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Studio 345 encourages students to pursue cultural passions – and to graduate

29 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Studio 345's Tashrey Williams working on his music. Photo credit: Trenton Hudson.

Studio 345’s Tashrey Williams working on his music. Photo credit: Trenton Hudson.

Ask Tashrey Williams what he likes most about Studio 345, the Arts & Science Council’s out-of-school time youth development program for high school students, and initially he’ll give you a typical teenage boy answer.

“The snacks,” said Williams, a senior at Myers Park High School. “Everybody likes snack food.”

But then Williams will open up about how welcome his teaching artists made him feel on his first day at the studio two years ago and being encouraged to make his music the way he wants it to be.

He’ll talk about how he’s grown as a writer and as a performer. He’ll tell you that, because of Studio 345, he now wants to go to Full Sail University in Florida to pursue a career in music after he earns enough transfer credits at Central Piedmont Community College.

And then he’ll tell you what he really likes most about the program.

“You’re free to have fun and you have the freedom to create your art,” he said. “It’s a good place to be instead of being out there running the streets or whatever, doing stuff that’s not good for you.”

Williams is one of 24 students in Studio 345 that will graduate from high school this month. For the second consecutive year, 100-percent of the seniors enrolled in the program will graduate.

Inspired by the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburg, ASC launched Studio 345 three years ago to use the arts to educate and inspire students to stay in school, graduate and purse goals beyond high school.

But it’s more than that, said Ketsana Theppasone, a senior at West Charlotte High School.

“It’s a judgement-free zone where you can bring your ideas to life,” said Theppasone, who has been with Studio 345 all three years. “You don’t have to be a student – you can be a visitor and you can feel the energy level of the classes.”

Studio 345 student Ketsana Theppasone.

Studio 345 student Ketsana Theppasone.

That environment not only fuels creativity, she said, but it also builds characteristics that will help later in life, such as leadership, learning to deal with failure and success, and thinking independently.

“It definitely helps you come out of our shell,” she said.

Theppasone started in the digital media arts class before trying her hand at painting and screen printing (“I wanted to challenge myself artistically,” she said). She plans to do volunteer work locally this fall before heading to the Chicago School of the Arts in the spring.

“Right now, I just want to stay near art because I feel that’s what calms me,” she said.

When asked about what she will miss about Studio 345, Theppasone talked about the people and how she had been inspired by her classmates and her teaching artists.

“Everyone is always excited to be there and to work on their art,” she said.

What she didn’t mention were the snacks. But then again, why would she.

Who doesn’t like snacks?

The Davidson Community Players turn 50

29 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

It’s been around for 50 years, but the Davidson Community Players (DCP) is still introducing itself to new audiences in North Mecklenburg and beyond.

“There are scores of patrons who don’t know anything about our history,” said executive director Matt Merrell. “They just know that we’re producing a show that they want to see, so they come out.

“Many of our patrons are continuing to discover us for the first time.”

The booming growth in the Lake Norman region over the past 20 years means that Davidson is a very different place than it was when it held its first production – the original play “Times of Harvest” – in July 1965.

An image of "Time of Harvest," the Davidson Community Players' first show in July 1965.

An image of “Time of Harvest,” the Davidson Community Players’ first show in July 1965. Photo credit: Davidson Community Players.

Back then, the Players was a sleepy summer theater company that only performed on the campus of Davidson College while the students were on their extended breaks.

“We produced all of our shows over on the campus of the college and we can only get access to that space when the students are gone,” Merrell said.

That’s how it went for 30-plus years, until the theater added a show during spring break.

“We would rehearse a show elsewhere and then come into the college space during the break and do one weekend of performances and then we were done,” he said.

Davidson Community Players Executive Director Matt Merrell.

Davidson Community Players Executive Director Matt Merrell. Photo credit: Davidson Community Players.

Merrell, a former lawyer who has worked nearly 20 DCP shows as either an actor or director since 1997, was a DCP board member when those spring shows were added.

