Addressing the question of cultural relevance

16 Mar

By Robert Bush
ASC President

ASC President Robert Bush.

ASC President Robert Bush.

If it were possible to put a mirror in front of all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural experiences, you should see a familiar face – your own. I, along with ASC’s staff and cultural partners, are always working to ensure the image in the cultural mirror is a reflection of you. That keeps one question at the forefront of our minds: “What’s culturally relevant, and how can we find innovative ways to support and share those experiences with donors, residents and visitors?” That question has an evolving answer, and that’s what makes my job fun.

As we become a more diverse community, the question of ‘cultural relevance’ becomes an even more important issue. While traditional experiences and programs are still appreciated, ASC recognizes that our community is begging for more; more diversity, more access, more inclusion, more innovation and more engagement. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s new Cultural Vision Plan addressed those issues by directing the arts and cultural sector to take a deeper look at the face of our community and find ways to do more where it is needed, as well as reflect the diversity of voices and culture expressions surrounding us.

Theatre Charlotte is a cultural partner that has already taken a step toward understanding new reflections in our cultural mirror and finding innovative ways to meet the needs of the images it sees. The theatre’s 2011 production of The Glass Menagerie is a great example. By taking Tennessee Williams’ play, which traditionally has an all Caucasian cast, and casting it with all African-Americans, Theatre Charlotte found a new approach to tell a well-known story in a more diverse and inclusive way.

The Theatre Charlotte 2011 production of "The Glass Menagerie." (Theatre Charlotte photo.)

The Theatre Charlotte 2011 production of “The Glass Menagerie.” (Theatre Charlotte photo.)

Their non-traditional approach allowed them to show how Williams’ play could be seen from a different perspective. It enabled them to include the talents of actors that normally wouldn’t be cast in such roles. And in the end, their innovative approach exposed their usual attendees to a contemporary twist on a classic work. It also provided a welcoming atmosphere to new patrons that attended because of their support for the cast or their intrigue/curiosity of the new casting approach.

Charlotte Ballet is another cultural partner that is taking steps to ensure their programing is a true reflection of the changing face and tastes of our community. Associate Artistic Director Patricia McBride recently took George Balanchine’s Tarantella, a ballet he originally choreographed in 1964 with McBride in one of the featured roles, and restaged it with Charlotte Ballet’s Emily Ramirez and Jordan Leeper.

Tarantella was created more than 50 years ago, and although it is timeless in its artistry, audiences are not as enthusiastic. McBride recognized that change, casting talented young artists that would appeal to a new generation, and also adding her own intuition to the interpretation of Balanchine’s work – staying true to his original and addressing the preferences of today’s audiences, yearning for fresh, new work.

Like Theatre Charlotte, Charlotte Ballet and countless other cultural organizations and individual artists, I love trying to anticipate the cultural needs and desires of our community. I love helping create unique solutions used to meet those needs and desires. But most importantly, I love being a part of our community and seeing my reflection, alongside yours, in the great cultural experiences made possible through support from ASC.

I hope you see your reflection in the many cultural experiences and organizations that surround you. ASC is dedicated to making that kind of engagement happen for everyone.

Wolf Trap’s Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts

5 Mar

By Akua Kouyate-Tate
Senior Director of Education, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts

A Wolf Trap program that utilizes music and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

A Wolf Trap program that utilizes music and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

For more than 30 years, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts has been a leader in early childhood education. In 2010, we received a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement and study a professional development (PD) model that enables teachers to infuse performing arts strategies with mathematics instruction in Kindergarten and pre-K classrooms in an effort to improve children’s math skills.

Our program, Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts), provides unique arts-integrated content, which includes 16-session classroom residencies, multi-day integrated art/math training workshops, peer-sharing of instructional strategies and one-to-one mentoring and coaching with a Wolf Trap teaching artist. The Arts & Science Council’s North Carolina Wolf Trap is one of 17 Affiliate partners throughout the U.S. that is now primed to implement Early STEM/Arts in early childhood classrooms in the community.

