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Cultural field trips create lifelong memories

29 Jan

Why this matters: Providing access to cultural education experiences helps students become creative and critical thinkers.

 Students attend Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performances at the Belk Theatre at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The engaging concert integrates music into the core curriculum using both classical and popular works.

Students attend Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performances at the Belk Theatre at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The engaging concert integrates music into the core curriculum using both classical and popular works.

By Amy Mitchell
Communications Manager

You never know what type of cultural experience will most profoundly affect a young person’s life. And while the cultural experience is important, what is just as important (and possibly more so) is ensuring the chance for them to have the experience.

Veronica Terrana, a literacy facilitator at Matthews Elementary, knows that cultural field trips “expose kids who would never otherwise see these places to the wonders of the world around them.”

“They are foundational experiences that make them part of our collective culture,” said Terrana. “My own children get to do so many things and have had so many experiences. I am fortunate that I have the privilege to take them to these places and expose them to this kind of learning. It has helped their reading and content learning. All students deserve that, but not all parents can provide it. Cultural field trips level the playing field.”

This is where ASC steps in. We know that by investing in grade-level cultural experiences for Charlotte-Mecklenburg students, we’re helping to level the playing field for all. This school year, more than 30,000 local students will participate in cultural field trips, thanks to Howard Levine renewing his $100,000 commitment to ASC to support field trips and thanks to The Leon Levine Foundation donating $100,000 to provide field trip opportunities to middle school students.

Seventh grade students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) will visit the Levine Center for the Arts to explore two of the cultural destinations in the center: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and Mint Museum Uptown.

Fifth graders will attend a performance of “Endless Possibilities,” a performance tailored for 10- and 11-year-olds and featuring Opera Carolina, Charlotte Ballet and Charlotte Symphony in Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

And, with funding from ASC, third grade students will visit one of the following historic sites: Historic Latta Plantation, Historic Rosedale, Rural Hill, Charlotte Museum of History, Mint Hill Historical Society and James K. Polk State Historic Site.

We don’t know which of these experiences will resonate most with students years from now. But by exposing them to different types of cultural offerings at multiple points during their formative years, we do know these field trips will help them grasp the connection between creativity and education.

It’s what we’ve heard from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents and teachers who shared their memories of how class field trips impacted their lives.

“Cultural field trips are important because they provide wonderful engaging experiences that children never forget,” said CMS employee Wendy Ventresca, whose first trip to the zoo was on an elementary school trip in upstate New York. “I don’t remember what I learned in math, science, or art in elementary school. I remember the zoo!”

Some field trips are memorable because they connect curriculum concepts to the real world, said Charlotte resident Katie Foote, who recalls taking class trips to Fort Fisher as a child in Wilmington.

“The touch pool and big fish tank were awesome,” Foote said. “We also walked some of the trails and talked about the coastal ecology. It was a great way to be aware of plants and animals.”

Other trips stand out because they make you care about something you never thought you would, said Malone Lockaby, a graduate of Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte.

“I love the arts, and was never one for science, but Discovery Place is special,” she said. “It’s an experience that makes children and adults get excited about science and learning.”

Cultural field trips can also open students’ eyes to careers they may not have considered, said Zac Vinson, director of education at Historic Rural Hill. Vinson credits a field trip to the Schiele Museum in Gastonia as the event that shaped who he is today.

He still remembers a man dressed in buckskin clothing, with long hair and a black beard, made a spear point from a piece of flint.

“The American Indians and early pioneer settlers were always my favorite things to read about,” he said. “And to see this man was a revelation to me. Here was a real embodiment of all my long-dead heroes, talking to my class. I am often struck with the notion that had I not been on that field trip and seen that man, then I would be doing something entirely different.”

But you don’t have to be an adult to realize the impact of cultural field trips, said La’Kisha Jordan, an educator at Community Charter School in Charlotte.

Students from Community Charter recently took a cultural field trip to Levine Center for the Arts to experience the Dance Theatre of Harlem exhibit at the Gantt Center, learn about dance from Ballet Master Keith Saunders, take in a short performance at Knight Theater and participate in a hands-on movement workshop.

