Best Of 2018

Critic's Picks: Arts and Entertainment
Best of Charlotte 2018

Staff Pick,

(Artwork by Dana Vindigni-Guedes)

(Artwork by Dana Vindigni-Guedes)

"Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world." It's been a hell of a year for music, arts and theater in Charlotte, and we think it meant something. Here's what meant the most.

Best Film Event - Charlotte Film Festival

"We like to call ourselves an umbrella festival," Charlotte Film Festival programming director Jay Morong said prior to the kick off of the festival's 10th iteration at Ayrsley Grand Cinemas in September. "We welcome everything." Everything, in this case, was over 85 films, including features, shorts, documentaries and narrative cinema, culled from submissions from over 35 countries.

Highlights included Theo's Trade, a fictional look at the tone and tenor of media coverage of racially charged events; the documentary In Pursuit of Justice, which examined the case of Greg Taylor, a North Carolinian who was wrongly imprisoned for a brutal slaying; My Name is Myeisha, a hip-hop musical inspired by the 1988 police shooting of a California teenager; and FP2: Beats of Rage — a sarcastic parody of 1980s and 1990s action films, it's about white trash anime characters competing to the death for a post-apocalypse cache of booze. Augmented with a slate of seminars, panels and workshops at Wheelhouse Media, the fest truly lived up to its tagline, "Discover Different."

charlottefilmfestival.com

click to enlarge Davita Galloway (Photo by Will Jenkins)
  • Davita Galloway (Photo by Will Jenkins)

Best Creative - Davita Galloway

With a shaved head, tattoos from head to toe, donning a pair of funky fresh glasses and clothes that may or may not match, Davita Galloway is half of Dupp&Swatt Studio along with her brother Dion "Dupp" Galloway. The creative studio reflects her infectious personality, stocked with clothes, sunglasses and art sourced from local designers.

Along with her business, Galloway also co-owns a non-profit, CrownKeeper, that provides hands-on training as well as art and trade-based education to those lacking creative and entrepreneurial opportunities. She hosts various events that allow other creatives to share their talents among the Queen City art scene.

duppandswat.com

Best Creative Crew - Permanent Vacation

You might not hear the words Permanent Vacation as often as you did, say, three or four years ago when Elevator Jay, Rapper Shane and friends had folks wearing those signature red shirts across the country, but these folks are still putting in the work. Jay and the PV crew are still going hard with the monthly Player Made parties, and launched the fifth iteration of the legendary Squirt Day Party in August.

They've also continued making sick clothes like the recent Race Vacation "Radical Sabbatical" tees they released with the folks from Gridlife South festivals. That's just a small fraction of the stuff they've got going on. All you need to know is that the PV family is still going hard.

deepfriedfamily.com

Best Breakthrough Crew - Southern Tiger Collective

click to enlarge A peak inside the Southern Tiger Collective offices (Photo by Dana Vindigni-Guedes)
  • A peak inside the Southern Tiger Collective offices (Photo by Dana Vindigni-Guedes)

If you were to create a Venn diagram of the players involved with the above-mentioned Permanent Vacation and the Southern Tiger Collective, it would be pretty tight, but STC deserves its own nod for the work the group has put in around the city turning our boring walls into beautiful murals that have helped usher in a new understanding of the value of visual arts in a town of basic bankers.

Founded by Alex DeLarge and Dustin Moats in 2017, then joined by core members like Mike Wirth and husband-and-wife duo Arko and Owl, the team has left an impressive and magnificent mark on the city over the past year. They also played a leading role in organizing the recent Talking Walls, Charlotte's first mural festival. We can't wait to see what they've got coming in the next year.

southerntigercollective.com

Best Exhibit - Welcome to Brookhill

click to enlarge A shot from 'Welcome to Brookhill' (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)
  • A shot from 'Welcome to Brookhill' (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

Brookhill Village is more than just a sign on Remount Road, it's a place that has represented home for many Charlotte residents for decades. Image activist Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. tells the community's story with the exhibit Welcome to Brookhill at the Harvey B. Gantt Center, which consists of a collection of about 30 black and white photos that he shot of residents living life in Brookhill Village.

