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Top 10 ways to be a cultural leader

2 Jul

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

jamie farris

You don’t have to be an artist, a curator, a dancer or a docent to help build our cultural community, said Jami Farris, a partner at Parker Poe.

You can be a leader.

It’s what Farris became after graduating from the Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) first Cultural Leadership Training (CLT) class in 2006. Farris joined the board of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte upon graduation and became board chair in 2013.

“It has been the most rewarding personal and professional activity I have undertaken,” she said.

More than 300 emerging leaders have taken similar paths over the past 10 years, graduating from CLT and moving on to serve on boards of more than 40 local arts and culture organizations.

The nine-month, hands-on training program is a way for the cultural sector to identify new leaders, said Katherine Mooring, ASC senior vice president of programs and services.

“I continue to be amazed, year after year, at the talent, passion, and enthusiasm I encounter among participants in this program as well as what they then go on to contribute to the arts, culture and community,” Mooring said. “Their dedication and commitment has, and will continue to have, an enormous impact.”

Farris, the keynote speaker at the 10th CLT class graduation in June at Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts, stressed that point to the program’s recent graduates.

She also reminded the graduates to use their strengths to make a difference in the cultural community.

“David Letterman once said, ‘I cannot sing, dance or act; what else would I be but a talk show host?’” Farris said. “That same sentiment applies to me. I cannot sing, dance, or act; what else would I be but a board member. CLT afforded me that opportunity.”

So, with a nod and an apology to the late-night icon, here’s Farris’ Top 10 List of Things You Should Do as a Cultural Board Member or Cultural Supporter:

10. Get engaged. Find out where you can make substantive and meaningful contributes to an organization.

9. Be present. You cannot be effective as a board member or advocate if you don’t participate in the organization. Go to shows, fundraisers and special events.

8. Share your resources. Time and energy are the most important resources you bring. It’s also important to make some financial contribution to the organizations you care about.

7. Get comfortable with asking. Invite friends to attend events with you and ask people in your network to support the cultural sector.

6. Read and research. Learn what other organizations are doing around the country, borrow good ideas and learn from mistakes.

5. Be a consumer of cultural activities. Take advantage of the diverse cultural offerings in our community to become well-rounded and to stay informed.

4. Use social media. Let your friends or followers know about upcoming events and use your network to support the cultural community.

3. Be an advocate in your profession. Familiarize your co-workers or clients with organizations you care about. Take advantage of donation matching programs. If your company supports the arts and culture, thank the decision makers and tell people in your circle about your company’s commitment to the cultural sector.

2. Be an advocate for ASC. Reach out to local leaders and voice your support for ASC and the cultural community.

1. Have fun! Pursue you cultural passions and engage as often as possible.

Local artists turn their SWAG on

2 Jul

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

SWAG Group

A self-organized artists group will spend the next five months working to disprove a popular myth – that of the struggling artist.

The Sunday Artists Working Group, or SWAG, consists of 14 local artists that have joined together to think more purposefully about how they can build lives that are balanced, productive, and sustainable within their chosen disciplines.

“One big challenge is strategic,” said Andrew Simonet, who led a sustainable life workshop the Arts & Science Council held for individual artists in April. “Can we take the planning skills we use in the studio and use them in all aspects of our lives?

“We go from a thing that doesn’t exist in the world and then we make a plan to create it and have to respond and change as we discover problems and then we deliver that thing to the world. But a lot of times we as artists don’t use those skills in the real world.”

The message resonated with Charlotte-Mecklenburg artists, who reconvened with Simonet last month to launch a pilot program expected to be replicated nationally by Artist U, the Philadelphia-based platform founded by Simonet to change the working conditions of artists.

SWAG will come together regularly beginning this month to develop personal strategic and financial plans, as well as to set goals and share resources.

But they’re already putting what they learned in their previous sessions with Simonet to work.

Take Michael Haithcock, a singer starting from scratch in the Charlotte music scene. The sustainable life workshop and joining SWAG inspired him to get the ball rolling in advancing his artistic career.

He’s since found musicians to rehearse with and joined online music groups that can lead him to local connections and possible gigs.

“Knowing that there are other people you are going to have to share your progress with helps make you accountable,” Haithcock said. “Each time you go you want to have something positive to say.”

The notion of accountability can force artists to be more entrepreneurial in their approach to finding work, said jazz vocalist Tenya Coleman.

“Of course you can’t make people hire you,” she said, “but you can try to stretch out as many opportunities where you’re the person bringing the program to them and you’re not waiting on someone to bring something to you.”

For Coleman, a full-time working artist who also works a full-time government job, that means being creative in finding spaces inside of her niche and forming alliances with artists outside of her discipline, which makes SWAG valuable.

“Art is art, whether it’s vocal, painting or acting,” she said. “We can all help each other to get our art out there.”

Duke Energy to receive BCA Hall of Fame Award from Americans for the Arts

2 Jun

From Americans for the Arts


Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, today announced that Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the United States, will receive the 2015 BCA Hall of Fame Award.

