Stirring our community’s cultural pot

30 Mar

By Robert Bush
ASC President

ASC President Robert Bush.

ASC President Robert Bush.

I think Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the perfect example of a cultural jambalaya. Some residents came to work in the thriving financial sector, while others came as the result of other corporate ventures. When blended with lifelong Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents, these distinctive groups create a tremendous amount of social diversity. It’s what makes Charlotte such a unique place to live, work and play.

Just like any good jambalaya, the ingredients in our community’s pot (with so many different social perspectives and backgrounds) inherently need a unifying base. A stock, of sort, to bring everything together harmoniously, so every resident enhances the community and complements other residents, while still retaining their individuality.

The stock needed to build a unified community is often challenging to find in a region as diverse as Charlotte-Mecklenburg. A perfect example of that difficulty was in the Matthews community of Crestdale. As one of the nation’s oldest historically African-American communities (established by former slaves after the Civil War), Crestdale has deep ties to its rich historical legacy. However, like many aging communities, economic challenges caused many of the last few generations to leave seeking better opportunities, and they never returned.

An old picture of children that grew up in the Crestdale community from the short video "Tank Town: An Oral History of Crestdale."

An old picture of children that grew up in the Crestdale community from the short video “Tank Town: An Oral History of Crestdale.”

Time had eroded the community’s residential base to just a small core of its original families. Then, in what some lifelong residents originally viewed as an intrusion, the federal government began to send them new residents. Montagnard families from Vietnam were relocated to the community due to their assistance to U.S. troops during the ‘60s and ‘70s. During same time as the relocation, Habitat for Humanity began to build homes in Crestdale, which brought another influx of residents.

An old family picture from the Crestdale community from the short video "Tank Town: An Oral History of Crestdale."

An old family picture from the Crestdale community from the short video “Tank Town: An Oral History of Crestdale.”

Many would assume the new life in the neighborhood was all it needed to revive itself to its former glory, but without any ties to one another, the established and new residents found little reason to interact, let alone thrive as a cohesive community. That’s where the Arts & Science Council (ASC) found its window of opportunity.

ASC has always focused on connecting people to the arts, sciences, history and heritage that surround them, so it is a natural fit for ASC to build the bonds of community whenever possible by supporting culturally related projects, and Crestdale was the perfect place to do it. The individual histories, music and visual artistry that Crestdale’s multitude of ethnic backgrounds brought to the community would ultimately be the stock that bound them together with the help of ASC and The Light Factory.

A complex project that incorporated visual art, quilting and oral histories gave residents the platform and the freedom to share their stories, heritages and individual personalities in a way that was not obstructed by ethnic, language or social barriers. The end product was displayed at The Light Factory in an exhibit that most would say was as beautiful in its creative process as it was in its final result. Thanks to the connective power of culture, Crestdale now has the social bonds needed to find its new sense of identity.

We are all in this pot together. We must retain and support the cultural programs, organizations and institutions that strengthen the bonds of our community. ASC is adding a dash of creativity and a pinch of innovation to the stock. With your support stirring the mixture, we have the perfect recipe to keep our cultural jambalaya rich and diverse for years to come. ASC is You & Me.

Tank Town: An Oral History of Crestdale

Celebrating the iconic uptown Wind Sculpture

26 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Wind Sculpture as it looked in the 1980s.

Wind Sculpture as it looked in the 1980s.

If public art is measured by its ability to transform a space or a place, then perhaps no public artwork in Charlotte-Mecklenburg has had a greater impact than Wind Sculpture by the late Jack Pentes.

When the stack of six spheres, made from metal and in the shape of a triangle, went up in Third Ward on West Trade Street in 1986, there was no Gateway Center or BB&T Ballpark. It was a part of town where people didn’t venture after dark.

Wind Sculpture brought “color, movement and excitement to uptown, which in those days ached for all three,” according to The Charlotte Observer.

“The idea was just to create a structure that moves, a structure that has some life and kineticism, that would be different every time you looked at it rather than a statue,” said Dorne Pentes, Jack Pentes’ son.

The seminal public art piece will soon have a different look as its six panels that have faded over time and lost their luster are replaced with abstract, graphic modern images in time for International Sculpture Day on April 24.

North Carolina-based company Glen Raven, Inc., generously donated the Sunbrella fabric for the new Wind Sculpture panels. Former Arts & Science Council board chair Jennifer Appleby and her team at Wray Ward coordinated the design and creation of the spinning circles.

A preview of what the new Wind Sculpture panels will look like.

A preview of what the new Wind Sculpture panels will look like.