Brookhill is one of the oldest historically African-American communities in the city. Despite all of the gentrification and urban redevelopment surrounding the neighborhood, Welcome to Brookhill shines a light on what makes Brookhill Village home.

ganttcenter.org

Best Art Show - Fried Chicken Deck Show

Now going into its fourth year, the annual Fried Chicken Art Party continues to showcase some of the region's most impressive visual artists paired with live music and Charlotte's absolute best fried chicken (that's Price's — don't @ us). The concept was created by artist Phoebe Alicia to highlight street art, and has picked up sponsorships from Armada Skateshop and PBR as its grown. This year, Armada provided skateboard decks as canvases and PBR provided free beer for the event, which was held at Oso Skate Park. Just to summarize: skating, art, free chicken & beer. Of course this made the Best of Charlotte list.

ososkatepark.com

Best Art Workshop - Time Camp 002

Janelle Dunlap has been doing great work around gentrification in the community for a couple years now, but she felt the urge to go further. With Time Camp, Dunlap hosted a weekend of workshops that brought Afrofuturism to the forefront and showed how it not only ties into the black community's future, but also its past.

tinyurl.com/TimeCamp002

click to enlarge Crayzee Collective at the 2017 Breakin' Convention (Photo courtesy of Crayzee Collective)
  • Crayzee Collective at the 2017 Breakin' Convention (Photo courtesy of Crayzee Collective)

Best Dance Troupe - Crayzee Collective

Fusing hip-hop and theater, along with a passion for dancing while spotlighting individuality pushed A.J. Glasco to form the dance troupe Crayzee Collective. Most of the crew has been dancing together since childhood, but members are both self-taught and have studied various forms of dance.

While the troupe has only been in existence for three years, they have made the most of it. Performing at the Breakin' Convention at Blumenthal Performing Arts, Taste of Charlotte and other events around Charlotte have allowed them to cultivate the city's dance scene.

Best Burlesque Performer - Veritas Veridien

click to enlarge Veritas Veridien (Photo by Bonnie Austin Stanley)
  • Veritas Veridien (Photo by Bonnie Austin Stanley)

As the founder and lead instructor at AFV Exotic Arts, Annie Vereen does all she can to spread her knowledge and talent in burlesque dancing, teaching her students skills ranging from classic burlesque to stripper style. She's doing the community a service, as she told us in February that many of her students are too shy to tell their friends or significant others that they're learning burlesque.

As Veritas Veridien, Vereen is one of the most captivating performance artists in the city, and she demands to be treated as such. "As artists, we're very technical strippers," she said. "We have to know how the costume is going to come off and we have to rehearse. People do need to view us as artists. This is our art form."

Amen.

afvexoticarts.com

Best Photographer - Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.

click to enlarge Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. outside of a home in Brookhill, where he shot his most recent exhibit. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)
  • Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. outside of a home in Brookhill, where he shot his most recent exhibit. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

There was a time not long ago when a local black man being featured in the main exhibit of one of Charlotte's biggest art institutions was remarkable — let's be honest, it still is. But with the opening of Welcome to Brookhill at the Gantt Center in September (see above), and the K(no)w Justice, K(no)w Peace exhibit still showing at the Levine, Jacobs truly took hold of the city, becoming the first black man to be a lead exhibit artist at two of Charlotte's largest institutions simultaneously. When we talked to him this summer in the lead-up to the Gantt Center exhibit, the importance of the moment wasn't lost on him.

"It's a responsibility and it's an honor," he said. "With all eyes on me, I have to continuously not only deliver the work — because that means more than anything — I have to constantly remind myself of who I am. I can't allow anyone else to paint a picture of me. It has to be how I represent myself."

We think he's representing himself, and our city, pretty damn well.

