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Arts and Culture: Supplying much more than meets the eye

24 Apr

By David Currence
Marketing Manager

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You might think about arts and culture as only museums, galleries and theaters.

But here’s a new way of thinking of them – as job creators, economic stimulators and active contributors to the local business community.

Nonprofit arts and culture are a $202.8 million industry in Charlotte-Mecklenburg – one that supports more than 6,200 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $144.6 million in household income for local residents and delivers $18.1 million in local and state government revenue.

Don’t worry about those facts and figure, just remember this: the arts mean business.

The common misconception is that communities support the arts and culture at the expense of local economic development. But the reality is leaders who care about their community and its economic vitality should feel good about investing in the arts.

It’s an investment in an industry that creates local jobs, generates government revenue and spends its dollars in its own backyard. As Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s chief advocate and supporter for arts and culture, the Arts & Science Council (ASC) is the primary investor for many of the cultural experiences that enrich all of our lives. Therefore, supporting ASC is the wisest investment of all because ASC is you and me.

ASC helps theatre reach all generations

4 Apr

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

The Arts & Science Council (ASC) supports Matthews Playhouse and its mission through a Cultural & Community Investment grant.

The Arts & Science Council (ASC) supports Matthews Playhouse and its mission through a Cultural & Community Investment grant.

A funny thing happened when Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts began offering productions for kids nearly 20 years ago.

Adults wanted to play, too.

So the playhouse expanded to give adults in southern Mecklenburg opportunities to shine.

“We try to be a big arts presence in Matthews,” said playhouse representative Melisa Verch. “They love the arts here and we try to be a big venue for that.”

It’s why more than 6,000 students will see a Matthews Playhouse performance with their school this season.

“Introducing them to live theatre is important,” Verch said. “It helps their favorite books come to life, it sparks their imagination and it creates a love of the arts.”

The Arts & Science Council (ASC) supports Matthews Playhouse and its mission through a Cultural & Community Investment grant.

“A grant from ASC,” Verch said, “helps us to do things just a little bit better than maybe we would have otherwise.”

ASC supports our entire community.  Its impact reaches all corners of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and Matthews Playhouse’s multi-generational cultural experiences are further proof that everyone benefits.  ASC is you and me.

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Differences Dissolve Through the Arts

4 Apr

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

CPCC presents Dances of India at 4 p.m. April 26 on campus at Halton Theater.

CPCC presents Dances of India at 4 p.m. April 26 on campus at Halton Theater.

Barriers – racial, language or otherwise – are broken each spring on the Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) campus.

They are torn down by graceful movements during Dances of India performances that promote unity and celebrate diversity.

“We bring people together through performing arts to show that we are more alike than different,” said event organizer and acclaimed performer Dr. Maha Gingrich.

CPCC presents the 12th Anniversary of Dances of India at 4 p.m. April 26 on campus at Halton Theater. The event features traditional Indian classical and folk dances – rhythmic movements that tell the story of ancient India through costumes, dance dramas and music.

The event’s signature dance, “Unity in Diversity,” will be set to a live international orchestra and feature an array of international dances.

Dances of India.

Dances of India.

“Using performing art, there is no language barrier,” Gingrich said. “It opens people’s eyes and makes them think beyond racial barriers. You get rid of those barriers through performing arts.”

She organized the first Dances of India event in 2000 at CPCC. In addition to showcasing the beautiful diversity that exists in the Charlotte region, the performances highlight how traditional Indian dances have influenced dance forms across the world.

Indian dance has influenced tap and flamingo dancing, among others. And festival dances in India, Greece and Italy share commonalities, Gingrich said.

Through Dances of India, “I was able to bring in different dance forms and groups and tell the story of how India’s dance has influenced other cultures,” she said.

Support from the Arts & Science Council (ASC) has allowed performances to grow exponentially and expose broader audiences to CPCC, Gingrich said.

“When people support ASC,” she said, “they’re supporting a vision of Charlotte as not only an international city but a city that has a history, a city that supports science and takes pride in the art and artists that exist in our city and the region.”

“We bring people together through performing arts to show that we are more alike than different,” said event organizer and acclaimed performer Dr. Maha Gingrich.

“We bring people together through performing arts to show that we are more alike than different,” said event organizer and acclaimed performer Dr. Maha Gingrich.

Want to Go?

The 12th Anniversary of Dances of India takes place at 4 p.m. April 26 at Halton Theater on the campus of Central Piedmont Community College, 1206 Elizabeth Ave., Charlotte. Tickets are $10 adults and $5 school-age children. More information: http://www.charlottecultureguide.com/event/detail/441809877/Dances_of_India.

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.

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.

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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.

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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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Children’s Theatre of Charlotte helps newcomer feel right at home

21 Feb

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

When Elyssa Kim's family moved from Houston to Charlotte two years ago, she found a home at Children's Theatre of Charlotte.

When Elyssa Kim’s family moved from Houston to Charlotte two years ago, she found a home at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Elyssa Kim was the new girl two years ago, when her family moved to Charlotte from Houston.

The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte quickly gave her a place where she could meet like-minded kids her own age in a new city.

“They have so many people and kids like me that have this common interest,” said Elyssa, a seventh grader at Charlotte Latin. “It helps you make friends with people, especially with you moving here.”

