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Blumenthal Performing Arts
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Winter 2023
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Blumenthal on a Mission
Improving Lives and Creating Opportunities through the Arts
Artist Mike Wirth displays a piece he created for Fiddler on the Roof as part of Blumenthal Performing Arts' Artists in Theaters program.
by Liz Rothaus Bertrand
Blumenthal Performing Arts is known for quality theater entertainment, but there is an intentional strategy behind its expansion into other activities. Blumenthal is on a mission to expand the definition of art and to expand its reach in the community.
When Blumenthal first opened its doors 30 years ago, uptown Charlotte was a very different place. Although it was already developing as a banking center, after hours there was little going on. Blumenthal helped change that by reactivating the uptown into a vibrant center of activity. Today, Blumenthal is nationally known as a top 10 market for touring Broadway productions and bringing other attractions to the city. Managing its theaters well continues to be a priority, but its mission has evolved. “It’s a natural progression,” says Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard. It made sense to focus on reenergizing uptown at the outset, he says, but now Charlotte needs more, and Blumenthal is working to fill other gaps that exist in the community. Increasingly, it is focused more on the people and how to make their lives better. The pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have accelerated the urgency of this next phase of community-building, which focuses on creating opportunities for people in many ways. It’s a journey that encompasses every aspect of the organization: from the people creating art, to what defines art, to where it takes place and who has access to it.
Blumenthal is helping to infuse money into the creative economy by employing local visual artists for a variety of innovative projects and partnerships. Initiatives like the Artist in Residence program, the Artists in Theaters program, and the Blumenthal Fellows initiative (formerly Made in CLT) have helped put more than $1 million into local artists’ hands. Blumenthal also has prioritized identifying day-to-day opportunities to work with local artists for stand-alone projects like developing logos and branding, T-shirt printing and renovating theaters.
Mike Wirth, associate professor in the Art, Design & Music department at Queens University, has long worked as an artist, designer and educator in the Charlotte area. He has personally experienced Blumenthal’s expanding relationship with local artists.
Mike Wirth
“I’ve known of Blumenthal for a long time,” Wirth says, “(and) have admired what they do for the culture in the community but have never felt the connection like I have in the last two years, where I felt seen, I felt platformed and I felt honored.” He was among the 15 artists selected for the artist-in-residence program at last year’s "Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit," where he developed several augmented reality filters, along with artist John “Cheeks” Bates, for the public to enjoy. The technology enabled visitors to visualize themselves trying on Van Gogh’s hat, wearing his beard or losing an ear. Wirth says the environment created around “Immersive Van Gogh” was transformative in Charlotte, in the way it created an exhibit village on the premises that was full of life and free for visitors. It was interactive and immersive, and provided opportunities for learning. It brought many new people in to experience the arts, he says. Local artists who created merchandise or painted tables for the exhibition brought in their own professional circles, too. There was a freedom, he says, for people to come back and experience it in different ways, unlike a typical museum exhibition. Wirth also created an original art installation in the lobby of Belk Theater during the run of Fiddler on the Roof, as part of Blumenthal’s Artists in Theaters program. This initiative brings local visual artists into the theater to share their creations, inspired by or complementing the themes of a particular production. Wirth’s work, which incorporates digital art and futurism, often uses the lens of his Jewish heritage to explore identity and purpose. His experiences partnering with Blumenthal in both settings gave him the opportunity to connect with the community in new ways. He especially appreciated the conversations he had with people who told him they had never met another Jewish person, or had only met a few, in their life. Everyday moments of conversation and learning are important for building community and mutual understanding, Wirth says. “That’s really how antisemitism is overcome,” he says, “because most antisemitism is from ignorance, not from hatred.” For MacFly Fresh Printing Co., a local business specializing in apparel screen printing, “Immersive Van Gogh” provided opportunities for connection. The company created original pieces to sell in the gift shop and helped other artists produce their merchandise too. Most important was the opportunity to collaborate and build lasting relationships with artists as part of the Artist in Residence program, says MacFly Fresh’s Eric B. Ndelo, co-founder and creative director, and Taj J. Polite, co-owner and head of business development. They credit Blumenthal’s hiring of Bree Stallings, director of artistic experiences, and Boris “Bluz” Rogers, director of creative engagement, as key factors that have inspired engagement and trust within the arts community. It’s a sentiment widely expressed by other local artists too.