Best DJ - DJ Ray

click to enlarge DJ Ray (Photo by Brian Twitty)
  • DJ Ray (Photo by Brian Twitty)

The resurgence of the DJ in Charlotte has been spectacular to watch over the past few years, and we're proud to say there are standout stars rocking parties and venues on any given night in CLT. The one who stood out most to us this year, though, keeps his profile relatively low-key. DJ Ray has been a resident DJ at Knocturnal since he moved here from Detroit five years ago. He is known for kicking off the patio party and emcee cypher beautifully. Within the past year, he co-created the Hazy Sunday Day Party at Petra's and released his fifth album with MC Exactly and their group, Stereoloud. Oh, and did we mention he does all this work on vinyl? His crates may be the deepest in town.

Best Producer - Simon Smthng

On Oct. 18, local producer Simon Smthng tweeted out, "gotta figure out a responsible way to let go of all these beats sitting dormant on my old computer." This is the type of shit that gets us excited. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We're still very much enjoying you will know fear, his 2018 release that serves as the second installment of a trilogy-in-progress. Inspired by a breakup, the album ends hopefully, with the second-to-last track and the visuals to go along with it, "ascension," intriguing us for the coming third installment, such is life. As for those dormant beats, bless some of these CLT rappers with them. We'd love to hear that, too.

Best Rapper - Erick Lottary

Don't say we didn't warn you. When Erick Lottary came by the Hygge West studios to record episode 31 of our Local Vibes podcast back in February, two months before the 4/20 release of his newest EP, You Can Tell, he was in a sharing mood. He played three tracks from the then-untitled project, and it quickly became clear that Lottary was on top of his game. With top tier production throughout, the Fayetteville native made sure his own lyrical skill was not outshined with solid tracks like "Ball is Life" and "Week 15." We expect him to come visit again next time he's got some fire tracks he wants to preview.

Best Emerging Rapper - Reuben Vincent

It's hard to call Reuben Vincent up-and-coming, considering he's already signed by 9th Wonder's Jamla Records, something most folks around here could only dream of. But considering he's still a minor, we're going to give him some time to grow. Not that he needs it. The now 17-year-old rapper dropped his debut project, Myers Park, last October, and it's filled with melodic, conscious tunes like "BB Guns" and lyrical masterpieces like the 9th Wonder-produced title track. Vincent's flow, which reminds us of a young Nas, is well beyond his years, and we see quite a future from this CLT representative.

Best Band - It's Snakes

You'd be hard pressed to find two people more in love with the Charlotte music scene than Hope Nicholls and Aaron Pitkin. Most folks know the story of how the married couple found fame with Fetchin' Bones in the late '80s, then continued to rock on with locally iconic bands like Sugarsmack and Snagglepuss. Bad experiences with asshole record execs took away any desire for the limelight, and it's sure worked out well for our city.

The couple's current group, It's Snakes, consists of Nicholls on drums — a first for her — and vocals, Pitkin and Greg Walsh on guitar and Darrin Gray on bass. The band's been around a few years, and they've always been good, but this year's release of the new album It's Snakes II has brought them to another level. The band shows a previously unseen range on the project, with a few of the best tracks entering into blues rock territory. There's no looking back for musicians like Nicholls and Pitkin who do it all for the love, and we're looking forward to hearing what's next.

Best Album - Amigo, And Friends

Amigo's latest album, released in January of 2018, a scant three months after Slade Baird and Co. were awarded Best Gram Parsons Loving Band in last year's Best of Charlotte issue, weathered 10 months of local releases to still emerge as 2018's Best Album. And Friends delivers on the promise of last years' award, with all the signature sounds Amigo has brought to the table, evoking the lazy West Coast sunsets of Workingman's Dead and Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde, while speaking to today's existential dread, but with a grin.

It's a modern album with gorgeous old-school color (the organ and high energy spoken intro of "Underground Medicine" recalls Sir Douglas Quintet classic "Mendocino", while the vamp at the end of album opener "The Big Idea" conjures Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love.") Amigo also added on a newcomer since recording And Friends: keyboardist Molly Poe. So there's only the potential to keep progressing. We'll see you in Best of Charlotte '19.

