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Winter 2021-22
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Another Layer
New Programs Invite Charlotte Creatives to Explore Different Art Forms
Photo by Brian Twitty
"Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Charlotte" artist-in-residence Matthew Scott Honeycutt works on a painting.
by Kitty Janvrin
Artist Matthew Scott Honeycutt does not believe in erasing mistakes. As he paints, he simply incorporates any oddities and flaws into the piece, often adding layers on top until the work is complete.
“Layers on layers on layers, failures,” Honeycutt says as he describes his work. “Say an average painting of mine has three layers. There are two intact, full paintings under the third and final layer. What I like about this method is it’s like life. You can’t really say, ‘oh, none of that (in the past) happened.’ All of the textures, all of the scars, all of the colors, all the time, it’s all there; it’s all under the surface. And depending on what that last layer looks like, you might not physically see any of it.” Honeycutt was part of the last group of artists-in-residence at "Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Charlotte," a digital exhibition of the famed artist’s work set to music inside Camp North End’s historic Ford Building. Outside and surrounding the exhibition warehouse, local artists like Honeycutt have displayed pieces inspired by Vincent Van Gogh and by his newfound resonance with the city of Charlotte. Like Honeycutt’s paintings, Charlotte and other cities across the nation are beginning to reckon with an underlying past of inequity, minimal funding and lack of opportunity in the arts. For many artists who have witnessed these transgressions, it is just as vital to acknowledge this history and the resulting scars as it is to create new growth in the community. “The artist wants the truth, even if it is ugly, even if it is painful. The artist can take pain and make something beautiful from it, but not if it’s not truthful,” says Jay Ward, a local slam poet who helped to curate "Of Earth and Sky," a recent program where visual displays of local writers' poetry were installed in public areas around the city. Blumenthal Performing Arts’ launch of public art programs like "Immersive Van Gogh," "Of Earth and Sky" and Made in CLT is part of its initiative to provide visibility and opportunity to artists living and working in Charlotte. “I think this is one step toward inclusion,” Ward says. “This is one step toward bringing everybody in and saying this is a large community. We all belong to this community.”
Photo by Brian Twitty
Nancy Jo Sauser, artist-in-residence at "Immersive Van Gogh," is one of the beneficiaries of Blumenthal's initiative to provide visibility and opportunity to local artists.
The conversation around funding programs and fostering individual artists, to many within the community, seems to have grown louder, especially following the height of the pandemic. For Blumenthal, attention has turned to ensuring local artists feel adequately supported amid programming like touring Broadway shows and international acts. Part of this support includes Artists in Theaters, a program that invites visual and poetic artists to see a show.
For Blumenthal Director of Artistic Experiences Bree Stallings, the program is an answer to a very big question she herself has encountered as a visual artist: “How can we take this incredibly powerful artistic community and really introduce them, get them interested in and invest them in the theater community? The simplest way is doing Artists in Theaters, where we’ve been having pairs of tickets offered to artists.”
Bree Stallings
In the first few months of the initiative, artists have attended Wicked, Potted Potter and Rent, giving them access to their first professional theatrical experiences. Stallings herself had never attended a Broadway musical prior to the most recent play of Wicked, which she describes as an eye-opening experience into the world of theater. As the house lights came back up following Elphaba’s showstopping anthem “Defying Gravity” at the end of Act 1, Stallings anticipated everyone would tap their ruby slippers to leave and head home. She soon learned it was only intermission. “How would I know that, right? I’ve never been to one of these things. You mean there’s twice as much, even more entertainment and things to see?” she laughs. “I think there’s a barrier between what people can afford, and as an artist, I understand. I used to say I can’t afford my own work but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth that much. There’s a lot of artists that can’t access and afford even going to 'Immersive Van Gogh' and stuff like that, yet their work is helping to support the entire package of the show. So how can we bridge these two things, because they shouldn’t be so siloed.”
Lo'Vonia Parks, pictured with her picnic table, was one of the first to participate in the Artists in Theaters program when she received tickets to Potted Potter.
Lo’Vonia Parks, an artist who painted one of the Van Gogh-inspired picnic tables outside the main entrance for "Immersive Van Gogh," was one of the first to participate in Artists in Theaters when she received a pair of tickets to Potted Potter. “One of my best friends and I went, and we had a blast. It was exactly what we needed,” Parks says. “We thought it was a hoot. We laughed a lot. I think we laughed harder than the kids did.” Parks finds more than just comedy from experiencing art outside of her medium. As a young child interested in drawing and painting, she was consistently encouraged by her parents to explore and pursue her craft. Over the past few months, she has been thrilled to see a similar thread of support coming from the city, and she wants artists and people interested in the arts to take advantage of the myriad performances, exhibitions and showcase opportunities currently available. “We’re never done learning as people, as society, as a city, everything. There’s so much new to learn, especially from generations of artists, whether young or old. There are really some nuggets of information if you have a conversation with artists of different backgrounds.” Another Artists in Theaters participant, Tiffonye’ Wilkins, attended Wicked last month. For the native Charlottean and artist, the experience meant attending her first Broadway show, as well. “Walking up, you could just feel the excitement in the air. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect really,” she says of arriving for the performance. “But walking in, I saw the dragon up there and the backdrop of the map of Oz, and it just took me back to a place of being a kid again. I couldn’t wait for the lights to go out and the show to begin. It was just magical from beginning to end.” The following evening, Wilkins returned to Ovens Auditorium to share the magic of Oz with audiences in a different way. Alongside two other artists, she did a live painting inspired by the show.
This is Tiffonye' Wilkins' finished painting that she did after seeing Wicked live.
“I feel like (live painting) gives people more of an appreciation for art, especially if you’re new to the art world. It’s so much more than just what you see. It’s hard work, a lot of thought, and it’s very strategic,” she says. Her piece is a different take on the show’s iconic logo, featuring good witch Glinda and the green heroine Elphaba side by side. “I wanted to convey that there are two sides to every story,” she says. “Even if you think you know it fully, you still don’t. You’re only getting a little bit of the truth.” For Charlotte, showcasing artists is only half of the story. According to Ward, Parks, Stallings and Wilkins, organizations also need to consider who is in the room to help make the big decisions about programming, access and funding. For poet Ward, including an artist in the entirety of a project and allowing them to direct the conversation is essential to continuing the growth of Charlotte’s arts landscape. “An artist leading that discussion means that the big organizations will get what they want, but they’ll also get the beauty that can only come from acknowledging the past,” he says. Parks agrees. “Sometimes transactional is not transformational. Sometimes you do have to support or invest in something that’s not necessarily going to bring you back money but will invest in the community around ... will make the people better, stronger. It’s enrichment.” ◼
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