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New lease on life at Artspace 525 

A new use for an empty storefront Uptown

There is a certain kind of quiet in the North Tryon corridor, between 7th Street and the 277 loop. Compared to the bustling intersections nearby, the area feels devoid of action, particularly with its many empty storefronts and parking lots. Apart from the Charlotte Ballet and the McColl Center, there's not much of a draw.

Charlotte Center City Partners seeks to remedy that with the Artspace 525 initiative. Sparked by their drive to promote activity and creativity, they teamed with a property owner to turn one of the vacant storefronts into an artist studio space while they wait for committed tenants. Parkway Partners, owner of the building at 525 N. Tryon, is the first to partner with CCCP on this effort, donating the space for a pilot residency program.

Center City Partners representative Lelia King believes that "Artspace 525 demonstrates how art can help bring available retail space to life and offer access to art and education for Uptown residents and visitors."

The conversation began when two ambitious poetry lovers started Wall Poems of Charlotte a few years ago. Amy Bagwell and Graham Carew, who run the program, were called in to the offices of Charlotte Center City Partners to explain themselves. After Bagwell and Carew described their purpose, to fill empty Uptown walls with art and poetry, Lynn Henderson, CCCP's director of programs and event operations, steered the conversation toward the empty storefronts along North Tryon, which were equally in need of attention. Bagwell remembers the enthusiasm of that meeting well. "It was like popping corn in that little conference room," she says.

Working with Henderson, Carew and Bagwell drew up a proposal to turn empty spaces into working studios for creatives, and eagerly turned it over to CCCP. After months of silence, a call came from Henderson: She'd found an interested party and they wanted someone in the space right away.

Organizers offered this first space to two unrelated entities, an artist and a project. For Artspace 525, the artist-in-residence is Sharon Dowell, and the project-in-residence is, naturally, Wall Poems of Charlotte, which now uses the space as its headquarters.

Having this space means that the two entities can spend resources on projects that both enhance Charlotte's landscape and engage with other creatives. Apart from open studios on the second Saturday of the month from 12-6 p.m. and the fourth Thursday from 5–8 p.m., both Wall Poems and Dowell have taken on individual outreach initiatives.

One of the many projects being taken on by Dowell is the West Meck Skateboard Show + Art Supply Drive on Saturday, May 24. She worked with the students to create skateboard art and will auction their works to raise funds for decent art supplies.

As for the Wall Poems program, which utilizes the talent in the Central Piedmont Community College's graphic design department, organizers now have much better access to their Uptown projects.

This kind of community intersection is exactly the sort of thing Center City Partners hoped to see come out of this initiative. Planning is underway for future Artspaces now, with property owners already showing interest in donating space. King stated that Artspace 525 would continue to "break down barriers that community members often associate with art" and that the space is "a central place for conversation, communication and connection that extends far beyond the art community and into the entire community."

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