Community Charter students participating in a movement workshop conducted by Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo credit: La’Kisha Jordan.

Community Charter students participating in a movement workshop conducted by Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo credit: La’Kisha Jordan.

How did the kids respond?

“Even our students who held a singular view of what defines athleticism expressed a new outlook on the physical rigor involved with dance,” she said.

That’s because, according to Sarah Lindberg, a visual arts teacher at Smithfield Elementary in Pineville, actual experiences “become part of you, they expand your thinking and bring so much joy!”

It’s why students need to have such experiences and why ASC works so hard to provide them.

Remembering Brooklyn

29 Jan

Why this matters: The razing of the Brooklyn neighborhood, which impacted a generation of African-Americans in Charlotte, is an important part of the city’s history.

An old Charlotte Observer photo of Brooklyn.

An old Charlotte Observer photo by Hank Daniel of Brooklyn. See more photos here.

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Not much is left of the predominately African-American Brooklyn neighborhood, which once stretched from East Trade to East Morehead streets in Charlotte’s Second Ward.

The Mecklenburg Investment Company office building. Photo credit: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

The Mecklenburg Investment Company office building. Photo credit: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

Only a handful of structures remain – the high school gymnasium, the city’s first black YMCA, Grace AME Zion Church and the old Mecklenburg Investment Company office building, financed in 1921 by a group of black professionals to provide the first office building open to blacks.

A few blackberry bushes, once abundant in the neighborhood, still ripen in June on a dead-end street off Stonewall Street just behind Actor’s Theatre.

But like any trace of Brooklyn, they can be hard to spot.

“As a historian, it breaks my heart that the visual cues that help us realize there is a history, that people did important things before we got here, those visual cues aren’t here,” said Dr. Tom Hanchett, former historian at Levine Museum of the New South.

“Losing the key cues that say people have tried over time and accomplished good things, that hurts.”

City leaders razed the neighborhood in the 1960s in the name of “urban renewal,” displacing more than 1,000 families, 200 businesses and a dozen churches. Despite promises, no new school or residential units were built to replace those demolished.

Lost were Carnegie Library, the first public library for black people in North Carolina, and Second Ward High, the first urban black high school in Charlotte. So too were businesses like the Queen City Pharmacy in the heart of Brooklyn, the A.M.E. Zion Publishing House that made Charlotte a prominent center for the religion and the famous El Chico restaurant, known for its burgers and bologna sandwiches.

But perhaps the biggest loss was the sense of community that permeated through the neighborhood.

“I’m a white guy,” Hanchett said, “and I give talks where there are black people that remember Brooklyn. And they start saying, ‘I couldn’t misbehave because everybody knew my mom, and if I misbehaved over here, I’d get a whack on the bottom and by the time I got home, the word would have gotten to my mom and I’d get more than a whack on the bottom at home.’”

A City Within a City

There is a misconception that Brooklyn was nothing more than slums, said John Howard, administrator for the City of Charlotte’s Historic Districts Commission.

The city’s 1960 Brooklyn Area Plan referenced substandard housing, high crime rates and low health standards as reasons for redevelopment.

Grace A.M.E. Zion Church. Photo credit: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

Grace A.M.E. Zion Church. Photo credit: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

“There’s nothing about the churches, nothing about the nice bungalows, the business buildings, the merchants, nothing about that at all,” Howard said.

To be clear, the neighborhood did include some of the city’s worst housing, particularly the section known as “Blue Heaven.” Scores of shotgun homes filled Blue Heaven, which sat behind where the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel and Le Meridian Charlotte now stand. Many of the residences were built as slums and barely maintained by landlords.

“That low-lying area was not a very good place to build, so that’s where the homes of the poorest people were,” Hanchett said. “It was called ‘Blue Heaven’ because everybody had wood smoke pouring out of their chimneys and the air was blue with smoke.”