We recently received the results of the four-year study, and were thrilled to learn that Early STEM/Arts had a statistically significant, positive impact on students’ math achievement. Additionally, the study found Wolf Trap’s Early STEM/Arts program demonstrates the necessary features that constitute effective, high-quality professional development (PD) for teachers. When American Institute for Research, the independent researchers conducting the study, measured Wolf Trap’s model against standards of effective PD, they confirmed that Wolf Trap provides high-quality PD by thoroughly integrating: form, duration, collective participation, content, active learning, and coherence.

A Wolf Trap program that connects dance and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

A Wolf Trap program that connects dance and math. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

The research data validates the work that Wolf Trap Institute Affiliates across the country have been doing over the last 30 years: we are empowering teachers with dynamic ways to integrate performing arts techniques into traditional classroom instruction. When Wolf Trap teaching artists work with educators, teachers have more confidence to incorporate STEM concepts into their lesson plans. In this way, the ‘Wolf Trap approach’ to professional development supports educators for years to come. As a result, teachers are cultivating in children a foundational knowledge of STEM that they will likely carry throughout the trajectory of their education. Studies show that early childhood education is pivotal to how children will perform in the latter stages of their educational development. Arts-integrated STEM learning is highly effective for young children and fosters excitement about, and a desire to, engage in STEM.

We are very pleased with what has been accomplished to this point and are excited about what’s to come in the future. With the support of our Affiliates and partnering organizations, children and teachers throughout the nation are benefitting.

To learn more about the Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts program, please watch our latest video:

The Gantt Center celebrates its 40th anniversary

1 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager


For its 40th anniversary, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture wants to continue its conversations with the community.

The ongoing dialogue includes last season’s “Question Bridge: Black Males” exhibit, which explored issues facing the black male community.

It continues with “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness,” the new exhibition that examines the long-standing impact of colonialism on societal attitudes that define black culture in America.

“I was asked this question about what’s next for the center and what kind of role would the center continue to play,” said Gantt Center President David Taylor.

With its latest exhibition, the center shows it will continue to be a leader in helping the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community have uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.

It’s what the Gantt Center (founded as the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center in 1974 and renamed after Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first African-American mayor, in 2009) has done for the last four decades.

“Few cities have the privilege of prominent, public spaces that have existed for 40 years to celebrate the black experience,” Taylor said. “The Gantt Center proudly holds that distinction for Charlotte.”

“Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness” does more than celebrate the black experience – it challenges viewers to critically think about how black identity has often been defined by others.

It does so through the work of guest curator Rehema Barber and nearly 20 national and international artists of the African diaspora, or the communities throughout the world descended from the historic movement of peoples from Africa.

This untitled piece by Ken Gonzales-Day is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition "Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness."

This untitled piece by Ken Gonzales-Day is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness.”

The exhibit, Barber said, was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” It explores the history that shaped prevailing views about African-Americans – such as the “Magical Negro” (think the 2000 Will Smith film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) and fallout from the Paula Deen controversy – and how those views played out in mainstream society.

“I was paying attention to a lot of things that were happening every day,” Barber said. “And so I said I really want to talk about people’s perceptions of black culture or black identity – how things influence that perception. Not so much about black identity as a whole, but this idea that there are things that sort of influence how we construct or how we perceive black identity.”

Sean Johnson's "False Identity" is is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition "Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness."

Sean Johnson’s “False Identity” is is one of the many artworks featured at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness.”

The perception of African-Americans, Barber said, is a conglomerate of ideas originated in the days of colonialism.

This exhibition, she said, is “about coming to the realization that we all have the power to define who we are for ourselves.”

Venture “Out of the Heart of Darkness”

The exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness” runs through June 26, 2015, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, 551 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. For more information, visit

The value of the arts to pre-K education

1 Mar

By Caitlin James
ASC Davidson College Impact Fellow

Merry Oaks pre-K teacher Lisa Hix (center) has fun with one of her students during an ASC NC Wolf Trap program in her classroom.

Merry Oaks pre-K teacher Lisa Hix (center) has fun with one of her students during an ASC NC Wolf Trap program in her classroom.

Preparing preschool kids to enter kindergarten is Lisa Hix’s job.

