Why This Matters: From events that gained national attention to initiatives that celebrated artists, the 2010s were a decade of Culture For All in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
By Bernie Petit
The 2010s can be remembered as the decade Charlotte’s arts community grew up.
Several events brought the national spotlight to the city—some good, others necessary. Others cultivated creatives that would go on to earn national acclaim. Throughout the past 10 years, arts and culture continued to define our region’s growth and bolster our local economy.
Here are some of the decade’s cultural highlights:
Levine Center for the Arts
The opening of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in January and Mint Museum Uptown in October completed the cultural campus on South Tryon Street in 2010. (The Harvey. B. Gantt Center and Knight Theater both opened in 2009.)
Thanks to a $15 million gift from The Leon Levine Foundation and a $5 million gift from Duke Energy in honor of Leon and Sandra Levine to complete the capital campaign for the cultural facilities, the campus was named Levine Center for the Arts.
McColl Award winners
John W. Love Jr. unleashed “FECUND,” his multidisciplinary performance and installation event (funded by ASC’s $25,000 2011 McColl Award), at Mint Museum Uptown in 2013. Since then, Love went on to win a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017.
Meanwhile, 2014 McColl Award recipient CarlosAlexis Cruz dazzled with his project “Nouveau Sud, Nouveau Cirque” (“New South, New Circus”) that used cirque-style performance to tell the stories and traditions of multi-ethnic communities in Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 2016.
From Charlotte to Broadway
High school theater throughout the Charlotte region received a boost when Blumenthal Performing Arts, in partnership with Wells Fargo, gave birth to the Blumey Awards in 2012. Several Blumey Award winners have gone on to post-high school success—most notably Northwest School of the Arts’ Eva Noblezada. After winning a Blumey in 2013, Noblezada scored an audition and was cast as Kim in “Miss Saigon,” which went to Broadway and earned her a Tony nomination for Best Actress in 2017. In 2019, she also earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress for her role as Eurydice in “Hadestown.”
Democratic National Convention
In 2012, the DNC brought exhibitions by television personality Tavis Smiley and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Charlotte-Mecklenburg, as well as exhibitions featuring the works of artists Alberto Giacometti and Thorton Dial.
In addition, the dedication of a prominent public artwork served as a poignant remembrance of one of our own. “Ascendus,” the monumental artwork on Billy Graham Parkway close to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, was dedicated in memory of former Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess.
ASC launched Studio 345, its out-of-school time program that uses the arts to inspire students to stay in school, graduate and pursue goals beyond high school, in 2012. In its first year, the program attracted 133 students; there are now 2,500 alumni.
Studio 345 “connected me to more artistic people,” said program graduate Savaan Wallace, a student at Savannah College of Art and Design. “There was a big sense of community. People were very kind. Through the apprenticeship program, I realized I love to teach art to other people.”
Romare Bearden Park
Named after influential Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden, the park opened in 2013 with a design based on Bearden’s collage work as detailed by Seattle artist Norie Sato.
In 2017, the public artwork “Spiral Odyssey” was installed. The artwork was created by Chicago artist Richard Hunt, who shares the distinction with Bearden of being the first two African-American artists to have solo exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971.
Wendy Hickey brought ArtPop to Charlotte in 2014 and local billboards haven’t been the same since. Over the past seven years, more than 100 local artists have been featured on millions of dollars’ worth of donated billboard space throughout the region.
Culture For All.
Notable updates include:
- The creation of Culture Blocks in 2015 to support cultural programming close to where people live
- The expansion of ASC’s Operating Support program to better support emerging and grassroots organizations to more fully reflect the diversity of region
- The alignment of ASC project support with Cultural Vision Plan priorities
- Increased support to creative individuals at all career stages, including Creative Renewal Fellowship awards
“LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality”
The powerful 2014 Levine Museum of the New South exhibition is thought to be the first in North Carolina to explore LGBTQ history. In addition to telling Charlotte’s LGBTQ history, the exhibit helped preserve stories and memorabilia to ensure that history isn’t lost.
Kennedy Center Honoree
When The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Patricia McBride would be one of five individuals to receive the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors, it felt like she was being recognized for more than the unparalleled versatility, spontaneity, stamina and warmth she displayed as a dancer.
To Charlotte, it was also a recognition of what she’s meant to this cultural community. McBride and her husband, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, are Charlotte Ballet icons and their name graces the ballet’s home and ballet academy.
In 2015, artists Amy Bagwell and Amy Herman converted the former Goodyear building on Stonewall Street scheduled for demolition into an artist residency. Their vision evolved into Goodyear Arts, an artist-led, nonprofit residency and events program at Camp North End focused on local visual, performing and literary artists.
Goodyear Arts is a prominent example of how creative individuals rose to the forefront of the local cultural scene in the 2010s.
The musical of the decade made its way to Charlotte in October 2018 and it was a big deal. Both online and box office tickets were sold out in a matter of hours. Before “Hamilton” arrived, star Leslie Odom Jr. helped Blumenthal celebrate its 25th season.
If you missed it, don’t worry. It’s slated to return to the Queen City in 2021.
During one of Charlotte’s most challenging times, one that forced the city to confront its history of racial inequity, the arts led the way in bringing the community together and bridging differences.
Individual artists helped beautify uptown after protests in 2016 following the death of Keith Lamont Scott, while the Charlotte Symphony’s “One Charlotte: A Performance for Peace” brought the community together to heal.
Levine Museum hosted a community forum within a week of the uprising and continued its community response with the exhibition “K(NO)W Justice, K(NO)W Peace: A History of Policing in Charlotte’s African-American Community and the Origins Black Lives Matter Charlotte.” The exhibit included the first exhibition of noted Charlotte photographer Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.’s work.
In Focus/Enfoque: Contemporary Photography in Mexico
The ambitious initiative, funded by Bank of America, spanned multiple visual arts institutions and galleries in Charlotte from August 2017 through June 2018 and gathered more than 50 artists from Mexico and the United States to explore diverse topics and themes, including design, gender, activism, identity, globalism and borders.
The Mint Museum became the first U.S. venue to feature the initiative’s anchor exhibit, “Reveal and Detonate,” which explored the Muxe culture in Southern Oaxaca, identified as a third gender (trans-individuals; typically, men who identify as female).
The Light Factory, McColl Center for Art + Innovation, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, LaCa Projects and SOCO Gallery all participated in the cross-venue initiative.
The celebration of art, music, food and ideas in Uptown Charlotte took place in April and May 2019 and served as the grand finale of CLT250, the year-long commemoration of Charlotte’s 250th anniversary. It brought 200+ concerts, installations, performances and more to the Center City, including giant bunnies.