DCP’s shows were selling well, its patrons were constantly asking for more shows and there was a demand for youth theater classes that wasn’t being met.

“We realized there was both tremendous growth in this region with people moving into the Lake Norman area and new neighborhoods going up everywhere,” he said.

“But there was also this tremendous demand for the arts in this area.”

To begin to meet that demand, the organization partnered with the Town of Davidson in 2008 to purchase and convert an old abandoned church into the 110-seat Armour Street Theatre.

Since then, DCP has expanded its programming, going from two or three shows a year to eight productions. The accessibility to more space has allowed it to add acting classes year-round, cultivate the resources to hire an education coordinator and provide full- and half-day summer camps for kids ages 4 to 16.

“Now we feel like we’re offering this broader array of artistic experiences for adults and for youth,” he said. “So the organization has changed dramatically since we acquired that space.”

DCP is also a fairly mature company now, Merrell said – one that has played an integral role in building community in Davidson and Lake Norman.

Kids that started out in its Connie Company Productions (named after DCP founder Connie Welsh) have worked their way up to leading roles in the theater’s main stage productions.

Support of the theater is demonstrated through not only high attendance but through strong community financial as well.

“We just feel like the power of what we do helps knit this Lake Norman community together,” Merrell said.

The secret, if there is one, is producing quality work that people want to see, he said. For the Players’ 50th anniversary, it gave its patrons the chance to decide which musical it would perform for its biggest show of the year.

They chose “Chicago,” which will be performed June 18-27 at the Duke Family Performance Hall on the Davidson College campus. And, in a nod to patrons that have been with the theater for a while, the Players will reprise the comedy “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” which it first performed 10 years ago.

“We try to choose shows we think our audiences want to see and that will get them to come back and see us again,” Merrell said.

The goal is for the Players audience to continue to grow with the organization as it strives to meet the community’s demand for the arts.

DCP’s continued growth will mean more shows, more programs and more space to offer programs in the future, Merrell said.

“As we continue to meet the demand, we continue to bring more and more patrons and families into what we do,” he said. “And so while we’re proud of our past, we’re really excited about our future.”


Celebrate 50 Years of the Davidson Community Players

The Davidson Community Players present the musical “Chicago” from June 18-27 at Duke Family Performance Hall, 207 Faculty Drive, Davidson. Players patrons voted for “Chicago” to be the musical production for the theater’s 50th anniversary. Click here for more details.

Public art history: Ray’s Splash Planet

29 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Ray's Splash Planet.

Ray’s Splash Planet.

The pools, giant slides and lazy rivers are what make Ray’s Splash Planet a local and regional draw this time of year.

But it’s the public art integrated into the building and the greenspace surrounding it that ties the indoor waterpark to Charlotte’s Third Ward community and the neighboring Irwin Academic Center (formerly Irwin Avenue Open Elementary).

In 2002, North Carolina artist Betsy Towns was commissioned to design public art for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation facility by the Arts & Science Council, the public art agent for the city and the county.

Towns, a Charlotte native, had previously been commissioned to create a wall mural depicting North Carolina landscapes for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Independence Regional branch.

Water is not just a function of the 29,000 square foot recreational center – it figuratively flows from the facility, which takes on the appearance of “spilling” down from the elevation of the school onto the lower portion of the site and into the greenway.

Public artwork found at Ray's Splash Planet in Charlotte's Third Ward.

Public artwork found at Ray’s Splash Planet in Charlotte’s Third Ward.

To keep the project connected to the community, and to draw attention to the importance of preserving the city’s streams and creeks, Towns enlisted students and teachers from the elementary school to gather plant specimens from the nearby Irwin Creek Greenway.

Towns then carved images of the local fauna and flora into terra cotta bricks made of Carolina clay and incorporated them in benches, planters, walkways, murals, doorways and fountains.

The resulting public artwork now greets visitors as they enter Ray’s Splash Planet, located at 215 N. Sycamore St., encouraging them to take a moment to appreciate the site’s natural beauty.

It makes for a nice walk – or rather, splash – in the waterpark.