It’s why she was excited to have the Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) North Carolina Wolf Trap program in her classroom this year.

The arts-based instruction the program provides helps engage students “who may not be confident enough to talk, but can draw answers with incredible detail,” said Hix, who teaches at Merry Oaks Elementary in Charlotte.

“You can reach that student who may not be able to sit still, but can use their body to problem solve a math problem faster than anyone can with pencil and paper. You can reach that student who says they don’t know anything, but the minute they get a chance to act in a play, they can remember and deliver lines with confidence and understanding of how the parts of a story or history might affect people involved.

“You can even reach that kid who says “I’m not good at art” but can turn a beat into a reflection of the conflict and resolution of a complicated story.”

ASC’s NC Wolf Trap is one of nearly 20 national sites of the acclaimed Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program. The local program started in the 2006-07 school year and provides teaching artists for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Bright Beginnings classes and More-at-Four classes in Mecklenburg County.

The seven-week residencies partner professional artists with early childhood educators to provide arts-based instruction to help ensure children under the age of six are ready to enter school.

NC Wolf Trap works with CMS to determine which sites receive the program, which stays at selected schools and centers for three consecutive years to ensure each classroom teacher works with artists in drama, music and dance disciplines.

Its goals include improving student learning through drama, music and dance, providing professional development for teachers and making the arts a part of the daily interaction between students and their parents and teachers.

“My view of the arts is that there is something for everyone when it comes to using them as a teaching tool,” Hix said. “We talk all the time in the teaching world about individualizing our lessons to reach as many students as possible, and what better way than by showing them that you can use the same book and the same concepts, and you can act, sing, draw, paint, build, sculpt, and interpret them and still make educational progress in the best way for you?”

We had the opportunity to hear from Hix at length about her NC Wolf Trap experience. Here’s what she had to say. Responses edited for brevity/clarity.

Q: What were your expectations for having Wolf Trap visit your classroom?
I was expecting to see some kinesthetics beyond the same old movements and fingerplays I was used to seeing acted out in a pre-K classroom. I also hoped to gain clever ways to incorporate drama into children’s books to make them even more memorable and meaningful to my students. Finally, I wanted to be an active part of the process, so that I could not only give the artist advice on how to approach certain students, but also be able to individualize aspects of their lessons and adapt them to my classroom.

Q: Do any particular memories continue to resonate for you?
The first artist I had was… so great at really understanding where a lot of my students came from. The whole idea that we were working with a population of students who speak little to no English at the beginning of the year and who were hesitant to really participate at first did not phase Jesse at all. She used a combination of simple rhythmic beats and large, great muscle movements to get the students interested in what she was doing, and then introduced easy and simple repetitive phrases for them to build their comfort and enthusiasm.

Q: What were the challenges for you or your students?
The only challenges we face are the fact that our students are dual language learners, and may not be able or willing to participate 100-percent at first. It takes them a little extra time to get comfortable enough to really participate fully. Luckily, we are fortunate enough to have very patient artists come into our room.

Q: How have you continued to integrate this professional development experience into your teaching?

A: We have started adding more simple props and allowing the students to decide how they might want to use them as we read stories. I have been doing more active listening readings and instead of reading the book verbatim, I am taking concepts from the book and using them to act out important ideas with my class. I am allowing myself to see how there are such simple ways to take more from a picture book than the author and my teacher manual might take from it. I am challenging my students to do the same on their own levels and I am seeing my students really trying to stretch their way of thinking when answering questions I pose to them about what we read.

Q: Why do we need the arts in classrooms?
A: When students can start being exposed to this in pre-K and then can see that they have their own talents and that those talents can continue to be supported, encouraged, and even incorporated into their classrooms as they get older, the enthusiasm and confidence to continue with school can only be increased monumentally. When kids see that they have a hand in how their education is shaped, they take ownership of it, they take responsibility for it, and they take joy in sharing it with those around them.


From cultural sector recipient to supporter: a donor shares why she gives to ASC

1 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

ASC donor Lindsay Wright at Discovery Place. As a child attending summer camp at the science center, Wright and her camp mates would line up along the tile hand prints before starting their day.

