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Center City Gallery offers a gentle push out of the comfort zone 

When UNC Charlotte's Center City Building opened to the public on Sept. 17 with a flurry of art, performance and other presentations, it wasn't an isolated event or a community obligation to check off a list. It was an expression of a philosophy.

Because of its suburban location, the university has long been dogged by the perception that it's disconnected from the city. The new Uptown campus partly ameliorates this situation. But the building is only the beginning — it's up to the people who work there to foster meaningful community connections.

One of those people is Crista Cammaroto, director of galleries for the College of Arts + Architecture. In this newly created job, she's responsible for the programming in several main campus galleries as well as the new Center City Gallery.

Center City Gallery, a bright street-level space, is a natural for installation work, which jibes with Cammaroto's own instincts. "I think people were a little afraid that installation was all I would do," she admits. But she promises an exhibition schedule that will exemplify "diversity in race, gender, content, medium, country of origin and even exhibition design. But the deciding question will remain: Is this great art?"

The public's introduction to the gallery was John Hairston and Antoine Williams' mural Here's to Hoping It Rhymes for a Reason; mixing a street aesthetic with local history, it's on view until Oct. 20. The performative installation Play Ground, by dancer/choreographer E.E. Balcos and visual artists Mary Tuma and Maja Godlewska (all College of Arts + Architecture faculty members), opens Oct. 29 (hours that day will be 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) as part of Wells Fargo Community Day and will have another reception Nov. 4 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Cammaroto is energized by her complex mission of serving university and Charlotte audiences while challenging the exhibiting artists. She plans to dedicate every July and August to The Summer Experiment, a residency-like program she's initiating to foster collaborations across disciplines within the COA+A. She will solicit proposals from teams of three collaborators, which will be reviewed by a panel of visual arts professionals from outside the university. "This is a way to showcase the faculty and encourage cross-pollination in the college. Faculty are so busy working, that they're often unaware of what their colleagues are doing."

An exhibition by Andreas Bechtler is also in the pipeline. Cammaroto is particularly excited about this show because although Charlotteans are aware of Bechtler as an art patron, few know that he's also a prolific artist.

While most student work will be shown at the galleries on the main campus, Center City will offer some opportunities for students. Cammaroto currently has her eye on two groups, D-Arts and Digital Mob, and hopes to bring them together for a single exhibition.

Ideas fly as Cammaroto brings up possible topics for futures shows: oil, the loss of the book, the myth of Icarus. She seems to enjoy the challenge of reconciling daring ambitions with quotidian concerns like budgets and schedules. And even though budgets would seem to favor showing artists from the region, there's already an international flavor to the schedule. In January, European artist/architect Anna von Gwinner will create a video installation that can be viewed only from outside the building.

"A gallery like this is driven not by sales but by conceptual thought and keeping your finger on the pulse of society," says Cammaroto. "The intellectual pursuit is at the heart of what we do. With education as our primary philosophy, the idea of well-behaved content and imagery only has to be exercised to a certain degree. Knowing Charlotte, you still can't show confrontational work without presenting it the right way. My job is to present the perfect stage for meaningful art."

(UNC Charlotte's Center City Gallery is located at 320 E. 9th St. Info: coaa.uncc.edu/Performances-exhibitions or 704-687-2397.)

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