ASC President Robert Bush shares how culture influences the next generation

19 Mar

By Robert Bush
ASC President 

Robert Bush

Robert Bush

My parents thought I had lost my mind.  They made certain that I had every opportunity, including seeing me complete my M.A. in community education and securing a teaching position at a school for at-risk youth, so they couldn’t fathom how I could toss all of that work aside.  After four years of teaching language arts and outdoor skills (whitewater, back packing and rock climbing), I quit.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love teaching – I still do – but the opportunity to be the executive director of a local arts council was too much to resist.  After all, I was trading a traditional classroom of kids for a county full of people and a cultural classroom that contained museums and theatres, libraries and science centers, a symphony and chorales.  What I did not know is the extent to which my next 33 years would be filled with classroom moments of wonder, awe and inspiration as I watched children and youth encounter the arts, science and history in real ways.  That’s what I want to share in this letter – two stories of how chance encounters made faces light up and perhaps changed a life’s path.

I expect that like me, you believe arts in education is important.  Did you know 86% of Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents agree that arts, music, drama and dance education programs in schools are important in helping children do better in other academic subjects?

I could fill the rest of this letter with numbers that show the importance of making the arts core to the education of every child.  Some are very compelling.  For example, a student involved in the arts is:

  • Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement;
  • Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair; and
  • Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance.

Even better,

  • Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate from college as their peers with no arts education;
  • 72% of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring; and
  • Students who take four years of art and music classes average almost 100 points better on their SAT scores than students that take only one-half a year or less.

But back to the stories…

I don’t remember his name, but I can see him sitting alone in the school multipurpose room – a nice looking young man of about 10 or 11, but his visual and physical impairments were obvious.

John, the artist-in-residence that I had brought with me to visit the school, was a Juilliard trained pianist, a charismatic performer who could charm any audience with his easy approach to making classical music approachable.  John sat down at the piano, the children got quiet and he began to play.  I believe it was a Chopin Étude, and immediately, the young man I spotted previously sat up in his chair, clearly responding to music.

At the end of the performance, the young man’s teacher brought him up to meet John.  She told us he had never spoken.  John spoke to him and asked if he liked the piano, the young man immediately nodded his head.  John asked him to sit on the piano bench next to him and began to play.  He played a musical phrase, stopped and without hesitation, the young man played the phrase back to him on the piano.  This went on for almost 30 minutes before it was time to go.

I learned a tremendous lesson that afternoon – the power of art to connect human beings and the power of musical language to transcend all language and communication barriers.

I experienced a similarly profound moment during my time at the Mint Museum.  A young African American woman was visiting the museum during her 7th grade field trip with other CMS students, and I happened to come upon the group in the European Art Gallery.

The young woman was examining every inch of the coronation portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Allan Ramsay.  She got close and looked, and then, she stepped back.  Her concentration was on her hair and her regal attire.  She shook her head and nodded knowingly as she took a final step back and announced to her classmates, “Don’t tell me she isn’t a sista.”

Allan Ramsay (Scottish, 1713-1784) Created: circa 1762 Materials: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 96 x 63 inches Not currently on display Gift from Frank Ryan Harty to Mint Museum

Allan Ramsay (Scottish, 1713-1784)
Created: circa 1762
Materials: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 96 x 63 inches
Not currently on display
Gift from Frank Ryan Harty to Mint Museum

The docent quickly told the students that, in fact, their fellow classmate was very perceptive, and Queen Charlotte’s lineage did, indeed, included Moors from the Portuguese royal family, and she quite possibly was biracial.

I learned, during that brief encounter with a school group, the power to see yourself in a work of art that might seem so foreign to your condition, and how that connection can positively influence your aspirations and goals.

When I left my formal classroom years ago, I didn’t fully understand how I would continue to experience the joy of teaching – not as the teacher, but as part of organizations that help make teaching moments tangible through arts and culture.  I’ve witnessed children enthralled by Opera Carolina’s performance of The Three Little Pigs; seen teenagers come face-to-face with the history of our city at the Levine Museum of the New South; watched pre-school classrooms light up with the mere presence of a storyteller; experienced sheer delight with middle school students during their first time working in a science lab at Discovery Place; and sat with proud parents as their sons and daughters performed in the Winterfield Elementary School Orchestra.

Those were just a few of the thousands of young faces I’ve seen touched by the power of the arts, science and history, and they’ve completely validated the moment I shocked my parents many years ago.  But even more important, I want everyone that has donated to ASC (or one of our cultural partners) to understand that you are a part of those young people’s experiences.  Your actions set up the table for wonder!

Help ASC keep those moments of wonder in motion by enabling even more arts, science and history experiences for the next generation.  By supporting their cultural growth and well-being, we ensure our community’s well-being.