Elyssa first got involved in the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte two summers ago, playing an orphan in a summer production of “Annie.” She’s since played Christmas story narrator Maxine in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and mermaid princess Ariel in “A Little Mermaid.” (You may also recognize her from the Central Piedmont Community College production of “Les Miserables” back in November/December, where she played young Eponine.)

She’s acted for four years, dating back to her time in Houston. There wasn’t a particular show that drew her to the stage; rather, it was the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. She loves to sing and being onstage gives her the opportunity to do that and put herself in someone else’s shoes for a while.

It’s what keeps her engaged in the art form.

“It’s always a new adventure for me,” she said. “I always enjoy the thrill of singing and acting and dancing. There’s something about it that makes it unique whenever I do a song or a show.”

Her mother, Florence Kim, said she couldn’t imagine her daughter’s life without theater.

“For a child who isn’t really into sports, the arts for her are essential to her growth as a person,” Florence said. “She’s gained self-confidence that she wouldn’t have otherwise – she can get up in front of 100 people without batting an eye.”

One of the featured cultural contributors in 2014 Arts & Science Council (ASC) Annual Fund Drive campaign materials, Elyssa feels more at home in Charlotte these days.

Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, one of the more than 20 Mecklenburg County cultural organizations that receive unrestricted operating support through ASC, is a big reason why.

“It definitely brings different people together of all different ages,” she said. “I’ve made some great friends through theater.”

ASC is You & Me offering newcomers to our region a warm welcome through the arts.

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Nine-year-old finds his place in the world through music

20 Feb

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Sam Stevens takes violin lessons through the Community School of the Arts (CSA). Supporting CSA has become a family affair - his father, Scott Stevens, is the organization's board chair.

Sam Stevens takes violin lessons through the Community School of the Arts (CSA). Supporting CSA has become a family affair – his father, Scott Stevens, is the organization’s board chair.

If there’s a band playing, nine-year-old Sam Stephens wants to groove along.

“I think he feels music,” said his mom, Jenny Stephens. “There’s something in music he identifies with.”

It’s why he picked up the violin in a Community School of the Arts (CSA) summer camp when he was 5 years old and why he’s stuck with it ever since.

For the first year or so, Sam learned to play by ear; he’ll still take out his violin and play the notes when he hears a song that he likes.

“You just see his face light up and he’s proud of himself,” Jenny said.

But these days he plays more complex, longer pieces, which means he’s progressed to reading music and playing with a group. Learning to play the violin has helped his cognitive and emotional development, as well as taught him the value of teamwork, his mom said.

“To play by yourself is one thing,” Jenny said. “To be able to match your notes with other people in the room, it’s a great skill.”

Sam is one of the cultural sector contributors featured in 2014 Arts & Science Council (ASC) Annual Fund Drive campaign materials. In addition to going to music camp every summer, he also receives regular instruction from a teacher who performs with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra through CSA, which is one of the more than 20 cultural organizations in Mecklenburg County that receives unrestricted operating support from ASC.

As a member of the CSA family, Sam has also been exposed to the bigger world around him, participating in outreach performances at local hospitals and homeless shelters, said Jenny.

“It’s a way for kids to understand how they can give back to people by having this skill,” Jenny said. “Being out in the community and seeing how his music can impact other people is a great thing.”

ASC is You & Me helping kids find their joy in music, and there aren’t many things better than that.

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Want to know what it really means to be a life-long learner? Try ceramics

20 Feb

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager 

Bob Culbertson is a longtime cultural supporter - he chaired an ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign in the early 1980s.  "The level of your art is a good indication of the level of culture, the level of sophistication in your society," he said. "The quality of your civilization is directly related to the quality of your art."

Bob Culbertson is a longtime cultural supporter – he chaired an ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign in the early 1980s.
“The level of your art is a good indication of the level of culture, the level of sophistication in your society,” he said. “The quality of your civilization is directly related to the quality of your art.”

Bob Culbertson wanted to do something besides work. So he went down to Spirit Square and took a beginner pottery class.

That was 20 years ago. And Culbertson, now almost 82, is still learning.

“What I know is about a BB in a box car,” he said. “There’s no end to what you can learn when you get into ceramics. You can spend a lifetime and still feel like you’ve learned so little.

“If you want to pursue an art form where there’s no end to learning, pursue ceramics.”

An occasional substitute instructor at Clayworks – one of the more than 20 cultural organizations in Mecklenburg County that receives unrestricted operating support from the Arts & Science Council (ASC) – Culbertson believes it’s good for pottery students to be exposed to different ways of doing things.

It’s a belief he practices, too.

“I like to go see potters throw,” he said. “I don’t care how long they’ve done it – I’ll pick up something from it.”

Still, ceramics come naturally to Culbertson, one of the cultural sector contributors featured in 2014 ASC Annual Fund Drive campaign materials. He’s always enjoyed working with his hands. He grew up making model airplanes as a kid and took courses in printmaking and woodworking as an adult.

But he fell in love with pottery and eventually transformed a little-used garage into a personal studio.

“I love the tactical part of it,” he said. “Pottery is something I’ve gotten good enough at where I can make a lot on the wheel – I do plates, I’ve done dishes, all that kinds of stuff.”

Sometimes, he said, people will ask him how often he throws.

“That’s not a good question,” he said. “Suddenly I just get the urge… if I go somewhere it’s been made – let’s say I go to the Mint Museum – seeing it makes me want to start doing it.”

ASC is You & Me encouraging everyone to pursue their artistic dreams no matter where they are in life’s journey.

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