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Integrating the symphony

5 Oct

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Samuel Davis (left) and Larry Sellers became the first black Charlotte Symphony musicians when they joined the orchestra in 1963.

Samuel Davis (left) and Larry Sellers became the first black Charlotte Symphony musicians when they joined the orchestra in 1963.

When Samuel Davis and Larry Sellers become the first black musicians to join the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra back in the fall of 1963, it wasn’t about making history or breaking barriers.

“I never thought of it in terms of being black,” Davis said. “I thought of it in terms of being qualified for the position. If you’re qualified, black, blue – it shouldn’t make any difference.”

Said Sellers: “My thing was, I had been training all my life to play in a symphony, to play this type of music, and I’m good enough, so why couldn’t I play? I didn’t want to be held back because I was black.”

So Sellers went to the symphony office to express his interest in the orchestra.

“They were overjoyed,” he said.

Meanwhile, Davis separately contacted the symphony.

“He called me and said we’re supposed to be at (auditions),” Sellers said. “He had no idea I had already gone down there.”

The friends, who met more than five years earlier through their shared love of symphonic music, auditioned individually before a roomful of symphony principal musicians and board members.

“Boy I tell you that was tension on us,” said Davis, a cellist. “They gave me some music and said, ‘Play this for us please.’ I looked at it and I just played it like it, zoop, zoop, zoop, and they just looked at each other – they didn’t say anything to me – and they said, ‘Okay, you can go out to the other room.’”

Seller’s audition experience was similar. But they both passed and went to their first rehearsal afterward, where symphony musicians “came up to us like it was our birthday,” said Sellers, a violinist.

“Musicians are different,” he said. “Music connects people. I think they respect the art and they need each other. They’re just a different breed of people.”

Audiences, from what they could tell, accepted them too.

“It was a white couple there,” Davis remembered. “They were very nice to me. They kind of sat in the front row and when I played, I looked their way and they always had a nice smile on their face. Whatever it was that I was doing met their approval.”

There were definitely challenges. Sellers recalled being invited to a white symphony member’s house after practice and a neighbor calling his band-mate to ask why blacks were in the neighborhood.

The two musicians also faced enormous pressure.

“If there’s a tough passage in the violin section and you’re the only black person, that conductor’s eyes are on you,” Sellers said. “Nobody else.”

Sellers played 10 years with the symphony for 10 years; Davis played 13 years. The friends, both retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools music teachers, have since continued to play with local and regional orchestras and ensembles.

“I really, really enjoyed that part of my life when I played with the symphony,” Davis said. “You have to work so hard for it but I enjoyed it.”

But it’s because they worked so hard to prepare that symphony members accepted them and helped them along the way. Their peers knew they were up to the challenge, Sellers said.

“We never got the feeling,” he said, “that they were letting us in.”

30 ways to celebrate National Arts & Humanities Month

2 Oct

Compiled by Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Not a day goes by when we don’t celebrate the arts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

There’s good reason: Arts and culture mean more than $200 million dollars in economic impact each year in our community. They provide more than 14,000 jobs in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

And more than 3 million people attended performances, exhibitions, classes, lectures and films supported by ASC funding in the past year.

But, while the arts are central to our everyday lives, we take the whole month of October to commemorate the arts in a big way during National Arts & Humanities Month – the largest annual celebration for the arts and humanities in the nation.

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National Arts & Humanities Month is a coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of culture in America. Since 1985, October has been designated to encourage all Americans to explore new facets of the arts and humanities in their lives, and to begin a lifelong habit of active participation in the arts.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the city and the county have proclaimed October Arts and Humanities Month and commend its observance to all citizens.

So, in honor of the 30th Anniversary of National Arts and Humanities Month, we’ve got 30 ways you can celebrate arts and culture locally.

1. Read a book. The 2015 Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Community Read encourages us to learn about what we’re reading, but also about the people with whom we’re reading.
2. Discover the Wall Poems of Charlotte. Here’s a great guide.
3. Stop and listen to a street musician.
4. Put your child’s artwork up on the refrigerator.
5. Take an art lesson.