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Bree Stallings
Boris "Bluz" Rogers
“It makes a difference when your organization has local artists in positions of power,” the MacFly Fresh team shared via email. “They have their foot on the ground already and are closely connected to the arts community. So the partnerships and collaborations are more grassroots and natural. We need more local artists on the larger stage and getting rewarded for the grind and energy they give to the city of Charlotte.”
Blumenthal is currently seeking new ways to incorporate the artist-in-residence program into other events too, including the recent Charlotte International Arts Festival.
The more we can do to provide the public an opportunity to meet and talk to working artists, the better the experience will be for everyone.
— Bree Stallings, Blumenthal Performing Arts director of artistic experiences

It also continues to support efforts to beautify and engage the city through the Blumenthal Fellows program. That initiative has engaged local artists from across many disciplines, including sculpture, murals, fiber arts, digital arts and photography, providing them with the funding and opportunity to create meaningful pieces that spur conversation and community.
Stallings says Blumenthal has tapped into a successful model for incorporating local artists that it wants to continue replicating.
“The more we can do to provide the public an opportunity to meet and talk to working artists, the better the experience will be for everyone,” she says. “And, of course, any opportunity to provide artists with a space and the resources to have freedom and fun on an idea is really important, too.”
Blumenthal is also in the midst of developing a first of its kind directory of local artists through a new website, Made in CLT.
“If you’re outside the artists’ community, it makes it easy to find, say, a violinist for your party, or a muralist for your new business,” Stalling says. “If you’re inside the community, hopefully you can use it to connect with other artists, like to find a choreographer for your theater company or a metalsmith for a piece of jewelry you want made.”
Right now, Made in CLT is an informational hub only, but Stallings says they have big ideas for the future: including the addition of a store-front location, where people could find handmade wares from local artists to further support the Charlotte creative community and show their Charlotte pride in the process.
Photo by Brian Twitty
Nouveau Sud Circus Project performs La Bestia.
Blumenthal is also helping to develop original works that inspire audiences locally and have the potential to tour across the country. By curating original works, Blumenthal is providing artists with the support they need to continue refining their projects and expand their impact; the collaborations also help fill existing gaps in Charlotte’s entertainment portfolio, enabling Blumenthal to serve new audiences.
For example, Blumenthal has been collaborating with the Nouveau Sud Circus Project since 2016. The group uses circus arts to tackle important social issues that affect the Charlotte community and explore the idea of what it means to be a citizen of the “new” South. Producing Artistic Director CarlosAlexis Cruz says the physicality of circus arts can help bridge differences.
“It exists in all cultures,” he says, “and it’s a vocabulary that transcends what I call the barrier of (spoken) language.”
The group’s current production, La Bestia, is its fifth collaboration with Blumenthal. The production recreates the harrowing journey that many migrants from Central America experience when they come to this country – that group being one of the largest Latinx communities, as Cruz refers to it, now in Charlotte. The story has a universal resonance, too, by highlighting the challenges immigrants can face anywhere when they are uprooted from their homeland in a quest for a better life.
Photo by Brian Twitty
Nouveau Sud Circus Project performs La Bestia.
What began as a theatrical rental relationship at the outset has become a true partnership with Blumenthal, says Cruz, who is also an associate professor of physical theater at UNC Charlotte. When he started working on his vision for Nouveau Sud through community workshops as part of a McColl Center residency, many people in the local arts community advised him to connect with Blumenthal to reach a larger audience. They also told him that Gabbard, an experienced producer, whose credits include Broadway, off-Broadway and national tour productions, could be a valuable mentor.
Cruz was cautious, at first, worried that working with a big institution could interfere with what he was trying to build: a community-based organization that would empower local artists, especially those from the Latinx community.
But over time, he’s seen that it’s a relationship that he can trust and that works. Through it, Cruz has found he could maintain the integrity of his artistic vision, develop it, and work toward opportunities that go beyond Charlotte.
The group has now become a leading example of innovation in the circus arts taking place in the United States. This summer, Cruz attended Montreal Completement Cirque, a huge international festival drawing top circus artists from North America as well as Europe and Africa, to pitch La Bestia as a touring property for the 2023-24 season.