Best Song - "Ambitions (Remix)" - Lute feat. Deniro Farrar, Cyanca

Two of Charlotte's most renowned rappers join up with the city's most promising up-and-coming R&B singer for a remix of one of the favorites from Lute's 1996 Pt. 2. While Lute's version was a head-nodder for sure, this remix was everything you could want out of Charlotte music. That's only helped along by the video, in which the trio cruise through the Queen City streets handing out groceries to folks in need. Our ambition is to hear more bangers like this in the coming year.

Best New Band - Brut Beat

Brut Beat is an eclectic new project by drummer Robert Childers (2013 Wolves, David Childers and the Serpents), upright bass player Korey Dudley (Hectagons!) and trumpet player Stan Graham. The group's sound is influenced by a fascinating variety of styles including Afro-beat, punk, jazz and old school hip-hop. It's hard to even pin down what genre to describe them as, so we'll just classify them as effing awesome.

Best Local Show - Prince Tribute (Evening Muse)

Local jazz phenom Harvey Cummings was not about to stand by and let Prince's birthday pass without a party, and for that, we thank him. Cummings called up some of his friends to come join him for a night that saw folks like Quentin Talley and Laurence Maher doing remixes of classic Prince jams. Perhaps the highlight of the night was when CLT's own Adrian Crutchfield, who used to play with the Purple One, jumped on stage despite not being in the original lineup and joined a bevy of other musicians to blow things down for a nightcap. The night was nonstop and probably won't be duplicated any time soon.

Best Band with a Misleading Name - It Looks Sad.

When most folks come across It Looks Sad. before hearing the band play, they expect a bunch of emo crybaby shoegazers. Not the case. The indie rockers' new album, Sky Lake, is a serene, melodious affair filled with summer nostalgia and positive vibes. The duo that recorded Sky Lake — Jimmy Turner and Alex Ruiz — recently added bassist Matt McConomy from Cuzco, so they'll be headed into 2019 looking happy as a trio.

Best Musical Memoir - Poor Blue, Wasteground

Coming up with The Mighty Shamrocks in 1980s Ireland, Mickey Stephens didn't sing about The Troubles. In a band with two Protestant members and two Catholics, it was better just to toe the line. Now with the religious turmoil of Ireland far behind him, Stephens has confronted those turbulent times in Wasteground, the newest album from his local band Poor Blue. In songs like "Mr. In Between" and "The Troubles," Stephens documents his feelings about growing up in Northern Ireland during that unsure time.

Best Place for Girls to Rock Out - Girls Rock Charlotte

click to enlarge Girls Rock CLT (Photo by Dani Nicole Photography)
  • Girls Rock CLT (Photo by Dani Nicole Photography)

Here at Creative Loafing, we're all about female empowerment in music. Which is why when we covered Girls Rock! Charlotte, we were happy to see the excitement that the campers had when they met one another and began their instrument assignments.

Girls Rock Camp Alliance started in Portland, Oregon, and over the years has spread worldwide. The chapter here in the Queen City was started by Kelly Finley who was inspired to start Charlotte's Girls Rock! Camp after her own daughter attended the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill chapter. When she saw how empowered her daughter was after one week of learning to rock, she knew what she had to do for Charlotte. Thus began the best way for girls to rock out in Charlotte.

click to enlarge SideNote (Photo by DaRemen J)
  • SideNote (Photo by DaRemen J)

Best Multitasker - SideNote

With the 2017 release of her debut album, MR, it was clear that Summer "SideNote" Windham was a multi-talented woman. Throughout the record, she effortlessly blends spoken word, rap and singing in a way that almost makes the listener forget just how hard that really is to do right. But just when we thought we heard it all from SideNote, she broke out her new plans to us during a conversation in September: a dance album. That's right, as you know if you saw her set at the recent For The Love of She show at Snug Harbor, homegirl can move, too. She plans on releasing the full-length dance album in 2019, and we can only imagine what comes after that.

click to enlarge Cory M. Wells (Photo by Duan Davis)
  • Cory M. Wells (Photo by Duan Davis)

Best Farewell on a High Note - Cory M. Wells

Cory M. Wells spent 15 years in the Charlotte music scene, and performed his final show in the Queen City in August before saying goodbye and heading off westward.