ASC is You & Me – now and in the future.

Animating life with Terry Shipley

14 Mar

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern 

“I guess the best way to describe it is it’s very accidental…I’m an accidental artist.”

Equal parts humility and wonder light up Terry Shipley’s face when she begins talking about ceramics, a passion she discovered at age 42. A Community Supported Art participant, she considers herself living proof that it is never too late to embrace something new.

These flowers are unique to Terry Shipley and, though tedious to make, are one of her favorite projects.

These flowers are unique to Terry Shipley and, though tedious to make, are one of her favorite projects.

For Shipley, the something new was clay painting which boomed in popularity several years ago. She would spend hours at paint the bisque-ware places until her infatuation was so deep that “friends finally said stop it, go take a class.”

Those classes led to a nine year stint renting space from Clayworks as well as significant time spent at Jewish Community Center workshops. These experiences allowed for intimate clay study devoid of any intimidation. Maybe this is why Shipley speaks so fondly of clay, almost as though it’s an old friend – ceramics are a comfortable, all inclusive medium.­

The opportunity to cultivate her relationship with clay on a full-time basis came from the McColl Center for Visual Art’s Artist in Residency program. As an affiliate artist, Shipley had access to a blend of local artists who inspired and challenged.

Now, Shipley has a definitive identity as a ceramics artist, including a wild color palette, the use of flowers, and stacking – most evident in her totem pieces. Conceptually, Shipley focuses on hand-building, a method of working that enables her to connect best with the clay.

“I exclusively hand-build,” she said. “I usually start with a slab construction, flat, and make different forms I can slump clay onto or into.” Even though hand-building comes with a price, (“it’s physically demanding and the repetition can take its toll”) she forges on.

Once she bought herself a kiln, Shipley was an unstoppable clay-working force. She caters primarily to décor and says she would describe herself – her aesthetic – as decorative. This is evident when studying her art. There isn’t a centralized message; the ceramics are simply beautiful testaments to human creativity.

“It’s not social issues,” she said. “I’m not trying to make an important statement. I kind of pursue decorative form. I

Pictured here is a more sculpturally intensive work that exhibits the stacking technique.

Pictured here is a more sculpturally intensive work that exhibits the stacking technique.

read the newspaper in the morning. My voice is the alternative I want to that, I want something gentler, something happier.”

Most engaging about Shipley is her continuing desire to learn. She fosters that desire within herself, improving her painting skills thereby improving her clay-work, and within others. Her wall pieces, featured at the Levine Children’s Hospital, included the ideas of local fifth graders.

“I’m not a teacher but fifth graders are amazing,” she said. “Their enthusiasm is so strong. Little ones, they’re just wide open.”

CSA shareholders will benefit from Shipley’s dedication, receiving a painted vase with a “very lively, fabulous pattern” just in time for spring fauna’s arrival.

Fair warning: Shipley’s joie de vivre is contagious. Meet her and you will be changed, but sit with her for a while and you will realize you have dreams that have lain dormant far too long.

Click here to view more of Shipley’s work.

The poetic musings of Amy Bagwell

14 Mar

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern 

In your memory there probably exists a nasty grammar school teacher with half-moon spectacles and a fierce lecture on dangling modifiers who preached about poetry as rhyme and metaphor, parallelism and meter. Now, you run from her gravelly voice every time you stumble across a book of poetry lying innocently open in a waiting room.

And then there are English professors like Amy Bagwell, a Community Supported Art (CSA) participant and poet, who understands that life usually has one too many syllables and can get lost in figurative language. Behind Bagwell’s assemblages lies a desire to make poetry accessible and enjoyable instead of intimidating – because if we’re honest, don’t we secretly want to channel our inner John Mayer and scream say what you need to say when digesting Shakespeare?

Bagwell, who teaches at Central Piedmont Community College, has been writing poems since she was eight and began experimenting with wall art after college as an alternative to poetry readings. She believes anything that lifts poetry from the page expands its appeal to a given audience, which led to a collaborative show with close friend, Shawn L. Smith. Smith and Bagwell exhibited assemblages and poems respectively, both incorporating elements of light, water and text into their pieces.

Inspired by Smith, Bagwell considered objects and their propensity to complement her text. The installations that resulted are a fusion of vintage whimsy and modern verse, “…the object’s story and the poem…working in unison” and becoming “a greater expression”.

“Watching you Land” by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

“Watching you Land” by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

Bagwell used to frame her poems, simply hanging them on the wall, but using clocks, books and fish tanks as display models completely changes the aesthetic of her work.

“It went from a way to show a poem to an environment for that poem,” she said.