It’s believed that Brooklyn took its name from the New York borough, considered a “city within a city.” And Charlotte’s Brooklyn, similar to most cities, contained a poor section and a well-to-do section – which in this case was along Brevard Street.

It was a mixed-use, mixed-income community long before such communities were trendy. Picture the built environment of Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood – some big houses, some bungalows, brick store buildings – and you come close to what the heart of Brooklyn looked like.

Replace the houses and bungalows with condos and a hotel, and it’s possibly a glimpse into the future of Second Ward.

Brooklyn New and Old

While “it won’t look anything like the old Brooklyn because we’re a big city now and back then we were a small town,” Hanchett said, proposed redevelopment for the area is expected to bring mixed-use, affordable housing and a tangible tribute to the community’s history.

The name, Brooklyn Village, will also harken to the Brooklyn of yesteryear. The hope is that it brings new life to an area that feels cold, sterile and institutional today.

“Think back to how un-cold it used to be, with House of Prayer being at Marshall Park and then a church on every block almost and then the vibrancy of people walking around every day, all day, not just Monday through Friday from 9 to 5,” Howard said. “You had activity going on constantly. It’s hard to imagine this being that place.”

There are still folks who remember. Many are older. Others were there for only a few years, not quite long enough to experience the full impact of the community.

Stories were passed down, too.

“[W]hen my mother told stories of Charlotte’s Brooklyn, I thought of the iconic borough in New York,” wrote Dr. Jeffrey B. Leak of UNC Charlotte in an essay for Charlotte Magazine. “For some reason, as a boy, I imagined that we had created that Brooklyn—subways and bridges—down here, not a Southern version of black achievement.”

By the time Leak came around, Brooklyn was gone. Residents relocated to the Beatties Ford Road corridor, to the Belmont, Villa Heights or Wilmore neighborhoods or elsewhere. So did the churches and businesses that survived.

Lessons From Brooklyn

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts. Photo credit: Gantt Center.

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts. Photo credit: Gantt Center.

The next time you visit the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, pay attention to the building’s design. It was inspired by the wood-frame Myers Street School, which was Charlotte’s first black public school when it opened in Brooklyn in 1882.

The school was referred to as the “Jacob’s Ladder” school because of its exterior stairs and because of the biblical story, “a metaphor for striving upward and bettering oneself, and that’s what education offered,” Hanchett said.

The concept of advancement is expressed in the Gantt Center design’s modern interpretation of Jacob’s Ladder through the use of prominent stairs and escalators that frame the building’s glass atrium.

Myers School, of course, is no more.

“When people say we tear down our history, that’s true in uptown especially and that’s part of our story,” Howard said.

But the Gantt Center design and the redevelopment plans for Second Ward show another part of the story – that Charlotte remembers and learns from its history.

Back then, “government planners were regarded as experts who knew what to do,” Hanchett said. Now, “we largely see the role of planners as listeners who shape policy in response to lots of community input.” Housing policy has also improved, Howard added.

And we realize we need more Brooklyns.

“We now understand that cities are an ecology,” Hanchett said. “You can’t sort out the butterflies from the flowers. It doesn’t work. They both die. You’ve got to have everything together.”

John Howard (left), administrator for the City of Charlotte’s Historic Districts Commission, and Dr. Tom Hanchett (right), former historian at Levine Museum of the New South.

John Howard (left), administrator for the City of Charlotte’s Historic Districts Commission, and Dr. Tom Hanchett (right), former historian at Levine Museum of the New South.

Mint exhibition a journey “From New York to Nebo”

29 Jan

Why This Matters: The Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts celebrates an accomplished Carolinas artist in an exhibition that connects to the history of Charlotte and North Carolina.

A self-portrait by Eugene Thomason.

A self-portrait by Eugene Thomason.

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

“From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason,” on view at Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts location through March 27, 2016, is more than an exhibition of incredible portraits, landscapes and scenes by a native of the Carolinas.

The first retrospective of Thomason’s work in more than a generation is a look back at the Charlotte and North Carolina of yesteryear.

Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, senior curator of American, modern and contemporary art at The Mint Museum.

Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, senior curator of American, modern and contemporary art at The Mint Museum.

“It celebrates an artist who is probably one of the best painters ever to come out of North Carolina who happened to have really strong ties not only to Charlotte and living here but to Charlotte at the moment that The Mint Museum opening” in 1936, said Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, senior curator of American, modern and contemporary art at the Mint. “Thomason was really a catalyst in Charlotte’s art scene in the 1930s.”

Born in South Carolina, Thomason moved around a lot in his early life between South and North Carolina. He attended Davidson College for a year, but “college really wasn’t for him,” Stuhlman said.

But he always had an interest in art and his father had gotten to know James Duke, the Durham-born tobacco baron and electric power industrialist. After seeing an example of Thomason’s work, Duke asked him to paint his portrait.

Duke was moved by the painting, Stuhlman said, calling it better than the portrait he had by John Singer Sargent, considered the “leading portrait painter of his generation.” The industrialist became Thomason’s first and most important patron, sponsoring him to go to New York to study at the Art Students League with urban realists like Robert Henri, John Sloan and George Luks, with whom Thomason particularly bonded.

Thomason returned to North Carolina in the early 1930s; by 1934 he had become one of Charlotte’s leading artists, teaching students and organizing exhibitions of local artists while producing some of the best art ever seen in the city. One of The Mint Museum’s first exhibitions, in 1937, was one dedicated to Thomason’s work.

Two works on display in the Mint’s current exhibition illustrate the range of art Thomason created during his years in Charlotte. The first, “Boy with Chrysanthemums,” is reminiscent of Rodin’s famous 1880 sculpture The Thinker.

“Boy with Chrysanthemums.”

“Boy with Chrysanthemums.”

“Thomason was working in his studio and he came across this boy who was selling flowers and this boy kind of told him this sob story that he wanted to go to a baseball game but his mother told him he had to sell all of his flowers before he could go,” Stuhlman said. “Thomason said I will buy all of your flowers if you’ll sit for me for a few minutes for a portrait.”

The other prominent artistic link to Thomason’s time in Charlotte documents Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 “Green Pastures” stump speech at the city’s then-new Memorial Stadium.

“Thomason was known to have attended this speech and was so moved by it that he quickly went back to his studio and painted this picture memorializing the event,” Stuhlman said.

At the end of the 1930s, Thomason married Elizabeth Montgomery Williams and the couple moved out to Nebo, off Lake James in the foothills of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. There, he continued to paint vigorously and directly, responding to what was in front of him.

He also documented the history of leisure-time activities in North Carolina, from hunting, fishing and bootlegging to college football and professional wrestling.

This work by Eugene Thomason captures the football rivalry between the University of North Carolin and Duke University.

This work by Eugene Thomason captures the football rivalry between the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

“He’s really interested in capturing all of the things that were special about North Carolina to him,” Stuhlman said, “not only the people and the landscape but all of the activities that make it a special place.”

Want to See It?

“From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason” is on display through March 27, 2016, at Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 S. Tryon Street, Charlotte. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. General admission is $12 adults, $9 college students and seniors, $6 children 5 to 17 years old and free children 4 and younger and museum members. Free admission Wednesday nights from 5 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.mintmuseum.org.

If Panthers players were cultural groups

29 Jan

Why this matters: The Carolina Panthers reaching Super Bowl 50 shines the national and international spotlight on Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Facebook_Panthers_1200x900

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Everyone in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is rooting on the Carolina Panthers as they head to Super Bowl 50, including those in the cultural community.

From Charlotte Symphony musicians encouraging the Panthers to “Keep Pounding” to Charlotte Ballet dancers getting “turnt up” for the Panthers and the cute Purrmoji of the Firebird in a Panthers jersey, the cultural community has stood and cheered for the Panthers.

It got us to thinking – if some of the Panthers players and personnel were local cultural organizations, which ones would they be?

So we took into consideration the playing styles and personalities of some of the Panthers’ most familiar faces and came up with what we think are perfect fits.