Take action and ask your legislator to support the arts

14 May

ASC Staff

arts day 2015On May 20, Mecklenburg County art supporters will come together with hundreds of other NC citizens for ARTS Day 2015, a united effort to tell our state legislators in Raleigh how significant the arts are in our community.

Please consider joining us in our advocacy efforts.  For more information on the event, visit:

If you cannot come to Raleigh on May 20, you can take part in ARTS Day by sending an email to your state legislator that addresses:

  • Increasing N.C. Arts Council grants funding, which helps ASC provide neighborhood/community and individual artist project grants, and
  • Securing Senate passage of H138, requiring one credit in the arts for high school graduation.

Click here for a sample letter and additional details.

Sending this message to your legislator should take you no more than 2 minutes. We urge you to send an e-mail today to coincide with our visit to Raleigh-emphasizing the importance of arts and culture in Mecklenburg County.


Renewal of public/private partnership needed to sustain cultural sector

1 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Photo illustration by Sean Busher.

Photo illustration by Sean Busher.

The Cultural Vision Plan laid out Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents’ expectation that the cultural community connect people and strengthen community by providing access to relevant, educational and diverse arts and cultural experiences to all residents.

The question left unanswered was ‘how can we pay for this vision when our cultural community has not recovered from the 2008 recession’.

The Cultural Life Task Force, a joint effort between our local private and public sector funders, provided the roadmap for sustaining the cultural sector so that it can move towards fulfilling that community goal.

Now, the Arts & Science Council (ASC) is tasked with implementing the recommendations and visions offered by the two plans. Doing so, said ASC President Robert Bush, will mean revitalizing the public/private partnership that has been central to building and growing our cultural community.

It is why ASC, the community’s chief advocate for arts, science, history and heritage, has requested funding increases from the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville. The requests focus on increasing the per capita to serve the growing population.

ASC President Robert Bush.

ASC President Robert Bush.

“The requests that we have made—even the dollar amounts—were specifically recommended by the task force,” Bush said. “We have also been very specific in what these dollars would fund. This isn’t just a ‘give us more money and we’ll decide’ kind of thing.”

Because changes the N.C. Legislature made to the business privilege tax mean reductions in funding for local governments, ASC has provided the towns and the city a stepped-in approach to achieve the task force’s recommended level of funding over a three- to five-year period.

For fiscal year 2016, the requested increases amount to a combined $39,200 more in unrestricted funds from the towns (from $72,500 in FY 2015 to $111,700), $350,000 more from the city (from $2.9 million to $3.2 million) and $2 million from the county, which last gave ASC unrestricted funding in 2011 (it provided $350,000 in restricted funds in FY 2015).

Half of the requested increased funds from Mecklenburg County would support education initiatives that restore and stabilize field trips, allow elementary schools to use the arts to improve reading, expand or reestablish middle school music programs and establish out-of-school time arts, science and history programs across the county.

The remainder would go to support neighborhood arts programming, providing cultural exhibitions and performances in parks and libraries and transforming the services the cultural sector provides to the community.

“These are all things that align with the county’s priorities in building this community for the future,” Bush said. “We have taken similar steps with the city and the towns so that the cultural services provided are the ones their communities want.”

The task force called for the additional public sector support to be matched by the private sector. That is happening, with the Thrive Campaign—comprised of a small group of corporate and individual donors and foundations—having already raised $42.5 million of its $45 million goal to help major cultural institutions transform their business models and produce their work more cost-effectively.

The campaign, which is completely separate from ASC, is led by Hugh McColl.

“Thrive money is about building the capacity of our major institutions so they can reach their highest potential to serve the community in new ways and we are excited that the Thrive group has done this,” Bush said. “But those dollars are not flowing through ASC. They are a totally separate fund, and we need to keep raising the dollars we have been raising so that ASC can invest in the cultural sector.”

Thrive donors have been clear in saying they expect the public sector to match their efforts to reinvigorate the public/private partnership that led to the establishment of Spirit Square, The Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture), Discovery Place and Blumenthal Performing Arts in the 1970s and 80s.