“I never dreamt that we could be a space to really empower Black and brown voices (on) a national level, housed here in Charlotte,” Cruz says. “And ultimately, the work … has resonated far beyond our city limits.”
He sees potential for it to inspire other communities with their own local productions too. He imagines more Nouveau Suds sprouting all over the country. He says they would be “initiatives that are homegrown – that integrate, in a holistic way, all the communities that are present there and use the arts to converse and ask questions about current reality.”
Some of the cast of I Am Queen: Charlotte pose onstage at Knight Theater.
I Am Queen: Charlotte, a theatrical work that debuted last March as part of a weeklong celebration, is also working with Blumenthal to further develop the project. The stage show celebrates the life stories of local Black women through storytelling, music and dance. It was inspired by a book of the same name, written by award-winning storyteller and spoken word artist Hannah Hasan, with photos by Scott Gardner.
Hasan says anytime you create a work of art, you see things that you would like to improve and change but as a community-based artist, it’s rare to have that second chance. This time, however, Blumenthal, who was a major financial and in-kind partner for the original production, is helping to make that happen.
The new iteration of the show debuted as part of Charlotte’s International Arts Festival, with an eye toward future productions.
Hasan says she and her producing partner at Epoch Tribe, Shardae Hasan, found the partnership with Blumenthal the first go around to be valuable in many ways.
“It really was a beautiful experience,” she says. “They trusted us. They gave us the resources that we needed to be successful. It felt like a professional arts environment. Also, it was a space for us to learn.”
From ticketing to marketing to working with a stage crew in a union house, they experienced what it takes to make large-scale theatrical productions successful.
She believes Blumenthal has also learned new things about their audience through the production and has given Hasan and her team the space to evolve.
Shardae Hasan, left, and Hannah Hasan.
For example, Hasan says the show drew many people who had never been to any other Blumenthal productions. New to that space, they asked her how they should dress. Hasan told them to “wear whatever makes you feel royal.” They took that advice to heart: a local designer told Hasan he had many special custom requests for the occasion.
“They came dressed up – it’s something that largely Black people do,” Hasan says. “It’s wrapped in our culture … We show up and show out.”
The next time around, the production incorporated that facet into the overall experience. Renowned Charlotte photographer Alvin C. Jacobs was there to photograph audience members as they entered the theater.
“We’re curating an experience based on what our audience showed us that they want,” Hasan says. “And I will say that it feels like that is what Blumenthal is moving toward … really seeing the community holistically and thinking about the things the community wants and needs, where the arts are concerned, and creating space for that.”
Other elements of the show are evolving too, including the addition of a new Black female director, Chanel Blanchett, and a new music director, Colin Harden – both Charlotte natives.
“I think about this often – Tom did not have to meet with us. Tom is a legend in his own right,” Hasan says. He did more than provide helpful feedback, she adds. He made it clear he wasn’t trying to take over the project, but rather saw potential for it to grow and wanted to help them get it there.
“As we are fine-tuning the show and getting it to where we want it to be,” Hasan says, “we are looking at how do we take something that was born here, that has this very Charlotte spirit, and make sure that we can infuse that same spirit if it is in Charleston, if it is in Brooklyn, if it’s in Oakland. We are building art that can be replicated in other communities.”
A dancer and musicians perform at Tablao Flamenco.
With Tablao Flamenco, on the other hand, Blumenthal set out to bring the world to Charlotte. Through its co-production with New York-based Rhythm of the Arts, a boutique production and management company, it has developed a flamenco show unlike others that typically tour the U.S.
Most other shows are presentational in style and carefully choreographed. That’s different from the way the artform is experienced in Spanish flamenco clubs, or “tablaos,” where performers improvise in a jazz clublike setting, with audience members right in the middle of the action.
“Tom reached out because he wanted that authenticity for Charlotte and for Blumenthal, and that intimate experience where the audience really feels close to the artists,” says Artistic Director Leah Keith.
The show, which debuted in Booth Playhouse in 2018, has returned to Charlotte multiple times, bringing an international roster of acclaimed artists for local audiences to experience. Most recently, it has been playing in Stage Door Theater, a space which even more closely resembles an authentic Spanish tablao.
Leah Keith
“One of the beautiful things about flamenco is that It really does show the array of human emotions,” Keith says.