Wind Sculpture will also be celebrated in a future documentary Dorne Pentes is creating about his dad’s recollections of the piece, the first project funded by Queen’s Table, a group of anonymous donors that celebrate Charlotte by funding public art projects that enhance the quality of life in the city.

“It was a great example of some forward-thinking philanthropy and some forward-thinking art that, you know, was not so far out there that it would freak people out,” Dorne said. “It was like, this is art and it can be fun and it can be cool and it can be done by someone from Charlotte.”

Jack Pentes.

Jack Pentes.

In his career, Jack Pentes worked on projects of much larger scales, including sets for Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina productions and a now-closed theme park based on “The Wizard of Oz” in Beech Mountain, N.C.

However, Wind Sculpture, which sits in front of the federal courthouse, was his first piece of public art in the conventional sense. Local company Davis Steel & Iron fabricated the work. The whimsical panels, originally designed to be rotated out on a regular basis (which proved impossible to do, said Dorne), quickly resonated with the community.

“People really enjoyed it,” Dorne said. “They loved it. They loved seeing it. They came downtown to see it. They all walked downtown.”

The sculpture, with its whirling circles, has since been a source of pride and a constant in the gateway to West Charlotte. It’s been gratifying for Dorne to watch that end of the city grow around it.

“(My dad’s) work was one thread in a pattern of cloth that became downtown Charlotte as it is now,” said Dorne, a Charlotte native. “It was just one little piece of the puzzle, but it’s a beautiful piece of the puzzle.”

Our 2015 spring festival roundup

26 Mar

Compiled by Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

May flowers won’t be the only things popping up this spring.

King Drive Art Walk. Photo credit: Festival in the Park.

King Drive Art Walk. Photo credit: Festival in the Park.

The arrival of warmer weather and longer days means outdoor festivals are right around the corner. And investments by the Arts & Science Council (ASC) will be helping Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents and visitors make the most of the season.

ASC supports festivals throughout the year primarily through Town Initiative and Cultural Festival grants that increase access to arts, science, history and heritage programming and strengthen the quality of cultural programming in neighborhoods and towns across our community.

Many of these festivals take place in April and May, when individuals and families are looking to get outside after the chill and dreariness of winter.

Here’s a look at four upcoming festivals, supported by your investment in ASC, to look forward to in the coming weeks.

KINGS DRIVE ART WALK
When:
11 a.m.-5 p.m. April 25 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. April 26, 2015.
Where: Little Sugar Creek Greenway on Kings Drive, 600 S. Kings Drive, Charlotte.
What’s Happening: Presented by Festival in the Park, the annual event focuses on fine and emerging artists. Dozens of artists, ranging from clay and metal to mixed media and painting, will have their work on display and available for purchase. There will also be crafts, music and family entertainment.
Details: http://www.charlottecultureguide.com/event/detail/441674387/Kings_Drive_Art_Walk_2015.

ART ON THE GREEN
When:
10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 18 and noon-4 p.m. April 19, 2015.
Where: Main Street and town green in downtown Davidson.
What’s Happening: The North Mecklenburg festival brings thousands of people to Davidson to enjoy art, live music and food. The juried art festival features booths filled with art works from artists throughout the region. The weekend also includes musical performances by a variety of local talents and a host of food choices from on-site vendors and area restaurants.
Details: http://nc-davidson2.civicplus.com/index.aspx?nid=657.

HELLO HUNTERSVILLE FESTIVAL
When:
10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 9, 2015.
Where: Downtown Huntersville.
What’s Happening: Huntersville’s annual music and arts festival will feature regional artists, live entertainment, food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, children’s activities and more.
Details: http://www.charlottecultureguide.com/event/detail/441897684.

CHARLOTTE ASIAN FESTIVAL AND DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
When:
May 16, 2015.
Where: Ramsey Creek Park, 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius.
What’s Happening: The family-oriented event celebrates Asian cultures, diversity, ethnicity, roots and history. The dragon boat race is a team competition that recognizes an important part of the Chinese traditional calendar – dragon boat racing originated over 2,300 years ago on the life-sustaining rivers of southern China.
Details: http://www.charlottedragonboat.com/.

Other Community Festivals

Matthews Earth Day Celebration
When:
10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 18.
Where: Stumptown Park, 120 S. Trade St., Matthews.
What’s Happening: Composting information will be available, as will wildlife and animal exhibits, eco-friendly displays and green businesses and services. There will also be food vendors, music, crafts and more.
Details: http://www.charlottecultureguide.com/event/detail/441907699/Matthews_Earth_Day_Celebration.