If encountered correctly, a poem is a living, breathing creature – the images and the sounds it contains speak to something more, something deep within the reader. Says Bagwell, “It [poetry] can fix a moment in time but it isn’t unchanging.” This is what allows poetry to come alive, and this is why Bagwell’s art makes sense – poems are meant to inhabit the spaces around us.

How does she choose the vessel for a poem?

“It always starts with the text and not the object,” she said. “I put something together and then live with it for a day. I don’t want to force it or go off of artificial motivation.”

Cutting out book pages and inserting a poem was a way of combatting the commonality of books. Any bookstore is an overwhelming mecca of immeasurable thoughts in glossy hardcover. Poetry, a rarified being, has the smallest shelf space so the book theme allowed Bagwell to conquer poetry’s inconsequence.

From an artistic perspective, Bagwell feels it is “rare in publishing” to find “a book that’s a beautiful object.” When she does alight on true works of art, she wants to create installations that showcase those objects’ potential.

Of the CSA opportunity, Bagwell says, “It’s a terrible, terrific pressure.” She is constructing 50 assemblages using unpainted, wood boxes. Inside will be one poetic segment that, when combined with the other boxes, makes one long poem. Bagwell hopes to photograph the whole poem prior to sending out the boxes and will include a printed copy of the poem in its entirety. The challenge has been establishing just where to break the poem, but, explains Amy, “What appeals to me is that each bit retains meaning even out of context.”

Shareholders receiving an assemblage have permission to interpret their poetic parcel as freely as they choose, appreciating its linguistic quality or simply its contribution to the total picture.

“Don’t all artists want to convey something?” ponders Bagwell. “But then we don’t have the power to control what we

“The Beat and John Singer" by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

“The Beat and John Singer” by Amy Bagwell. Photo credit: Taryn Rubin.

convey. That’s what’s fascinating to me. Thinking about that kind of boggles my mind…there’s exponential interpretations. It’s also daunting…but that’s good.”

If you’ve abandoned poems to musty textbooks from the high school days, take a moment to give them a second chance and read Amy’s. Thou may just be pleasantly surprised.

Click here to see more of Bagwell’s work.

Let’s Dance!

13 Mar

Compiled by Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Now in its eighth year, the Charlotte Dance Festival presents two days of performances and classes with local and national professional dance companies and choreographers Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, for CLT Dance Weekend.

Dance Charlotte performances will run both nights of the festival at 8 p.m. at the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St., Charlotte. Performances will feature a juried selection of performers and the CDF Repertory Ensemble in a new work by New York-based contemporary hip-hop choreographer Jennifer Archibald. Tickets are $7-$20.

Jennifer Archibald HSA variety of Master Classes for dancers of all ages and levels, including several for local professionals, will take place Saturday at Spirit Square, 345 N. Tryon St., Charlotte. Class offerings range from jazz and ballet to contemporary and Afro-fusion. Classes are $10-$15 per class.

At 5 p.m. Saturday, Charlotte Emerging Dance Awards (CEDA) will bring together area youth dance programs at Booth Playhouse to perform and experience a professional festival atmosphere.

For more information, visit or email


Bodiography Contemporary Ballet / Maria Caruso

Dance Charlotte! Performers
Bodiography Contemporary Ballet / Maria Caruso (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

d a n a h b e l l a DanceWorks (Pulaski, Va.)

THE MARK/Arlynn Zachary (Charlotte)

Linda Thompson (Charlotte) – 48 Hour Project Winner

Warped Dance Co. (Sheboygan, Wis.)

CDF Rep Ensemble / Jennifer Archibald (Charlotte/New York)

4thright dance company (Charlotte)



CDF Repertory Ensemble Dancers

Audrey Baran, Caroline Calouche, Amanda Floyd, Val Ifill, Alex Lieberman, Elizabeth Sanford, Mackenzie Smith, Ashlea Sovetts and Britney Stevenson

Her job? Igniting wonder in the world around us

6 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Megan York has the greatest job in the world.

Or at least she likes to think so.

Megan L1006769As an informal educator at Discovery Place, “I get to dress up in costume and blow stuff up,” she said. “I mean, really? I won the job lottery. Not everybody would like it, but it’s exactly perfect for me.”

Her job combines her two passions – science and theater. York attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics her last two years of high school before earning a degree in physics at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia and teaching middle school science for six years in Cabarrus County.

She’s been involved in theater since she was 13 years old, recently appearing in the Citizens of the Universe local production of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“I’ve just always been this way,” York said. “My report card from second grade would say things like ‘Megan loves reading aloud. She loves doing character voices for the kids and she loves our science lessons.’”

She’s still doing the same things, only now it’s not part of her permanent record. To accompany the “101 Inventions That Changed the World” exhibit at Discovery Place, York created the steampunk character Necessity, i.e. “the mother of invention,” as a way to interact with guests and enhance the exhibit experience.