Thomas Davis – He’s come back from three ACL tears and plans to play in the Super Bowl with a broken wing. That sounds like Carolina Raptor Center to us.

Graham Gano – Perhaps no football position is more capable of moving fans to either tears of agony or tears of joy than the kicker. It’s the kind of emotion Opera Carolina can elicit from its audiences.

Ryan Kalil – Four years ago, the all-pro center took out a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer saying the Panthers reach the Super Bowl. Someone so far ahead of his time must appreciate science, so he’s perfect for Discovery Place.

Luke Kuechly – Whenever he makes a big play, the Panthers crowd cheers “Luuuuke” in unison. It’s a beautiful sound, which is what the Charlotte Symphony excels at making.

Cam Newton – Every time the charismatic quarterback scores, he delights a young child by giving him or her a football. Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is equally skilled in putting smiles on children’s faces.

Josh Norman – Brash and bold, the defensive back always has something to say – just like Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Michael Oher – The movie “The Blind Side” showed how Oher, with guidance and love, grew to accomplish great things. It’s what Community School of the Arts has been providing its students since it was founded in 1969.

Greg Olsen – The tight end is usually money when Cam targets him in passing plays, so it makes sense that he would be The Mint Museum. Its Randolph Road location, which opened in 1936, is housed in what was the original branch of the United States Mint.

Jerry Richardson – Mr. Richardson brought the NFL to Charlotte and Theatre Charlotte, celebrating its 89th year, brought the performing arts to our community.

Ron Rivera – The head coach is already featured in the “¡NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South” exhibition at Levine Museum of the New South. Plus he played for one of the greatest teams in NFL history (the ’85 Chicago Bears).

Kawann Short – The stout defensive lineman has made quite an impact for the Panthers in a short amount of time. Likewise, The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art at Levine Center for the Arts has become a fixture in the cultural community in only six years.

Jonathan Stewart – His running style is a unique combination of power and grace. He’d fit right in at Charlotte Ballet.

From ASC on behalf of the entire cultural community, let’s go Panthers and keep pounding!

 

Score your cultural life

31 Dec

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Just how engaged in the cultural community are you?

Find out by taking our unofficial and unscientific – but totally fun – Cultural Life quiz.

We’ve taken anticipated annual cultural events and popular arts, science, history and heritage pursuits that can be enjoyed locally and boiled them down into score-able items.

To score your cultural life, simply award yourself a point for each of the following cultural activities you did in Charlotte-Mecklenburg in the past year, tally up your points and get your grade below.

Festival in the Park. (Photo credit: Festival in the Park.)

Festival in the Park. (Photo credit: Festival in the Park.)___ Purchased art from a local artist (one point for each artwork)

___ Went to a cultural festival (one point for each festival)
___ Attended a play or musical (one point for each)
___ Visited a museum or science center (one point for each cultural venue you visited)
___ Donated to a cultural organization (one bonus point for donating to ASC)
___ Followed a cultural organization on social media (one point for each)
___ Took in some Jazz at the Bechtler
___ Created your own work of art (painting, sculpture, ceramics, etc.; one bonus point if you’ve instructed others)
___ Went to an Open Studio Saturday at McColl Center for Arts + Innovation
___ Took your child (or a niece, nephew, grandchild, etc.) to the museum or a play
___ Hung your child’s artwork (or the artwork of a niece, nephew, grandchild, etc.) on the refrigerator
___ Enjoyed Science on the Rocks at Discovery Place or Gantt After Dark at the Harvey B. Gantt Center
___ Checked out an art gallery
___ Caught a pop-up theater performance by Donna Scott Productions in South End
___ Invited a friend to a cultural event
___ Attended Art + Apertif at Le Meridian with local ArtPop artists
___ Volunteered for or worked for a local cultural organization
___ Had your commute improved by an ArtPop billboard

ArtPop billboard by Charlotte artist Deborah Triplett.

ArtPop billboard by Charlotte artist Deborah Triplett. The local ArtPop program is a partnership between ASC, program founder Wendy Hickey and Adams Outdoor Advertising.