Romare Fest
When:
May 2, 2015 (performances begin at 1 p.m.).
Where: Romare Bearden Park, 300 S. Church St., Charlotte.
What’s Happening: The party in the park will feature performances from regional artists, art, children’s activities and more, including a performance by 1990s alt-rock band The Spin Doctors.
Details: http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/ParkandRec/Parks/ParksByRegion/CentralRegion/Pages/Romare-Bearden-Park.aspx.
Special Note: ASC hired Seattle artist Norie Sato to work with Charlotte-based LandDesign to integrate themes from Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden’s work in the park.

Mint Hill Madness
When:
4-11 p.m. May 22, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. May 23 and noon-6 p.m. May 24.
Where: Mint Hill Veterans Memorial Park, 8850 Fairview Road.
What’s Happening: The festival, which celebrates the town’s founding, has something for everyone in the family: food, music ranging from country to rock, a carnival, an arts/crafts fair, a parade, and a fireworks display.
Details: http://www.charlottecultureguide.com/event/detail/441895025/Mint_Hill_Madness.

Three Bone Theatre connected to community

26 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

The cast and director of the Three Bone Theatre production of "The Yellow Boat."

The cast and director of the Three Bone Theatre production of “The Yellow Boat.”

A wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.

Reba McEntire fans—and who isn’t?—will realize those are the three things the country singer and actress said you need to succeed in life.

They’re also the three things you need to make it as a theater company, said Robin Tynes, who co-founded the aptly named Three Bone Theatre.

“The idea is that we use kind of the core values of each of those bones to influence our work,” Tynes said of the Charlotte-based company.

“So the backbone is about strengthening our community and also having strong artistic work. The wishbone is making sure we’re doing inspirational work and work that inspires other artists. And the final funny bone is that theater, no matter how dark or political or twisted that you can make it, still has to be entertaining and still have some value because if it doesn’t then no one will watch.”

The theater’s upcoming production, “The Yellow Boat” by David Saar, exemplifies those values. Based on the real life story of a child born with congenital hemophilia and who died at the age of 8 of AIDS-related complications, the story affirms the strength and courage of children and celebrates the role caregivers play in helping children with terminal or chronic illnesses cope.

“The story lends itself to celebrating those people that we don’t celebrate that much and to bringing awareness to what the journey is for childhood illnesses is like for the whole family,” Tynes said.

A community-focused company, Three Bone Theatre partners with local organizations throughout its season. It does so by matching the themes of its productions to the causes of area nonprofits. During the run of its production “2 Across,” for example, it held a book drive and collected donations for an organization that collects books for children.

“It’s just a way that theater allows people to walk through stories they wouldn’t necessarily walk through in real life and connect with other people,” Tynes said. “Charlotte has such a rich vibrant community and we wanted to make sure we were telling all of those stories and connecting them back to a local organization.”

For this production, Three Bone is partnering with Team Odin Baer, a support and community group for a young boy in Salisbury with an inoperable brain stem tumor.

To further connect the local community to the theme of the show, the theater applied for and received a $2,622 Cultural Project Grant from the Arts & Science Council (ASC) to present a special performance of the play for families and care providers of chronically or terminally ill children at Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square.

The company typically hosts its productions at the NoDa venue UpStage, a haven for independent theaters in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. But the theater needed a bigger space so it could invite families and caregivers from Ronald McDonald House and Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

“We can’t on a regular basis afford to do a show in the Duke, but we thought this was something special and maybe we can get some help with it,” said executive director Becky Schultz. “We are so excited that this was our first grant application and it was approved and it’s something that we’re going to be able to bring to fruition.

“It’s a bit of a wish-dream.”

The production itself is huge step for the three-year-old theater, said Tynes, who is directing the play.

“It’s a more technical show from what we usually do, it’s a bigger budget from what we usually have and it’s a pretty big cast compared to what we usually have,” she said. “It’s pretty groundbreaking for us in a lot of ways.”

After the special performance for families and caregivers at Duke Energy Theater on May 1, the show will run May 8–9 and 15–17 at Upstage.

“It’s a story about a child living and it’s as hopeful and uplifting a story about a child passing away can be,” Schultz said. “There will be sad tears but there will also be happy tears hopefully and you go home and hug your family and take a little bit more joy in every day of your life.”

Addressing the question of cultural relevance

16 Mar

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.