As Necessity, York gets guests at the science center talking about deep-thinking questions, like “Is all change good?” and “Why are there no women on the list?” – the latter being a reason she created her character.

“Technically, there is no inventor of duct tape,” York said, “but the person you can most credit it to is a woman named Vesta Stoudt.”

Stoudt developed a method that allowed for tape to be torn rather than cut.

“So she’s not considered the inventor of duct tape,” she said, before whispering, “but we all know she is.”

One of the cultural sector contributors featured in 2014 Arts & Science Council Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, York joined Discovery Place fulltime in September 2013 after working in its summer camp program for two years. Discovery Place is one of more than 20 cultural organizations in Mecklenburg County that receives unrestricted operating support through ASC.

Discovery Place, she said, exists to ignite wonder. And being a part of that is the most important thing that she can do in the world.

“I want to surprise people and amaze people and the way that works for me – it’s the same motivation a magician would have or a singer would have,” she said. “I want to evoke in other people these feelings of awe and wonder and interest and fascination and joy because to me all those things are very joyful and I think that those are very important emotions for people to have.”

ASC is You & Me using science to help kids and adults better connect to the massive curiosity of the world we’re all born with.


Saturdays are for dancing

4 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Like most of us, Fraxedy Gomez looks forward to the weekend.

But not because she gets to sleep in.

Fraxedy Gomez.

Fraxedy Gomez.

Her Saturdays are spent in the dance studio, learning folkloric Latin dance – along with cultural and historic-related content – as a member of the Carolinas Latin Dance Company, supported in part by a $2,500 Arts & Science Council (ASC) Cultural & Community Investment Grant

“Dance has been pretty much my life since I was little,” said Gomez, who has danced with the company since she was 7 years old. “On Mondays I would go to school and I would be excited for dance and would tell myself ‘I’m going to dance on Saturday.’

“‘After Saturday practice, I would be like, ‘aww, I’m done with dance – go to school again and come back.’”

This year, she’s also teaching beginning dancers that are about the same age she was when she started 11 years ago.

“It’s been a new experience because usually I’m the one that’s getting taught,” said Gomez, an 18-year-old senior at Butler High School. “I like seeing how little girls are interested in dancing and hopefully they can do it for as long as I have.”

One of the cultural sector contributors featured in 2014 ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, Gomez said she loves to dance the salsa.

“You get to put your own flair to it – more emotion, more style,” she said. “Salsa is just something you can express yourself in.”

She especially likes performing on stage and making people aware of the Latin American culture found in Charlotte (both of her parents are from Nicaragua). She also appreciates the structure dance provides her.

“It puts you in the right mindset for school and activities and it opens up more opportunities,” she said. “It keeps you busy instead of going off doing other things and not being responsible. It teaches you how to be responsible.”

ASC is You & Me giving everyone in our community something to cultural to do on the weekend – and every day of the week.


A world of possibilities easy to see behind a camera

3 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Dustyn Brigham never touched a camera until he arrived at Studio 345 – not in any meaningful way, at least.

Dustyn Brigham.

Dustyn Brigham.

But, as one of the dozens of students that enrolled in the Arts & Science Council (ASC) program’s inaugural trimester in the fall of 2012, Brigham’s world was opened by his experiences behind the camera.

“It’s given me a chance to explore different things,” he said. “Without that freedom to explore, I wouldn’t be able to understand certain things about myself and so this is really helping me find my path.”

Inspired by the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh, Studio 345 uses digital photography and multimedia arts to educate and inspire students to stay in school, graduate, and pursue goals beyond high school. The program is open to all high school students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and participants are taught and mentored by professional working artists.

A program fixture since the beginning, Brigham, a 17-year-old junior at Independence High School, naturally gravitated towards filmmaking.

“I felt like film would take me places,” he said. “There are lots of interesting people out there and I thought that I would meet them through film and I have.”

Like the girl and guy he thought were interesting looking from a distance in uptown Charlotte. He approached them with his camera and learned they were passing through town on a cross-country tour.

If he spots you, be ready to answer his favorite question to ask folks on camera: What are the three most valuable lessons you’ve learned throughout your life?

“One guy told me, ‘Say yes as much as possible, say no only when necessary and to just love, love unconditionally,’” Brigham said. “I just meet interesting people that have done the things I want to do one day.”

One of the featured cultural contributors in 2014 ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, Brigham isn’t sure what career path he wants to travel when he is older.

But he knows what he is learning about film and about life at Studio 345 will help get him to where he needs to be.

“It’s like an avenue I took that will open up so many other avenues,” he said. “I just want to experience a lot of different things and I feel like film has given me and will continue to give me that opportunity.”

ASC is You & Me providing students with the freedom to find their way through the arts.



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