___ Visited the Hezekiah Alexander House at Charlotte History Museum
___ Followed a local arts and culture reporter or arts journalism outlet on social media
___ Went to the opera
___ Took or posed for a picture in front of the Firebird
___ Strolled through the gardens at Wing Haven
___ Grabbed a beer and admired the art at Gallery Twenty-Two in Plaza-Midwood
___ Attended a performance, lecture or exhibition at one of our local colleges and universities (one point for each performance/exhibition)
___ Checked out a library book
___ Had lunch at Romare Bearden Park
___ Read a Wall Poem in uptown Charlotte
___ Went to an art crawl in NoDa or South End
___ Sought out a piece of public art

Wind Sculpture by Jack Pentes was updated in April with new spinning discs made of Sunbrella fabric donated by Glen Raven Inc. and designs by Wray Ward.

Wind Sculpture by Jack Pentes was updated in April with new spinning discs made of Sunbrella fabric donated by Glen Raven Inc. and designs by Wray Ward.

___ Caught a concert at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
___ Visited a cultural venue on Connect with Culture Day in January or September (one bonus point for participating both days)
___ Attended Sensoria, a celebration of the arts and literature, at Central Piedmont Community College
___ Rode the van to South Carolina to see XOXO’s “Bohemian Grove” in May
___ Attended a Charlotte Symphony Summer Pops performance
___ Painted your piece of pride with artist Edwin Gil at the Charlotte Pride Festival
___ Checked out art at a former Goodyear building
___ Ate dinner outdoors along North Tryon Street and enjoyed unique cultural experiences at ASC’s Culture Feast in September

Musicians from the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performing at Culture Feast. The event was part of ASC's Cultural Free For All, presented to the community by Wells Fargo.

Musicians from the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performing at Culture Feast. The event was part of ASC’s Cultural Free For All, present to the community by Wells Fargo.

___ Displayed art in your yard on National Yard Art Day in September
___ Voted in the November election
___ Went to see Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker or Carolina Voices’ The Singing Christmas Tree over the holidays (one bonus point if you caught both)
___ Participated in a local cultural activity not included in this quiz

YOUR CULTURAL LIFE SCORE
14 points or less
– You may need to get more involved in the cultural community. Visit CharlotteCultureGuide.com to find upcoming cultural activities that spark your interests.
15 to 24 points – You’re engaged in the cultural community but may need to identify your cultural passion. Consider connecting more deeply with one of our cultural partners.
25 points or more – Congratulations – you’re a cultural superstar! Continue your strong support of the cultural community by volunteering and by signing up for VoterVoice to advocate for arts and culture, if you haven’t done so already.

Dance Theatre of Harlem to visit Charlotte

29 Dec

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Dance Theatre of Harlem performs Jan. 22-24 in Charlotte. An exhibition on the dance theatre also opens that weekend.

Dance Theatre of Harlem performs Jan. 22-24 in Charlotte. An exhibition on the dance theatre also opens that weekend. Photo credit: Blumenthal Performing Arts

The face of the ballet dancer is evolving because of Dance Theatre of Harlem.

And, through a cultural collaboration between Blumenthal Performing Arts and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, there are two ways to experience the groundbreaking dance troupe at Levine Center for the Arts in January.

The renowned performing ensemble will perform in Charlotte for the first time ever Jan. 22-24 at Knight Theater. That same weekend, the Gantt Center will open the exhibit “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” on the cultural campus. The exhibit will run through June 26.

The History

Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell (left) with renowned choreographer George Balanchine.

Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell (left) with renowned choreographer George Balanchine. Photo Credit: Gantt Center

Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem was considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings” (The New York Times, 1971). Shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children — especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born — the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts. Now in its fourth decade, the first African-American classical ballet company has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution with an extraordinary legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence that continues to set standards in the performing arts.

The Performance

Dance Theatre of Harlem ballet dancers.