Wolf Trap’s Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts

5 Mar

By Akua Kouyate-Tate
Senior Director of Education, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

A Wolf Trap program that utilizes music and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

A Wolf Trap program that utilizes music and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

For more than 30 years, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts has been a leader in early childhood education. In 2010, we received a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement and study a professional development (PD) model that enables teachers to infuse performing arts strategies with mathematics instruction in Kindergarten and pre-K classrooms in an effort to improve children’s math skills.

Our program, Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts), provides unique arts-integrated content, which includes 16-session classroom residencies, multi-day integrated art/math training workshops, peer-sharing of instructional strategies and one-to-one mentoring and coaching with a Wolf Trap teaching artist. The Arts & Science Council’s North Carolina Wolf Trap is one of 17 Affiliate partners throughout the U.S. that is now primed to implement Early STEM/Arts in early childhood classrooms in the community.

We recently received the results of the four-year study, and were thrilled to learn that Early STEM/Arts had a statistically significant, positive impact on students’ math achievement. Additionally, the study found Wolf Trap’s Early STEM/Arts program demonstrates the necessary features that constitute effective, high-quality professional development (PD) for teachers. When American Institute for Research, the independent researchers conducting the study, measured Wolf Trap’s model against standards of effective PD, they confirmed that Wolf Trap provides high-quality PD by thoroughly integrating: form, duration, collective participation, content, active learning, and coherence.

A Wolf Trap program that connects dance and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

A Wolf Trap program that connects dance and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

The research data validates the work that Wolf Trap Institute Affiliates across the country have been doing over the last 30 years: we are empowering teachers with dynamic ways to integrate performing arts techniques into traditional classroom instruction. When Wolf Trap teaching artists work with educators, teachers have more confidence to incorporate STEM concepts into their lesson plans. In this way, the ‘Wolf Trap approach’ to professional development supports educators for years to come. As a result, teachers are cultivating in children a foundational knowledge of STEM that they will likely carry throughout the trajectory of their education. Studies show that early childhood education is pivotal to how children will perform in the latter stages of their educational development. Arts-integrated STEM learning is highly effective for young children and fosters excitement about, and a desire to, engage in STEM.

We are very pleased with what has been accomplished to this point and are excited about what’s to come in the future. With the support of our Affiliates and partnering organizations, children and teachers throughout the nation are benefitting.

To learn more about the Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts program, please watch our latest video: http://youtu.be/YItpTgHEEhg

The Gantt Center celebrates its 40th anniversary

1 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

GanttCenter-40Remember

For its 40th anniversary, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture wants to continue its conversations with the community.

The ongoing dialogue includes last season’s “Question Bridge: Black Males” exhibit, which explored issues facing the black male community.

It continues with “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness,” the new exhibition that examines the long-standing impact of colonialism on societal attitudes that define black culture in America.

“I was asked this question about what’s next for the center and what kind of role would the center continue to play,” said Gantt Center President David Taylor.

With its latest exhibition, the center shows it will continue to be a leader in helping the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community have uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.

It’s what the Gantt Center (founded as the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center in 1974 and renamed after Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first African-American mayor, in 2009) has done for the last four decades.

“Few cities have the privilege of prominent, public spaces that have existed for 40 years to celebrate the black experience,” Taylor said. “The Gantt Center proudly holds that distinction for Charlotte.”

“Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness” does more than celebrate the black experience – it challenges viewers to critically think about how black identity has often been defined by others.

It does so through the work of guest curator Rehema Barber and nearly 20 national and international artists of the African diaspora, or the communities throughout the world descended from the historic movement of peoples from Africa.

This untitled piece by Ken Gonzales-Day is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition "Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness."

This untitled piece by Ken Gonzales-Day is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness.”

The exhibit, Barber said, was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” It explores the history that shaped prevailing views about African-Americans – such as the “Magical Negro” (think the 2000 Will Smith film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) and fallout from the Paula Deen controversy – and how those views played out in mainstream society.

“I was paying attention to a lot of things that were happening every day,” Barber said. “And so I said I really want to talk about people’s perceptions of black culture or black identity – how things influence that perception. Not so much about black identity as a whole, but this idea that there are things that sort of influence how we construct or how we perceive black identity.”

Sean Johnson's "False Identity" is is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition "Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness."

Sean Johnson’s “False Identity” is is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness.”

The perception of African-Americans, Barber said, is a conglomerate of ideas originated in the days of colonialism.

This exhibition, she said, is “about coming to the realization that we all have the power to define who we are for ourselves.”

Venture “Out of the Heart of Darkness”

The exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness” runs through June 26, 2015, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, 551 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. For more information, visit www.ganttcenter.org.

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