ASC donor Lindsay Wright at Discovery Place. As a child attending summer camp at the science center, Wright and her camp mates would line up along the tile hand prints before starting their day.

Lindsay Wright didn’t know the field trips she went on as a public school student in Charlotte-Mecklenburg were supported by the Arts & Science Council.

She connected the dots as an adult. It’s why she gives to ASC.

“I’ve reaped the benefits of the Arts & Science Council and I want to make sure that others get that benefit as well,” Wright said. “One of the ways to do that is to give.”

Wright said she is a direct recipient of the projects, programs and organizations that ASC supports. Besides cultural field trips, she received scholarships to attend summer camps at Discovery Place and Mint Museum.

She remembers learning to draw at Mint Museum Randolph’s camp. And, after participating in camp at Discovery Place, she started volunteering there and at the science center’s sister organization, the Charlotte Nature Museum.

“I have run the space shuttle mission when they used to have it, I have run the IMAX and I have taken care of the aquatic animals at Discovery Place and I have taken care of the butterflies at the nature museum,” she said. “I mean, these are my memories as a child.”

Those experiences not only gave her something productive to do during her formative years, but they motivated her to continue learning about and taking interest in topics that maybe she wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

“That led me to college, it led me to living abroad, it led me to exploring even beyond all of that – the reach of the world, really – and I think that that background is what made me do that,” she said.

Now settled in Charlotte, Wright continues to be involved in the cultural sector.

She’s been a shareholder in ASC’s Community Supported Art program, which connects local artists to local supporters. She volunteers her time in the sector and is a member of ASC’s Young Donor Society, a group of donors ages 40 and under that give generously to support the cultural sector broadly.

Nights out with friends revolve around museums, gallery openings or the latest local theater production.

She’s seen firsthand how the cultural sector has not only impacted her life, but how it’s helped the city and the region transform and attract newcomers.

“Growing up, nobody came uptown. We were not on the top of anybody’s list,” she said. “That’s totally changed now. A lot of that has to do with what the cultural sector has done to make the city vibrant, make it a place where people want to go and to give them something to do uptown besides working nine to five and then going home.”

The sector consists of so many great artists, organizations, educational opportunities and festivals that it’s impossible to support them all individually, Wright said.

“I like ASC because it touches all of those areas,” She said. “There’s no other place where your giving can have as much of an impact.”

You can make a gift to ASC at the following link:

Show Your Support for ASC on Social Media

ASC asks the community to participate in the upcoming ASC is You & Me week, which is March 9-13. The purpose of the week is to raise awareness about the ASC Annual Fund Drive, show how dollars from the campaign impact cultural organizations and individual artists, and highlight how the cultural sector in enriches the quality of life for Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents and visitors.

To participate, be sure to like ASC on Facebook ( and follow @ASCCharlotte on Twitter. You can also show your support on Facebook by changing your cover photo to one of the ASC is You & Me-themed cover photos that will be posted on ASC’s page by March 6. To join in the conversation, use the hashtag #ASCYouandMe (it can be used on both Facebook and Twitter).

Public Art History: The Uptown Arena

1 Mar

By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

“Tulip,” “Double Leaf” and “Fallow Gear” by Paul Sires. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography,

“Tulip,” “Double Leaf” and “Fallow Gear” by Paul Sires. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography,

If you’re from the Carolinas or you’ve lived here awhile, you know this region loves its basketball.

But folks here love their public art, too, and basketball fans attending games at Time Warner Cable Arena can appreciate both.

Ten years ago, several public artworks representative of Charlotte’s past and its love of the game were created in conjunction with the construction of the uptown arena.

The Arts & Science Council, the public art agent for the city and the county, oversaw the process for the arena public artwork. So, with March Madness right around the corner, we decided to take a look back at the public art found at the uptown arena.

There are prominent pieces created by homegrown artists. Charlotte artist Paul Sires constructed “Tulip,” “Double Leaf” and “Fallow Gear,” the carved granite benches found along the arena plaza between Trade and Fifth streets.