6. Take in a theatrical production. There are too many options to list.
7. Go hear the symphony. The Charlotte Symphony’s “KnightSounds: Bachtoberfest III” pairs local beer with classical music.
8. Snap your picture with a new piece of public art. There’s Dana Gingras’ Ascension in East Charlotte, Jaume Plensa’s Ainsa III at UNC Charlotte Center City, Tom Joyce’s Thicket at Mint Museum Uptown and Hoss Haley’s Old Growth, being installed this month at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Fixed Base Operator Facility.
9. Take a public art walking tour. It’s a great way to get a new perspective of uptown.
10. Plant something. Wing Haven’s Fall Plant Sale happens Oct. 8-10.
11. Explore a local art gallery.
12. Sing in the shower…
13. …Or sing in the car. “
Don’t Stop Believin’” is a classic. So is “Nothing Compares 2 U,” though you probably won’t admit singing it.
14. Ask ASC President Robert Bush a question. Our 10 @ 2 Facebook question-and-answer series, which allows our Facebook friends and followers to ask Robert Bush their questions about the cultural sector, returns later this month. Like us on Facebook to watch for details.
15. Advocate for the arts. Advocating for the arts is essential in keeping our communities culturally enriched. Have your voice heard and stay current on legislation that directly impacts you by registering for the free advocacy tool VoterVoice.
16. Stay up-to-date on the latest cultural happenings. Sign up for weekly Culture Picks! powered by
17. Dress up for Halloween. Show off your costume creativity, conduct spooky science experiments and more at Science on the Rocks: Fright at the Museum.
18. Buy art from a local artist.
19. Attend a concert.

20. Go dancing. The Mint to Move Cultural Dance Night is a good choice.
21. Involve the family in the arts. One way is by going to Family Day at the Bechtler.
22. Check out a festival. There’s the Gandhi Unity Fall Festival, the 25th Annual Latin American Festival, the UNC Charlotte 40th Anniversary International Festival and Biketoberfest.
23. Make science.
Check out the Charlotte Mini-Maker Faire Oct. 10 at Discovery Place.
24. Hoot N Howl. The Carolina Raptor Center combines Dia de Los Muertos traditions with traditional Halloween games and crafts. And raptors.
25. Participate in the National Arts & Humanities Month #ShowYourArt Instagram campaign. Share your cultural life on Instagram with the tags #ShowYourArt, @ASCCharlotte and @Americans4Arts.
26. Learn what Pecha Kucha Night Charlotte is all about. Vol. 14 is Oct. 14 at The Chop Shop NoDa.
27. Stay on pointe. Join Charlotte Ballet for its season premiere, “Fall Works,” Oct. 15-17.
28. Board the ark. Or get swept up in the one-act performance “Noah’s Flood.” Three principals from Opera Carolina will be joined by 100 choristers from The Choir School at St. Peter’s and an orchestra of Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO) instrumentalists and CPCC Early Music Ensemble members.
29. Support the cultural sector. Support culture for all by giving to ASC, give to specific cultural projects through and to the cultural organizations you care about.
30. Do The Worm or The Robot. Then head to the Breakin’ Convention at Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts on Oct. 9 and 10.

The seven insights learned through “¡NUEVOlution!”

2 Oct

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Levine Museum of the New South New South Latino Coordinator Oliver Merino.

Levine Museum of the New South New South Latino Coordinator Oliver Merino.

Latinos have helped transform the South.

Over the past 25 years, the South has emerged as the nation’s most vibrant area of Latino growth. North Carolina’s Latino population ranks eighth nationally. Charlotte is the second-highest Latino hyper-growth city in the country.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, as you learn in the Levine Museum of the New South’s new exhibition, “¡NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South.” So, to ensure the exhibit tells the deeper story of how Latinos are shaping the South, the museum posed a question to Latinos and non-Latinos alike:

How are you experiencing this change?

Levine Museum staff went beyond inviting folks to the museum to share their answers, said museum New South Latino Coordinator Oliver Merino.

“We went outside the museum walls and met people where they were,” Merino said. “We went to nonprofits, we went to churches and really just asked people, ‘What is the story you want us to tell? What is this new South?’”


The stories residents shared – from how a nearby church transformed itself and its congregation to welcome Latino worshippers to how Day of the Dead traditions are being celebrated in new environments – help build community by increasing dialogue, understanding and tolerance. It’s what the cultural sector was tasked with doing through the community’s Cultural Vision Plan.

The extensive community conversations Levine Museum conducted in order to create “¡NUEVOlution!” (Spanglish for “new growth or development”) resulted in seven insights about the South’s demographic transformation that directly informed the exhibit, Merino said. Those insights are below.

The conversations revealed several more local stories that color the exhibit, including: dance instructors Wendy and Rodrigo Jimenez bringing people together through music and dance; artist Rosalia Torres Weiner using art to help children whose parents are in deportation proceedings; and Latino leaders like Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, entrepreneur Felix Sabates and chef Juliana Luna finding success outside the Latino community.


“One of the things we say here at the museum is our mission is how do we use history to build community,” Merino said. “I believe this exhibit is going to do just that.

“It’s important history and it’s also getting people to understand that whether you’re Latino or non-Latino, you’re part of Nuevolution. You’re a part of this change.”

Want to Go?

“¡NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South” will be on display through Oct. 30, 2016, at Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. 7th St., Charlotte. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors, students, educators and active military, $5 children ages 6-18 and free ages 5 and younger. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit

The Seven Insights*

Levine Museum worked with Atlanta History Center and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the multi-year Latino New South Project to study, document and understand the dramatic and rapid demographic shift occurring across the South, and to develop strong partnerships with Latino communities. Through its work, which began in 2012 and included a series of listening sessions with Latinos and non-Latinos in each city, seven insights emerged.

  1. Latinos are here to stay. Latinos have gone from 1- or 2-percent of the population to nearly 10-percent or more in many localities. Roughly half of Latinos counted by the U.S. Census are already citizens.
  2. Latinos are from many cultures. The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are U.S. creations. Latinos often self-identify as Cuban-American, Colombian or their original Mexican state.
  3. Bi-culturalism is growing. Young people raised in the U.S. are English proficient and bi-cultural (embracing U.S. food, entertainment, etc., without abandoning Latino heritage). Adults are not able to change as quickly or as completely.
  4. Extended families are important. Latinos usually experience cultural offerings as an extended family unit (to use a sociological term) – mother, father, several kids, grandparents, cousins, maybe even a friend or relative. When choosing activities, they look for those that will bring both pleasure and renewal or self-improvement and engage all family members
  5. Bridging is essential. Participants of the listening sessions spoke of the need for multiple introductions: Latinos to other Latino groups; Latinos to receiving communities; Latinos to Southern history (especially African-American history); and receiving communities to Latinos.
  6. Language is a powerful symbol. Spanish – words on the wall, personal greetings from a Visitor Services person – powerfully signals that Latinos are welcome. For young people who are usually comfortable in English, the welcome is symbolic. For older people, it is functional – Spanish is needed in order to guide their group, teach their children, etc.
  7. Becoming “documented” is difficult, often impossible. At best, quotas and regulations often make legal immigration an extremely lengthy process requiring expert assistance. Legal problems can split families. Children born here can suddenly find their parents sent back to their country of origin. Children born elsewhere yet raised here can suddenly be deported “back” to a place they don’t remember. In listening sessions, Latinos and non-Latinos both asked that museums help receiving communities understand their realities.

*These insights have been edited; click here for the unedited version.

Culture For All? Yes, Please!

2 Sep

By Amy Mitchell 
Communications Manager 

Access to arts, science, history and heritage experiences that educate, entertain and enrich our quality of life is something we all deserve.

But it’s not something we all have.

ASC’s Cultural Free For All, presented to the community by Wells Fargo, provides access and engagement opportunities where residents can connect to their cultural passions, enjoy unique experiences and discover something new.

It’s about more than making cultural experiences free of charge, although it does exactly that. It’s about taking the arts closer to where people live and offering cultural programming that is relevant to their lives.

So, from uptown Charlotte to Lake Norman and from South End to South Mecklenburg, Cultural Free For All will feature a multitude of arts and culture experiences in communities and neighborhoods throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg.


It includes Symphony On Tap, a free Charlotte Symphony performance; Culture Feast, an evening of dinner, drinks, cultural experiences, and a free dance party with music by A Sign of the Times; and the return of ASC’s Connect with Culture Day, featuring free access to museums and cultural activities throughout the county.

Symphony On Tap
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 ∙ 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte

orchestracwglgEnjoy a free hour-long season preview concert by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. A brass ensemble will perform during a kickoff “fanfare” in front of Belk Theater at 5:30 p.m. Appetizers and drink specials will be available throughout the evening.

How to participate in Symphony On Tap: Click here to reserve free tickets online, and be entered to win free Charlotte Symphony tickets.