Since musicians and dancers can improvise, audiences often return to see a different take on the show. No two nights are the same. Tablao Flamenco has also brought in new audiences, who have never bought tickets to other Blumenthal productions, including many native Spanish speakers.
The production returned in the fall as part of the Charlotte International Arts Festival with smaller pop up performances around the city as well as the full company performing three nights at Stage Door Theater. This spring, it will spend a week in Charlotte as part of a larger national tour including performances in the New York City metro area, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The concept of art and artistic experiences is also evolving. Blumenthal has responded by trying to serve the community in expanded and diverse ways.
“We need to create opportunities for people to be involved with the arts that go beyond that traditional definition of putting a show on one of our stages,” Gabbard says.
That means getting outdoors and going off-site for various productions. New events like “We Are Hip Hop,” “Juneteenth Jam!” and “Acoustic Grace” have engaged new audiences in various locations around the city. And the new Charlotte International Arts Festival continued that momentum in a big way in the fall with 17 days of ground-breaking artists and entertainment from around the world, performing alongside local artists representing international cultures and traditions.
“Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit” was also a game changer for Blumenthal. The production sold more than 300,000 tickets during its six-month run and, remarkably, 76 percent of those ticket buyers had never purchased tickets to another Blumenthal event before. The show not only highlighted visual artists in innovative ways, it also created other unique opportunities for the community: from B-Boy battles to yoga classes.
Blumenthal is now looking for a permanent home to bring more immersive, digital experiences that create a mashup of technology and art.
As more people turn to their screens for artistic experiences, Blumenthal looks for ways to ensure people don’t give up the human and communal elements of art in that pursuit.
“I consider it all part of the same business, a part of what we do,” Gabbard says. “I think people are looking for artistic stimulation. They’re just defining it differently than they did a generation earlier.”
Some of the changes taking place in Charlotte are beginning to happen in other places around the country too, Gabbard says. “We are thought leaders in a lot of this, and a lot of folks, I think, admire us and look to us as thought leaders to inspire them and give them an idea of how to approach this.”
Junious “Jay” Ward, Charlotte’s inaugural Poet Laureate, says it has been exciting to see how Blumenthal has been expanding and reaching out to new audiences. He has had a long and positive relationship with Blumenthal as a member of SlamCharlotte, the three-time national Slam Poetry championship team, and through his work as a program director/coach for young poets at BreatheINK.
Junious "Jay" Ward
He also credits Blumenthal’s decision to bring Bluz Rogers and Bree Stallings on board as key factors in Blumenthal’s evolution. “I think those two moves have made a huge difference in how Blumenthal engages in the community and the impact because it's gone from what was very impactful and very big, into big and granular at the same time, and making a big impact to different communities all at the same time.”
Ward was part of the curation team for last year’s "Of Earth and Sky" poetry exhibit, under Rogers’ and Stallings’ direction, that engaged the community to write poetry as part of a collective public art project displayed all over uptown Charlotte.
“That was amazing to really be able to connect with the community, to see the poems as they were being formed, but also see them as they came in,” he says. “And then to walk the streets and be able to see the words.”
In his new role as Poet Laureate, Ward also received financial support from Blumenthal to bring nationally renowned transgender poet and teacher Paul Tran to work with teens and young adults from Time Out Youth, BreatheINK and GuerillaPoets in October. “They (Blumenthal) are very willing and eager to do things that are of benefit to the community,” Ward says, “so I really appreciate that.”
Blumenthal offers an amazing opportunity for our school-aged students to attend cultural experiences they may not have access to outside of school. There can be no value placed on bringing these opportunities to our students.
— Jacquie Tinsley, English teacher at Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College High School
Blumenthal creates engaging educational programs that inspire local students and community members and enrich their lives. These programs also help build and sustain audiences for the performing arts.
Gabbard says Blumenthal works to create aspirational moments, especially for young people in our community, to fire them up and help them dream big dreams. The annual local Blumey Awards, which celebrate and recognize excellence in high school musical theater, along with the national Jimmy Awards, are great examples.
“Those situations are big moments that really plant big ideas in our young people and give them reason to aim high in how they plan for their future,” he says.
Other big moments happen when students have the opportunity to connect with professional artists in their schools for workshops, such as when the stars of the international tap/hip hop dance sensation, Syncopated Ladies, taught a master class in February 2022 for local high school students.