Dance Theatre of Harlem ballet dancers. Photo credit: Blumenthal Performing Arts

Coincidentally, the dance theatre – known for performances that challenge preconceived notions – will perform in Charlotte the week of Martin Luther King Day. The ballet company consists of 14 racially diverse dance artists who perform an eclectic, demanding repertoire, from treasured classics and neo-classical works by George Balanchine and resident choreographer Robert Garland to cutting edge contemporary works and works that use the language of ballet to celebrate African-American culture.

The Exhibition

An example of the dazzling costumes that will be on display at “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” at the Gantt Center.

An example of the dazzling costumes that will be on display at “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” at the Gantt Center. Photo credit: Gantt Center

“Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts,” celebrates the iconic company and its corps. It features a collection of costumes, set pieces and video excerpts from the company’s history. In addition to the costumes and staged ballets, the exhibition includes historical photographs, original tour programs, tour posters, letters from choreographers and dignitaries, and design bibles.

The Importance

The collaboration between Blumenthal and the Gantt Center demonstrates how local cultural groups are focused on building community, providing relevant and innovative programming and making cultural experiences central to education – all pillars of the community’s Cultural Vision Plan.

In December, Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Chyrstyn Fentroy visited Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte to conduct a master class with dance students. It was one of the community outreach initiatives planned around the dance theatre’s visit to Charlotte.

Additionally, corporate sponsor Wells Fargo will give tickets to 1,200 low-income dance-goers who might never see the ballet company any other way.

“If we bring this great dance company here, and only those who can afford a relatively high ticket price can come, we have failed,” Blumenthal president and CEO Tom Gabbard told The Charlotte Observer. “This can be an aspirational moment. When you see a dancer of color onstage, someone who looks like you, the impact that makes can be a lifelong thing.”

See The Performance, See the Exhibit
Dance Theatre of Harlem performs Jan. 22-24 at Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts, 430 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. Tickets are $21.50-$76.50. For tickets or for more information, click here.

“Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts” runs Jan. 22-June 26 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, 551 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. Museum admission is $9 adults, $7 children ages 6-17 and college students/educators/military members/seniors, and free for children ages 5 and younger and museum members. Group discounts available. For more information, click here.

Cultural groups earn 2016 NEA grants

18 Dec

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

Three Charlotte cultural organizations have been awarded Art Works grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in its first fiscal year 2016 funding announcement.

Charlotte Ballet, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and McColl Center for Art + Innovation will receive the Art Works grants, which focus on the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts.

  • Charlotte Ballet will receive $20,000 to support the creation and presentation of a world premiere ballet by resident choreographer Dwight Rhoden. Drawing from his lifelong passion of American jazz music, Rhoden will use live jazz musicians as collaborators in the creation and performance of the ballet. The work will be presented in separate “sets” representing prominent jazz artists. Rhoden will create the work so that it reflects jazz music, where there is both group interaction by the dancers and individually directed improvisation. The work will be presented at Knight Theater at the Levine Center for the Arts.
  • Children’s Theatre of Charlotte will receive $10,000 to support the continued development and production of “Journey to Oz.” Audiences will fully participate in playwright Christopher Parks’ experiential retelling of the iconic story in American culture, “The Wizard of Oz.” The production will be interactive and immersive, allowing the audience to participate in how the story is told.
  • McColl Center for Art + Innovation will receive $20,000 to support residencies serving Latino/Hispanic artists. The residents’ work will explore contemporary Latin-American issues, values, and identity. An “artesanos” (makers’ fair) will showcase Latino resident artists – printmakers, muralists, painters, and ceramicists – as well as local artisans and musicians. Artists will also be placed in local communities in order to facilitate cross-cultural exchanges and provide art training.

The combined $50,000 the Charlotte organizations will receive is a portion of the $27.7 million to be given nationally by NEA in its first round of funding. A total of 1,126 grants were announced.

“These projects, from all over the nation, will make a difference in their communities,” said National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu. “We know from experience as well as through hard evidence that the arts matter and these projects will provide more opportunities for people to learn, create, and experience the value of the arts in so many different ways.”

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