Presented by the Business Committee for the Arts (BCA), a division of Americans for the Arts, the BCA Hall of Fame Award recognizes companies that have exhibited exceptional long-term vision, leadership, and commitment to developing alliances with the arts. Honorees are selected by the BCA Executive Board.

Through civic leadership, volunteerism, and financial contributions, Duke Energy fosters arts initiatives that support economic development and cultural diversity in the regions it serves. The company’s contributions helped to create the Levine Center for the Arts in Charlotte and helped ensure the continuation of a partnership between the Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina.

“Duke Energy is committed to supporting the vitality of the communities we serve,” said Lynn Good, Duke Energy vice chair and CEO. “That includes introducing our young people to the arts at an early age. Study after study shows that children benefit immensely from exposure to the arts. Investing in the arts makes good sense, for our business and for our communities.” Good also serves on the board of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

Duke Energy’s employees and retirees are able to maximize their personal contributions to nonprofit organizations, including arts organizations, through the company’s matching gifts program. Employees also participate in workplace giving campaigns through the Arts & Science Council (ASC) in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Duke Energy was recognized by Americans for the Arts as a BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts honoree in 2009.

“Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural community is grateful for Duke Energy’s consistent and generous support of arts and cultural organizations and programs that educate, entertain, and enrich the quality of life for our residents and visitors,” said ASC President Robert Bush. “Duke Energy’s leadership has played a key role in building Charlotte’s extraordinary cultural institutions, not just through its generosity, but through the volunteer leadership from Duke in the cultural sector.”

“I am pleased to honor Duke Energy for their exceptional involvement in the arts,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “They have contributed to a vibrant arts community that provides creative outlets for citizens, exposes local audiences to first-rate performers and exhibits, and drives investment in local businesses.”

Duke Energy will receive the BCA Hall of Fame Award at the BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America gala on October 6, 2015, a black-tie affair at the Loeb Boathouse in New York City’s Central Park.

From Charlotte to Charlotte

29 May

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Britain’s newest princess may not be named after the city of Charlotte, but we like to think there’s a connection between the royal baby and the Queen City.

Born in May to Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte owes her name to her grandfather, Prince Charles, the late Princess Diana and a litany of royal ancestors, perhaps most notably Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Emily Andress.

Emily Andress.

Queen Charlotte, whom the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are named after, is part of Prince William’s lineage, which local artist Emily Andress discovered while researching different portraits of her in order to create a gorgeous painting to be sent as a baby gift to the royal family on behalf of the city and the cultural sector.

The oil painting is a modern twist on the 1767 Francis Cotes pastel of Queen Charlotte holding her daughter Charlotte. In her piece, Andress updates a young Queen Charlotte with a tiara fashioned after Charlotte’s skyline.

Pictures of the painting will be made public after it has been sent to England.

“Since this is a gift from our city and because she does have that skyline in her hair, it shows the pride of the bloodlines of the new little princess,” Andress said. “The mother is holding up her finger like she’s shushing you to tell you that the baby is sleeping.”

What makes Andress’ artwork unique is her expert use of negative space and her detailed line work, which she said has solidified her style.

“It is exciting to see what that line work is doing and how it’s creating a little more energy,” she said. “For me, it’s got a little more power behind it and shows the frantic beginnings of what my paintings are. They start out with a burst of line work and then it’s the painting and I like that.”

Her line-centric focus dates back to her background as a printmaker. She shifted her focus to painting 10 years ago, but it was only a year and a half ago that she felt like her painting was ready to show.

“I felt like I had explored printmaking as far as I wanted to go with it,” she said. “Oddly enough, I had to go back to my printmaking roots to in order to find this style now in my paintings.”

Her distinctive style has made her paintings recognizable in the local arts scene in a short time.

In December, she became a partner at Ciel Gallery in Charlotte’s South End. Her “Paparazzi” was one of 20 works by local artists that went up on local billboards at the beginning of the year through the Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) and Adam Outdoor Advertising’s 2015 ArtPop program.

She was also one of nine local artists chosen for ASC’s spring 2015 Community Supported Art program, which connects regional artists to local arts patrons.

“It’s been a ridiculous 2015, honestly,” she said.

Being tabbed to create a gift for Princess Charlotte is the latest feather in Andress’ proverbial cap. She painted an older version of Queen Charlotte, sans baby, as part of Ciel Gallery’s “Skew the Masters” fundraiser that raised more than $5,000 for ASC last month.

The work quickly sold and was also a finalist in the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce’s grand mural contest for its new lobby.

In her painting for the royal family, Andress replicated the finishing touch that made her first Queen Charlotte so popular.

“I wanted to make everyone absolutely certain that it was Queen Charlotte and I thought, ‘Okay, let’s just put the skyline on her head’” Andress said.

“I didn’t know how big of a deal that would be, but I think it resonated with people because the people that live here love it so much.”

We have a feeling some royal people across the pond will love it too.

Emily Andress' ArtPop billboard. Andress has created an oil painting that will be sent to the royal family from the city of Charlotte and the cultural sector to honor the birth of Princess Charlotte.

Emily Andress’ ArtPop billboard. Andress has created an oil painting that will be sent to the royal family from the city of Charlotte and the cultural sector to honor the birth of Princess Charlotte.

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.



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