It was a bittersweet goodbye. Charlotte is where Wells launched his music career as a 17-year-old contestant on the Queen City Idol competition, and with the release of his latest EP, Out of the Dark, Wells showed that he was at the peak of his powers as a darkly romantic tunesmith who cuts to the emotional core of the obsessions and dreams that make us tick.

Best Drama - Three Bone Theatre, Appropriate

Actor's Theatre was a strong contender in this category as well, premiering two fine new scripts, The Luckiest People and The Mermaid Hour. Theatre Charlotte's Grapes of Wrath and Brand New Sheriff's Eclipsed were also contenders, while Charlotte's Off-Broadway gave a highly polished, highly professional account of Three Days of Rain. We're giving the nod to Three Bone Theatre, which brought Branden Jacob-Jenkins' Appropriate to the QC. The family squabbling over Daddy's inheritance was trashy and timely, since they discover that their heritage might include some virulent racism — and that some of it may have rubbed off on his heirs.

Best Comedy - Actor's Theatre, Hand to God

PaperHouse Theatre, with The Revolutionists and The Sherlock Project, and the newly stabilized Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, with Hand to God and The Legend of Georgia McBride, dominated this category. Unless you expected a Peter Pan prequel, Theatre Charlotte's Peter and the Starcatcher was a consistent delight; and Shakespeare Carolina's audacity to turn Life Is a Dream — a centuries-old nugget from Spain's Golden Age – into a royal Vegas comedy was surprisingly successful. With casting by director Chip Decker that was more convincing than the Broadway production, topped by an amazing performance by Chester Shepherd as the puppet-possessed protagonist, Hand to God is this year's winner.

Best Musical - Children's Theatre of Charlotte, Mary Poppins

If you've been hypnotized by the Broadway Lights series at Blumenthal Performing Arts' big boxes, you may not realize that we have four companies in town that produce high-quality musicals. CPCC may be the most readily recognized of the bunch, with Newsies a standout among their summer offerings and Evita heading the class during the school year. Theatre Charlotte also draws from an enviable talent pool as last spring's Spring Awakening made clear, and Actor's Theatre remains nonpareil in edgy Off-Broadway fare as their recent Lizzie reaffirmed. Vaulting to the top rung of local producers last season was Children's Theatre of Charlotte, which raised the bar technically for local musicals with last fall's unsurpassed production of Mary Poppins, flying its hero above the stage and over the audience. The ImaginOn encores, a merry Madagascar and a steely Matilda were also eye-opening.

Best Actor - Chester Shepherd

click to enlarge Chester and Katy Shepherd, this year's Best Actor and Best Comeback respectively, perform together in 2015.
  • Chester and Katy Shepherd, this year's Best Actor and Best Comeback respectively, perform together in 2015.

Among the actors who incredibly aren't getting the nod here are Sean Riehm (Georgia McBride), Dave Blamy (Starcatcher), Brian Lafontaine (Three Days), Dennis Delamar (Luckiest People), Dominic Weaver (Sex With Strangers), Caleb Sigmon (Poppins and Matilda), Deon Releford-Lee (Madagascar) and Tommy Foster (Matilda). Stealing the prize from these worthies — with his demonic puppet, Tyrone — is Chester Shepherd in Hand to God.

atcharlotte.org

Best Actress - Carolina Bower

Actresses who are being robbed include Marla Brown (Hand to God), Andrea King (The Sherlock Project), Paula Baldwin (Grapes of Wrath), Sarah Clifford (The Crucible), Becca Worthington (Barbecue Apocalypse and Appropriate), Tracie Frank (Eclipsed), Janeta Jackson (Mary Poppins and Matilda), Lucia Stetson (Evita), and Katy Shepherd (Lizzie). Eating their cake is Caroline Bower, who not only portrayed an imperiously dimwitted Marie Antoinette in The Revolutionists but also gave us a tellingly contrasted mother and daughter in Three Days of Rain.

Insta: @carrieemb

Best Newcomer - Toni Reali

Disqualifying themselves from both the above categories but trailblazing their own non-binary path was Toni Reali in The Mermaid Hour – and they are more than qualified for our newcomer-of-the-year accolades.

atcharlotte.com

click to enlarge Katy Shepherd in 'Lizzie'
  • Katy Shepherd in 'Lizzie'

Best Comeback - Katy Shepherd

It was so tempting to make the Best Actor/Actress award a husband-and-wife affair, since Katy Shepherd really did deliver the most electrifying heavy-metal performance of the year as Lizzie Borden in Lizzie. What made her performance especially amazing was the fact that, stricken by celiac disease coupled with severe anemia, Shepherd had undergone surgery five times during 2016 and couldn't think of performing for months afterwards.

Furthermore, when she was rockin' and hackin' and slayin' onstage in Lizzie back in August, Shepherd was already pregnant with her first child! "I'm in awe of her," her director, Joanna Gerdy declared. Who can disagree? Oh yeah, according to the sonogram, it's a boy.

Best Mix of Chaos & Beauty – Susan Brenner, The State of Things

The trite truism "out of chaos comes order" - often attributed to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, but actually a line of dialogue from Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles – was turned on its head by Susan Brenner's The State of Things at the University of North Carolina Charlotte's Rowe Galleries last winter. Brenner, a painter and retired associate professor of Art and Art History at UNC Charlotte, seemed to be saying that out of chaos comes even more chaos.

As a meditation on collapse and divisiveness, The State of Things jumbled and juxtaposed photography, digital imaging, line drawing and painting. The result was multi-textured paintings that were dense and hypnotic. Images that were either biological or mechanical — or a combination of the two — leapt out at the viewer from the coiling lines of her canvasses before merging back into the labyrinthine lines of her composition. It was a vision of society in a biofeedback loop spiraling to inexorable collapse.

susanbrenner.net

click to enlarge Steven Buchanan and Lindsey Schroeder in 'Bonnie & Clyde' (Photo by Debbi Ballard)
  • Steven Buchanan and Lindsey Schroeder in 'Bonnie & Clyde' (Photo by Debbi Ballard)

Best Onstage Heist – Matthews Playhouse, Bonnie & Clyde

Depression era bandits and lovers on the lam Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met their gruesome end and passed on into American folklore on May 3, 1934, but the bank-robbing pair were resurrected for a tuneful, if bullet-riddled encore at Matthews Playhouse last February. Director Billy Ensley managed to balance the play's tone and historical accuracy with the story's ability to make audiences empathize with the dustbowl desperados.

To put theatergoers in an understanding frame of mind, Ensley and scenic designer John Bayless used background projections of the duel disasters of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl to evoke the atmosphere that gave rise to the desperate path chosen by Bonnie and Clyde. "There will be blood," Ensley promised prior to the production, adding that he hoped there wouldn't be too much clean up between scenes. "It won't be like when I directed Evil Dead at Actor's Theater," he said. "There was so much blood with that show that the dancers were slipping in it."

click to enlarge The 'Sherlock' players (clockwise from top left): Berry Newkirk, Angie Chandler, Chaz Pofahl and Andrea King. (Photo by Chad Calvert)
  • The 'Sherlock' players (clockwise from top left): Berry Newkirk, Angie Chandler, Chaz Pofahl and Andrea King. (Photo by Chad Calvert)

Best Gender-Bending Interactive Mystery - Paperhouse Theatre, The Sherlock Project

Last April, PaperHouse Theatre's artistic director Nicia Carla, put the "her" in Sherlock by making the world's most famous consulting detective a woman. In the Sherlock Holmes stories and shows, even the most ghastly doings in gas-lit, fogbound Victorian England have a cozy feel. So it is fitting that The Sherlock Project would be staged in The Frock Shop, an intimate comfortable dress shop in Plaza Midwood.

Andrea King's brisk and brilliant Holmes was paired with Chaz Pofahl's warm and slightly dotty Watson, while Angie Chandler and Berry Newkirk portrayed a bevy of clients, policemen and villains drawn from the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. The show has proven to be PaperHouse's most popular show to date, capturing the fun of old-fashioned whodunnits while focusing on the emotional core of the Sherlock stories, the enduring platonic love between Holmes and Watson.