“It was (an) eye opener … just to see other African American females tapping and that they went pretty far with it,” said Janiya Gault, an Olympic High School senior at the time.
Inspiration can also happen when young people attend live performances. Last spring more than 4,100 local students and teachers participated in Blumenthal’s School Shows program. These daytime events are available at a reduced-price for K-12 schools throughout the region.
“Blumenthal offers an amazing opportunity for our school-aged students to attend cultural experiences they may not have access to outside of school,” says English teacher Jacquie Tinsley, who brought a group from Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College High School in February 2022 to see Black Violin, a grammy-nominated duo that combines classical and hip-hop music. “There can be no value placed on bringing these opportunities to our students!”
For many children, School Shows represent the first time they get to see a professional production in an uptown theater.
Blumenthal also works to provide access to the larger community through the Arts for All program. This past season, Blumenthal partially or fully subsidized more than 4,650 tickets to Blumenthal events.
“We want to provide the opportunity for the women to experience the world of art through many different avenues,” says Delilah Montalvo, program director of Center for Community Transitions, a nonprofit employment agency that supports currently and recently incarcerated people and their families.
Reflecting on the time they brought a group to see Patti LaBelle in concert, Montalvo said: “These shows can make an impact on the way they view life, and that it can be full of beautiful opportunities. They were able to explore a world that they could only imagine. We want them to know that they matter and that they are worthy of it.”
During the run of Waitress, more than 600 purses were collected to support Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women to become economically independent.
Blumenthal also has used the arts in innovative ways to partner with other social service organizations, raising awareness on issues of importance and supporting their missions to improve lives and create more opportunities for people. For example, during the five-week run of Waitress, more than 600 purses were collected to support Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women to become economically independent.
Likewise, during Fiddler on the Roof, Blumenthal worked with several local organizations that support refugees to raise awareness about the challenges they experience and ways to help them by hosting educational pre-show events, displaying information booths in the theater lobby and distributing program inserts throughout the run of the show. Blumenthal also created a ticket promotion and solicited donations to raise $10,000 in support of International House of Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that serves immigrants, asylees and refugees from around the world.
Left, during Fiddler On the Roof, Blumenthal shows support for Ukraine and helped raise $10,000 for International House. Right, the check is presented. Pictured from left are Eugene Katz, International House board president; Whitney Hough, Blumenthal Performing Arts marketing and publicity manager; Autumn Weil, International House executive director; and Janet Malkemes, International House board treasurer.
"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Blumenthal Performing Arts for the impact this partnership has had on our Mission at International House,” says International House’s board president Gene Katz.
Outside the theater doors, Blumenthal has also helped infuse money into the local economy. During Waitress, for example, The King’s Kitchen, a nonprofit restaurant and ministry with numerous outreach programs to feed and support children and adults in our community, partnered with Blumenthal. It offered a special Waitress-themed four-course prix-fixe menu, including a slice of peach crumble pie in tribute to the pie-baking skills of the show’s protagonist, Jenna.
“It was really fun to partner with them and give people the experience that they wouldn't have otherwise had by just coming in and going straight to the theater,” says Erica Neis, general manager at The King’s Kitchen.
Not only was it fun, it was also great for business.
“Just that broadcasting on Blumenthal’s site and having our name out there definitely drove the traffic, and we were busier those weeks than we have ever been,” Neis says. “We actually had record sales. They were some of our highest sales weeks ever in the 12 years that The King’s Kitchen’s been open.”

The King’s Kitchen, a nonprofit restaurant and ministry, partnered with Blumenthal during the run of Waitress by offering a Waitress-themed four-course menu.
The featured menu overlapped with the run of Hamilton and Neis says many guests attending that show also came in to take advantage of the special.
Neis – who also spent time last spring training at Rooster’s restaurant (another property managed by Noble Food and Pursuits) in the Bank of America Corporate Center that also houses Belk Theater – says she observed and appreciated how Blumenthal’s staff welcomed guests.
“They were just so supportive of the neighborhood and the community in general,” she says, “and it's just neat to see how much business and traffic is driven back into the Charlotte uptown area because of all the different shows that they’re bringing to our community … it was really great to see the arts be alive again after COVID.” ◼