“We’ve built this big infrastructure,” Bush said. “The problem we have now is that the system that we built this on put ASC between the donor and the groups and we’ve got to change that. The groups have to build deep relationships with people that love what they do, and we’ve got to provide a stable highway to get to that new system.”

It’s a challenging time for local governments, but “every year we wait to make this shift, the deeper the hole gets and we get closer to the point where we may lose some of our beloved institutions,” Bush said.

The loss of any more of our longtime cultural organizations would be detrimental to the community, Bush said. But he said it shouldn’t come to that.

“The arts, science and history programs we have in this community are a view to a different world for many people and they are the path to give people a future and a place of hope,” he said. “It’s not just about entertainment. It’s about inspiring people to think differently about their lives.

“It’s about inspiring young people to be serious about their education. It’s about ensuring that this is a joyful place to live, work, raise a family and play. It’s about the cultural sector being a critical economic and tourism driver, and I firmly believe that this community has the ability to make all of this happen and everything else and that it’s time that we all stand up and together for the cultural sector that impacts the quality of life of residents and visitors.”

Finding uptown Charlotte’s “hidden” public art

1 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Public art is all around us—even places we don’t expect to find it.

Hidden works lurk in interior locations and blend into parks and architecture, beckoning to us and inviting us to stick around awhile.

Some greet you warmly as soon as you enter one of our uptown buildings. Others force you to look up. Or down. Or to stop and smell the roses.

But once you discover any of them, your perception of that place and space is forever altered.

In what we hope will become the first in an occasional series uncovering some of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s “hidden” treasures, we take a look at eight of our favorite uptown public artworks hiding in plain sight.

Oculus Reflector.

Oculus Reflector.

Oculus Reflector
James Carpenter.
Where You Can Find It: Charlotte Convention Center.
What You’ll Uncover: Perched in the circular opening of the dome in the Convention Center’s Grand Hall, the three-dimensional light reflective sculpture made of glass and steel creates shifting patterns and designs on the floor. It’s one of nine public artworks found at the Convention Center.



Passing Through Light.

Passing Through Light.

Passing Through Light
Artist: Erwin Redl.
Where You Can Find It: I-77 Underpass at West Trade Street.
What You’ll Uncover: The immersive public artwork consists of three sequences of light that slowly loop through a color gradient, turning what was an unsafe, unwelcoming space into a visual, dynamic gateway for vehicles and pedestrians as they enter and exit Charlotte’s Northwest corridor. The project was the first in the state to test the N.C. Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) art on the right-of-way policy, which provides a way for communities to undertake public art projects within the NCDOT right-of-way.

Rendering the Familiar.

Rendering the Familiar.

Rendering the Familiar
Artists: Amy Baur and Brian Bolden.
Where You Can Find It: City-County Courts District, 700 E. 4th St.
What You’ll Uncover: Digital images past and present Charlotte are merged in this wall installation to provide a sense of perspective and peace.

We Hold These Truths.

We Hold These Truths.

We Hold These Truths (exterior) and Let Justice Like a River Roll (interior)
Robin Brailsford, artist & Fred Chappell, poet.
Where You Can Find It:
Mecklenburg County Courthouse, 832 E. 4th St.
What You’ll Uncover: On the exterior, quotes from the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are accompanied by complementary phrases that provide historical and philosophical context. The interior holds a carved poem written by Chappell, a former North Carolina Poet Laureate, which echoes, in poetic form, the sentiments of America’s founders.

Wind Silos.

Wind Silos.

Wind Silos
Ned Kahn.
Where You Can Find It: Parking deck of the International Trade Center, 200 N. College St.
What You’ll Uncover: The inspiration for the piece came from the Archer Daniels Midland silos still standing in Fourth Ward. Its undulating metal screens are evocative of grain silos and are designed to allow ventilation while creating a visual screen.