Best Activist Art Show - OBRA Collective, Resist

The Trump administration's assault on civil liberties, the environment and immigrant rights has spurred an artistic renaissance, an outpouring of expression in opposition to the White House's policies. This was the focus last May of OBRA Collective's Resist: An Activist Art Show at C3 Lab. Original works – paintings, drawings, sculpture, and mixed media as well as poetry and dance performances - spotlighted various social issues.

Police brutality was the focus of Beth D. Mussay's small portraits of people who have been killed by police. Environmental concerns figured heavily in Noah Hartley's "I Resist Litter, Deforestation, and Human Pollution," a series depicting wildlife in their compromised habitats, while Trump's proposed border wall and the Republican Party's embrace of virulent racism inspired many works.

Resist's pièce de résistance may have been sculpture like "Disgusting" and "Such a Nasty Woman," ceramic undergarments created by Doris Kapner to critique Trump and the Republicans' misogyny and the sexism which has spawned the "Me Too" movement.

click to enlarge Katie St. Clair in her studio.
  • Katie St. Clair in her studio.

Best Examination of Nature, Decay & Mushrooms - Katie St. Clair, Fruiting Bodies

Colorful paintings — collages of fractured shapes and brilliant hues — lined the walls of Central Piedmont Community College's Ross Gallery when Katie St. Clair's exhibit Fruiting Bodies opened last August. But the main event was St. Clair's startling ice sculptures. Mushrooms, natural pigments, parts of plants and even roadside trash were encased in the ice, and these verdant and/or decaying materials came unlocked as the spheres slowly melted on canvasses spread below. So as one art work was destroyed another was created.

The ice spheres resulted from St. Clair's hikes in the Carolina woodlands foraging for mushrooms. Once seen, the sculptures were difficult to forget, a symbol of decay and renewal, and a celebration of the ephemeral. Once installed, the ice spheres only existed for 48 hours, disintegrating as they melted to create paintings underneath.

Best Fiction Book - Jeff Jackson, Destroy All Monsters

Local author Jeff Jackson's edgy and electric new novel kills rock stars — literally. Destroy All Monsters, which takes its name from a group of 1970s Detroit shock-and-art-rockers, follows a group of young fans and fledgling bands trying to make sense of an epidemic of killings sweeping the music scene. Bands are getting slaughtered on stage for no reason, rhyme or motive.

Like an old-school vinyl single, Jackson's tome is split into two sides. Side A is the fleshed-out novel, documenting a young woman and her friends' obsession with the killings. Flip the book over, and you'll find the novella My Dark Ages. Named after a proto-punk single by Cleveland noise terrorists Pere Ubu, Jackson's B-side reads like a radical remix of Destroy All Monsters. The B-side is a deepening of the story of the A-side, dramatizing events that are only mentioned in the A-side. The book's flip side also depicts an alternate reality where the characters from the A-side have radically different roles. The result is read as bracing and brain stretching as a listen to Iggy and the Stooges "Search and Destroy."

Best Medieval Crusade with Kids - XOXO, All Our Innocence (The Children's Crusade)

click to enlarge XOXO members rehearse for 'All Our Little Innocence'
  • XOXO members rehearse for 'All Our Little Innocence'

Matt Cosper's experimental troupe XOXO got Medieval on theatergoers' asses last August with a preview of their latest production All Our Little Innocence (The Children's Crusade). The playful and freewheeling production was based on the most poignant and/or pointless of the Crusades that electrified Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Children across the continent, motivated by visions of Jesus Christ, were convinced that the Mediterranean Sea would part so they could walk across the dry seabed to Palestine and deliver the holy city of Jerusalem from its Muslim conquerors. At least that was the plan. In fact, half the children boarded ships that were lost at sea while the other half ended up in the slave markets of Egypt. That's if the crusade ever happened in the first place, because most accounts of this disaster are pure folklore. The legend of the misbegotten pilgrimage, with its echoes of fairy tales and the Pied Piper, served as a jumping off point for XOXO's weird and wonderful work-in-progress.

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