By Bernie Petit
There are geographical pockets in Charlotte-Mecklenburg where, according to data, residents aren’t engaging in or with the broader cultural community.
Culture Blocks, a new ASC initiative, seeks to change that.
The program seeks to support cultural programming close to where people live by utilizing local libraries and recreation centers.
Here’s how it works:
Over the next several weeks, ASC staff will have informal conversations with residents of five geographic swaths in the county to learn about how they experience arts and culture, the cultural activities they would be interested in participating and the cultural expressions relevant to their communities.
There will also be pop-up cultural activities (think mini-performances by Jazz Arts Initiative or short acts by Children’s Theatre of Charlotte) at libraries and recreation centers located within those areas, scheduled residencies with cultural organizations at venues within the communities, and a community dinner in each of the five blocks for facilitated discussions around arts and culture.
“This is a way for us to connect communities, support diverse cultural expression and to do it without making assumptions about why historically we don’t have data showing that these communities participate in high numbers,” said Tiera Parker, ASC’s new program director for Culture Blocks. “I think it’s a beautiful way to start, so we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what the conversations unearth.”
The feedback is crucial to the program in part because there is no predetermined plan for what emerges from the community conversations.
After seeing what themes arise in each of the five blocks, ASC will then work with the communities, cultural organizations and artists to provide those areas with the cultural programming residents say they want.
“So if the people in the community say that the most important thing to them about their cultural life is seeing their heritage on display in the streets, then that gives us the opportunity between January and June to connect with cultural organizations that can meet that need,” Parker said. “Why? Because the community said we want to see our culture on display right where we live.”
It’s a different approach to building and supporting the cultural life of a community.
But that is only the beginning, Parker said. Culture Blocks will help ASC to develop deeper relationships with the impacted zones so they are more connected to the broader cultural community.
“ASC’s vision is a vibrant cultural life for all,” she said, “so if there are cultural expressions that are taking place and we just don’t have an opportunity to connect with that, then we’re missing an opportunity to provide grant support, artist development support, all of the things that we’re providing to organizations that have already connected with us.”
The five geographical pockets of Charlotte-Mecklenburg where Culture Blocks programming will take place are:
- North of uptown Charlotte along North Graham and North Tryon streets, Statesville Avenue and Sugar Creek Road;
- East Charlotte along the Central Avenue corridor;
- Northwest Charlotte bordered by Rozzelles Ferry and Beatties Ford roads and Freedom Drive and State Street;
- West of uptown between South End and the airport; and
- Southwest Charlotte.
Culture Blocks is supported through funding from Mecklenburg County.