Artist: Jean Tinguely.
Where You Can Find It: Carillon Building, 227 W. Trade St.
What You’ll Uncover: Cascade, created in 1991, was the last monumental work by the famed kinetic sculptor. Tinguely came to Charlotte at the behest of his friend Andreas Bechtler, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art benefactor. The artist incorporated pieces he discovered locally into the work, including a lion’s head from the façade of the old Hotel Charlotte, where the Carillon currently stands.



Artist: Ben Long.
Where You Can Find It: Exterior rotunda of the TransAmerica Building, 401 N. Tryon St.
What You’ll Uncover: The fresco requires you to crane your neck in order to see faces and images iconic to North Carolina. Among them are the Tar Heel mascot and former Bank of America Chairman and CEO Hugh McColl.

Traces of Fourth Ward.

Traces of Fourth Ward.

Traces of Fourth Ward
Artist: Shaun Cassidy.
Where You Can Find It: Fourth Ward Neighborhood Park, 301 N. Poplar St.
What You’ll Uncover: The steel sculpture is fashioned in the style of the Victorian homes prominent in the historic neighborhood. It also supports a climbing rose bush that covers the structure.

XOXO: Putting the weird in local theater

1 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

XOXO presents the experiential performance "Bohemian Grove" May 7-30.

XOXO presents the experiential performance “Bohemian Grove” May 7-30.

Trying to win over the established theater crowd wasn’t working for XOXO. Traditional venues didn’t hold much appeal for the Charlotte experimental theater collective either.

So it got weird.

“We gave ourselves permission to do the kind of shows we wanted to see,” said founder Matt Cosper. “The audience came out of the woodwork, and it’s been really rewarding because it turns out it’s actually this elusive audience that theaters want—a very diverse audience, a young audience.

“People that don’t go see theater come see our shows.”

Case in point: “Bohemian Grove,” the three-hour-plus experiential performance piece the theater mounted last year. For each show, an audience of 14 people loaded up on a church van in Charlotte to be chauffeured by Cosper to a remote South Carolina farm, where a story exploring the afterlife unfolded.

XOXO will remount its boutique work from May 7–30, thanks in part to $5,000 in project funding from the Arts & Science Council (ASC).

XOXO founder Matt Cosper.

XOXO founder Matt Cosper.

The grant is “allowing us to pay artists, rent and insure the van—insurance for a performance like this is not cheap,” Cosper said. “It’s allowing us to do the work that we want to do and serve more people, and that’s a big thing.”

The performance starts on the drive, with the route to the farm specifically mapped out. Music, soundscapes, a monologue, poems and little scenes connect passengers to what they see out the windows—and prepares them for what’s to come.

If you’re used to the traditional theater-going experience, it gets weirder from here.

At the farm, audiences move through the encounter together. The actors are close enough to make eye contact and have one-on-one experiences with spectators. At one point, the audience sits in silence and watches fireflies. At another, each audience member is confronted with a choice.

If the thought of audience participation freaks you out, don’t worry. There aren’t any costumed characters dancing down the aisles. No one is being pulled up onstage or forced to do tricks.

It’s really more of a plugged in, connected experience that audience members get to immersive themselves in for a few hours.

“It might not be for everybody,” Cosper said. “Some people really want that distance. They want a nice frame around the picture and to sit back, but this is not that. You’re in it, you’re making the show.”

You’re also enveloped in the poetic afterlife that XOXO has imagined. It’s a party. It’s also quite silly, Cosper said.

“Most of the show is very comic in tone,” he said. “It’s almost like a clown show, but it also has sort of a spacey vibe. We do kind of think of it as a trip to another dimension.”

Yeah, it sounds weird. But here’s the thing—even though experimental theater can have the reputation of being prickly and inaccessible, “Bohemian Grove” is anything but.

“Whatever experience you have is the right experience,” Cosper said. “We’re not out to make anyone feel anything other than welcome.”

Want to Go?

XOXO presents the theatrical experience “Bohemian Grove” May 7–30. The performance party invites adventurous culture vultures to explore a cartoonish and poetic vision of the afterlife. Click here for ticket information or for more details.


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