The simple but large shapes of the benches can be read by patrons on the balcony of the arena and those in surrounding buildings with a view of the plaza. The broken gear represents a bygone era when textile machinery was central to Charlotte’s economic success. The flower and the leaf represent teamwork, as one is dependent upon the other.

Another Queen City artist – Tommie Robinson – created “Commerce” and “Transportation,” murals found inside TWC Arena that reflect Charlotte’s commerce from the past and the evolution of public transportation.

"Trajectory" by Thomas Sayre. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

“Trajectory” by Thomas Sayre. Photo by Mitchell Kearney Photography.

Even more public artwork adorns the interior of the home of the professional basketball team the Charlotte Hornets. Look down and you’ll find “Trajectory,” the terrazzo floor in the arena’s lobby by North Carolina artist Thomas Sayre.

The concept for the terrazzo floor is loosely based on the physics of a bouncing ball. A series of colorful linear designs illustrate the rolling basketball, soccer and tennis balls. Each terrazzo path is a different color and sparkles as one moves through the space.

Overhead is a series of suspended light ball sculptures of different shapes also based upon the physics of a bouncing ball.

Also in the lobby is “The History of Basketball in the Piedmont” and “The Action Wall,” photographic porcelain tile murals by Mike Mandel that recognize the many layers of culture that comprise Charlotte’s basketball history.

"The History of Basketball" by Mike Mandel.

“The History of Basketball” by Mike Mandel.

“The History of Basketball” at the Trade Street entry includes image of a player from the 1950s textile Hanes Hosiery league and contemporary athletes from Davidson and Johnson C. Smith. The background includes imagery from the 1926 Charlotte Central High School girls’ team, 1934 Livingstone College players and 1936 Cannon YMCA basketball. “The Action Wall” at the Fifth Street entry features a University of North Carolina at Charlotte player and fans.

Back outdoors, you’ll find nationally recognized public artist Andrew Leicester’s handiwork along Caldwell, Fifth and Trade streets. After learning that Charlotte was once nicknamed the “Manchester” of the New South because of its textile prowess, Leicester used forms from the textile industry in the Carolina Piedmont to create a visual language for the plaza.

His ceramic sculptures encircle the arena, their forms based on the creation and use of textiles throughout the ages. His brick textile-design wall separating the light rail from the arena was inspired by a pattern book from the Stuart Cramer Mill.

"Flying Shuttles" by Andrew Leicester.

“Flying Shuttles” by Andrew Leicester.

Perhaps his most noticeable contributions are his “Flying Shuttles.” The 50-foot freestanding columns along the Trade Street plaza are based on the theme of a giant cotton bobbin loaded with yarn.

They also help make Charlotte’s public art arena a place where fans can celebrate hoops and history.

West Meck students to take the Duke Energy stage this weekend

5 Feb

Compiled by Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

A theatrical production can offer a safe space for students to express their passion, West Mecklenburg High School English teacher Eboné Lockett told The Charlotte Observer.

This weekend, several of her students will take the stage at Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square for a performance of The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Groitsong.”

childrne of somethingThe play is based on a book by Russell Goings about African-American history, from the days of slavery up through the present. Goings was a close friend of Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden.

The first act “will include dramatic and musical portrayals of Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Billie Holliday, Rosa Parks and others.”

“The spirit of those giants will drive the second act as the students tell their own stories through poems and songs,” Lockett told the Observer. “The second act is their voice.”

In addition to directing this play, Lockett is her school’s Arts & Science Council (ASC) School Grants Program representative. The ASC School Grants Program will provide up to $280,000 in total funding in 2014-15 for Mecklenburg County public, charter, independent, parochial and private schools to support cultural programming that aligns with their curriculum and helps increase student success.

That’s not the production’s only tie to ASC. Justin Nichols, one of the students in the play, is also a participant in ASC’s Studio 345, an out-of-school time youth development program for high school students. Oneaka Mack, who is providing dance choreography for the production, was a 2014 ASC Regional Artist Project Grant recipient.

Several of the students also took part in Quentin Talley’s poetry workshop at the University City Regional Library on ASC’s Connect with Culture Day.

Performances take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 and 7. Tickets are $6 to $8 and are available at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers