By Grace Cote
There’s a lot going on in Charlotte with the Democratic National Convention just around the corner, and some of the facelifts around town are easy to spot. Less apparent are the art community’s preparations behind the scenes to culturally engage our thousands of visitors.
The local art community is ready to garner national attention. With the new museums in the Wells Fargo Cultural Campus, the very generous Arts and Science Council and the increasingly relevant McColl Center, it would be hard for the national arts scene to overlook the Queen City.
Charlotte’s small businesses will provide more platforms to showcase our local talent, exemplified by Flex and Fit on South Tryon Street. Owner Shama Patel will be joining forces with Huffington Post to provide a space for their Oasis, an invite-only spa and fitness center which expects 400-500 visitors per day. Patel is a big proponent of local art and has plenty already hanging in the space by artists Nico Amortegui, Sharon Dowell and herself.
Additionally, a number of Charlotte’s grassroots cultural groups aim to promote dialogue, creativity and, of course, visual art, all within Uptown’s distinctly painted Packard Place building. During the DNC, The PPL, a group of young entrepreneurial and tech-savvy Charlotteans, will be hosting a nonpartisan tech support space and forum for media-related discussion, and it has helped coordinate the inclusion of performance and visual art to accompany it. According to Desiree Kane, a co-founder of The PPL, the organization has partnered with arts groups throughout the Queen City to provide a presentation of works accurately representing a cross-section of our local art community.
On the first floor, Packard Place Gallery will host an exhibit titled Innovation in Paint. This will include work by six local artists, including curator Carmella Jarvi, who was awarded an ASC grant to start the gallery. Jarvi worked in conjunction with Charlotte Creates, an initiative that partners with various groups to spark creative action through the city.
On the fourth floor, where most of The PPL’s programming will occur, Joel Tracey and Arthur Brouthers of Culture Initiative will be spearheading what promises to be a thought-provoking exhibit called Separation of Church and State, inspired in part by the recent passing of Amendment One. Culture Initiative used social media to put out a call for artists and is expecting 40-50 participants employing a variety of media. The group’s goal, according to Tracey, is to use art as a catalyst to open a dialogue and create an opportunity for artists to express opinions and agendas without the pressure of making a sale.
The differences between Innovation in Paint and Separation of Church and State help to demonstrate the diversity present within Packard Place, which Kane has referred to as a "cauldron" for Charlotte’s art community. Jarvi cites the existence of groups excited to fill these gallery spaces as evidence that artists here are “part of the work force” and are motivated to find validation on a national stage.
The Quasimodo Project, brainchild of McColl Center alumni Manoj P. Kesavan and Faron Franks, aims to further the presence of free and accessible artistic expression in Charlotte. It will manifest itself throughout the DNC in many ways, including performance art in Packard Place, flash mobs throughout downtown and a large-scale projection onto the side of UNC Charlotte’s Center City building.
Local artist Sharon Dowell, who will be showing work in Packard Place, Flex and Fit, DNC cultural counterpart CarolinaFest and elsewhere, is one of the many local talents seizing the opportunity for exposure. Despite our state's divided political interests, she says, "a lot of Charlotteans are excited about the DNC coming and are interested in showcasing the talent and vibrancy that reside within our city.”
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