Culture Feast
Friday, September 18, 2015 ∙ 6:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.
On S. Tryon Street, between Martin Luther King Blvd. & Levine Avenue of the Arts

Purchase dinner tickets at

Share a community table and enjoy the ultimate cultural street party on South Tryon. During the ticketed dinner you’ll be surrounded by unique cultural happenings, then dance the night away at a free-for-all performance by A Sign of the Times on the street at Levine Center for the Arts. Cultural happenings during the feast will be provided by Charlotte Museum of History, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Inspire the Fire, Opera Carolina and Carolinas Latin Dance Company.

The dinner menu includes a Southern-style dinner of baby arugula salad, mesquite grilled chicken breast, cheddar grits, cider braised collard greens, mustard greens, and Swiss chard, baskets of house-made buttermilk biscuits and cornbread with honey butter, fresh banana pudding plus select beer and wine. Vegetarian option available.

How to participate in Culture Feast: Click here to purchase dinner tickets, must be 21 or older. Then stay for the dance party at 9:00 p.m. No ticket or registration necessary for the dance party.

ASC Connect with Culture Day
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Various times and locations
For a complete list of experiences and details visit

ConnectCulture-2018Explore diverse arts and culture experiences across Mecklenburg County for free on Sept. 19. The day will feature museums open free of charge during select hours and cultural activities taking place throughout the county to bring everything from opera and theatre to dance and jazz closer to where people live.

How to participate in Connect with Culture Day: No ticket necessary for Connect with Culture Day experiences. Be sure to visit for complete details on each experience before you go. Clayworks Muddy Fun and Handbuilding classes require pre-registration, and space is limited. Plan to arrive early, as space may be limited at various locations and ASC cannot guarantee availability.

The Cultural Free For All generates awareness about what Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural community has to offer. It also kicks off ASC’s annual giving campaign.

Breakin’ Convention to reach new audiences

2 Sep

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Jonzi D, creator and artistic director of the Breakin' Convention. Photo credit: Paul Paul Hampartsoumian.

Jonzi D, creator and artistic director of the Breakin’ Convention. Photo credit: Paul Paul Hampartsoumian.

You may already know that the London-based Breakin’ Convention is coming to Charlotte for the first time in October.

However you might not know why it matters.

Yes, it will be another in a long list of acclaimed performances to come through the city, and one that should fill the seats at Knight Theater at Levine Center of the Arts.

It will also be the second time the international hip-hop festival, created by London’s Sadler’s Wells, has come to the United States (the first being 2013 at Harlem’s Apollo Theater) – another feather in the city’s cap.

But the two-day event, presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, is another example that cultural organizations are continuing to embrace, create, seek out and provide programming that is relevant and innovative – one of the pillars of the community’s Cultural Vision Plan.

It’s been a longtime focus for Blumenthal, said Tom Gabbard, president of Blumenthal Performing Arts.

Blumenthal Performing Arts President Tom Gabbard.

Blumenthal Performing Arts President Tom Gabbard.

“I think for us, we first and foremost want to see an audience come here over the course of the year that looks like Charlotte, and I mean that in its broadest sense,” said Gabbard, who has been unabashed in stating his desire to see Breakin’ Convention attract audiences that have never stepped through the doors of a Blumenthal venue.

“One of the attractive things about this festival, and it defies people’s perspective of hip hop in the U.S. a bit, is it’s a very family-friendly event, the kind of thing multiple generations can enjoy together.”

The event connects to the roots of hip-hop, said Jonzi D, creator and artistic director of the festival.

“It’s about peace, love, unity and having fun, things hip-hop was founded on 40 years ago – not the images we see today,” Jonzi said at an introductory luncheon for the convention back in May.

As such, the festival will celebrate hip-hop culture with live DJs, graffiti, dance workshops, free outdoor performances at Levine Center for the Arts and accomplished hip-hop dance stars from around the world inside Knight Theater.

Breakin’ Convention will also tap into the underground talent in the Charlotte region by including local BBoy, BGirl and other dance crews and artists in the festivities.

“There’s an opportunity to recapture that tradition that wasn’t a mega-music tradition,” Gabbard said. “When it started, it was on the street, it was in community centers. It was a grassroots activity.”


Want to Go?

Breakin’ Convention, the renowned international festival of hip-hop dance, invades the Queen City this October. Direct from London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre, the festival will feature performances by hip-hop stars from around the globe and from the neighborhoods of Charlotte at Levine Center for the Arts Oct. 9-10. Tickets for the Friday and Saturday night shows at the Knight Theater are $19.50-$59.50. Click here to purchase tickets or for more information.

A public approach to public art

2 Sep

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Lake Norman artist Dana Gingras at work on the public artwork for Charlotte's Grove Park neighborhood. The work will be installed this  month.

Lake Norman artist Dana Gingras at work on the public artwork for Charlotte’s Grove Park neighborhood. The work will be installed this month.

The public part of “public art” can refer to more than the accessible location.

It often references the multitude of voices involved in the public art process.

For Lake Norman artist Dana Gingras, who is creating artwork for the East Charlotte neighborhood of Grove Park, the chorus included representatives from the neighborhood association, the city and the state department of transportation.

“Taking everybody’s viewpoint into consideration and still producing something that I’m proud of and that is visually stimulating presented challenges but also had me thinking in different ways” Gingras said.

“I always explain to people, it’s a lot of inspiration but it’s also a lot of careful planning and following the guidelines that were set forth.”

But instead of considering rules and regulations to be limiting, Gingras used them as motivation to push himself creatively.

The result is a stunning corten steel and stainless steel sculpture titled Ascension, a piece that is both a subtle nod to Grove Park’s mining history and to the area’s forward progress.

A look at Ascension in artist Dana Gingras' Lake Norman studio. The public artwork will be installed in Charlotte's Grove Park neighborhood this month.

A look at Ascension in artist Dana Gingras’ Lake Norman studio. The public artwork will be installed in Charlotte’s Grove Park neighborhood this month.

The artwork will be installed near the intersection of W.T. Harris Boulevard and North Sharon Amity Road this month as part of the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative launched by the City of Charlotte, the Public Art Commission and ASC.

“The neighborhood wanted something that connected the past to the future and something that rose up and provided a sense of hope,” he said. “I wanted to make it accessible and appreciated by a broad spectrum.”

In addition to bringing public art to areas without city-sponsored work, the creative partnership initiative also intended to help local artists build their skills in the realm of public art.

So in addition to being personally rewarding, it was a professional development opportunity as well, Gingras said.

“Being able to deal with so many different agencies was a good learning experience,” he said. “The physical build was the easiest part, that’s what I’ve spent 20 years doing. A lot of the growth was on the management side and learning how it affects the people in the community also.”

It led to the piece evolving into something bigger than the artist initially imagined.

“To see how excited the community was about it and to hear all of the ideas they had – and they were all over the board – since they were so excited, it made me more excited,” he said. “I hope it brings more interest to the area and that it gets more people excited about the area.”

Through the Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative, intended to bring more neighborhood-based public art to the city, the Charlotte neighborhoods of Elizabeth, Grove Park, Reid Park, Sedgefield and the Shamrock Drive Corridor will receive new public artworks.

A new take on classical music relevance

2 Sep

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Sphinx Virtuosi, presented by Knight Foundation, ASC and Blumenthal Performing Arts, will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3301 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte.

Sphinx Virtuosi, presented by Knight Foundation, ASC and Blumenthal Performing Arts, will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3301 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte. Photo credit: Kevin Kennedy.

When the Sphinx Virtuosi performs, its sound rivals many fully professional orchestras.

It just doesn’t fit the stereotypical image some folks have of traditional classical music ensembles.

Consisting of top alumni of the national Sphinx Competition for young black and Latino string players, Sphinx Virtuosi is a conductor-less professional chamber orchestra that is challenging perceptions about classical music in the United States.

You can see and hear why when the group performs in Charlotte on Thursday, Oct. 1, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Its program, “Inspiring Women,” will feature a collection of works written by women composers and inspired by great women.

The theme pays tribute to composers throughout history whose works are seldom heard but merit awareness and recognition, along with repertoire already well loved by audiences.

It’s a fitting match – the works of women composers, often overlooked in classical music, being performed by black and Latino musicians, traditionally underrepresented in professional orchestras.

It’s a timely one, too.

Conversations abound about how to make classical music more relevant to a contemporary audience. One possible way to increase the classical music audience is to encourage talented young instrumentalists of color to pursue classical music.

Encouraging those musicians to play the more seldom presented works by women and composers of color, in addition to masterpieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Mozart and others, wouldn’t hurt either.

It’s not traditional, but then again, neither is the Sphinx Virtuosi.

Want to Go?

Sphinx Virtuosi, presented by Knight Foundation, ASC and Blumenthal Performing Arts, will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3301 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte. Tickets are $8. Click here to purchase tickets.


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