanging, saffron-colored fabric panels” that created “a visual golden river” along 23 miles of New York’s Central Park in 2005, only annually and in Charlotte.
3. Get behind the wheel of an artmobile. Picture a mobile arts network that would bring arts and science to you no matter where you live in the city or the county. Traveling music, dance and theatre shows, artmobiles, filled with art-making materials and artists to spark hands-on creativity, would be among the familiar sights that build livelier and stronger communities.
4. Two words – lightsaber battle. It’s been done before, but ours would be cooler and in Bearden Park. An exhibit that tackles the science of “Star Wars” would add to the fun.
Four Cultural Taglines for Charlotte
1. Charlotte – Queen of Arts
2. Culture City, USA
3. Charlotte – Create Your City
4. Charlotte – Our City, Our Canvas