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Outside Our Walls
Camp North End.
Photo Courtesy of Camp North end
Partnerships Focus on Making Creative Works More Accessible
by Kitty Janvrin
In a city that searches in perpetuity for the next new thing, it can be easy to overlook the rich remnants of bygone Charlotte. These hidden gems speak to the history of the city and provide an even richer canvas for the future – the groundwork laid for progressive programming and unique collaborations between artists, creative spaces and creative institutions.
Ideas around accessibility and outreach for a growing city have been top of mind for many creative organizations, including Blumenthal. Since Boris “Bluz” Rogers joined the Blumenthal Performing Arts team in September 2020 as director of creative engagement, he has collaborated with Blumenthal President Tom Gabbard and other community leaders to devise innovative ways to bring creative works into different Charlotte neighborhoods.
According to Rogers, part of this process has been to ask the big questions: “How do we get into the smaller neighborhoods, into the historical backgrounds of these neighborhoods and not just be there, but actually help make an impact? Be there and remind people of what used to be here before we got here to be respectful to the history that the city has given us.”
Enter Camp North End and the Brooklyn Collective, two of Blumenthal’s most recent collaborators – organizations whose teams are dedicated to preserving and educating visitors on the history of each of their campuses while also infusing the locations with creativity and industry.
Photo by LeandraCreativeCo Photography
Camp North End is home to retail stores, eateries, business suites and art studios.
Camp North End, according to Marketing and Events Coordinator Kadeeja Janneh, is “the creative hub of Charlotte for makers, doers, designers (and) artists.” This artistic playground is located only a mile outside of uptown off of Statesville Avenue. Visitors are sure to discover creativity in its visual, performing and culinary forms around almost every corner, on every loading dock door and in each of the historic warehouses on the 76-acre lot. An influx of new retail, restaurants, business suites and creator studios over the past four years have cemented Camp North End’s ranking as one of the hottest places to visit while also breathing new life into the original structures on the property.
“We have so much culture here, and that’s why we want to encourage and showcase that through our partnerships, events and businesses,” Janneh said. “The homegrown talent and culture that’s here is playing a role in shaping our city’s identity.”
Camp North End’s emphasis on fostering local connectivity and creation, as well as its spacious outdoor areas, made it a perfect partner for Blumenthal and a perfect location to host Blumenthal’s We Are Hip Hop: The Reveal, a debut weekend celebration of hip-hop music, dance, art, fashion and culture.
“I think the energy and vibe of Camp North End really, really lines up with what the hip-hop culture is,” Rogers said. “It’s out there on the fringes, if you will. It’s out there not having any boundaries. Camp North End is a really cool place, and it was a cool place before everyone thought it was a cool place.”
“To see everyone come out, people of all colors – there was a great mixture – to see them all come out and celebrate hip-hop like that, it was beyond great.”
Legend Status
Hip-hop emcee and rapper
The first weekend of November 2020, more than 40 acts brought their talents to pop-up stages and performance spaces throughout Camp North End’s Boileryard area. The weekend’s festivities included break dancing, DJ sets, emcee and rapper performances, and completion of the “CHARLOTTE” mural by nine graffiti artists on a set of garage doors.
One performer, hip-hop emcee and rapper Legend Status, believes the success of the event was due in large part to the location.
“That space typically has a diverse culture to begin with, so that was kind of perfect,” he said. “To see everyone come out, people of all colors – there was a great mixture – to see them all come out and celebrate hip-hop like that, it was beyond great.”
The Reveal event in November marked the birth of the We Are Hip Hop brand and continued collaboration with Camp North End. We Are Hip Hop will create various celebrations of and outlets for hip-hop artists throughout the year.
We Are Hip Hop debuts at Camp North End in November 2020 with The Reveal.
In branching out to new areas of the city, Blumenthal is entering into a covenant with the community: everyone is welcome to enjoy and interact with the creative industry. Perhaps there is no better place to cement this vow than one of Charlotte’s most iconic historic places of worship.
Brooklyn Grace, formerly Grace A.M.E. Zion Church, is one of the three buildings managed by the Brooklyn Collective at the corner of 3rd and South Brevard streets. Following the city’s plan to displace and demolish many of the homes and businesses that comprised the largely Black Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s, this group of buildings remained one of the few reminders of the vibrant community that generated economic, social and political successes for its residents. The need to resurrect the welcoming atmosphere that once permeated the walls of these buildings is largely what drives the Brooklyn Collective’s work.
“I believe strongly that place is important,” Brooklyn Collective board member Jason Wolf said when asked about welcoming visitors into Brooklyn Grace. “Since 1886, people have been convening there to elevate and celebrate the community. And there’s no better partner than Blumenthal to be the ones that utilize it to elevate and celebrate.”
Fellow board member and Studio 229 on Brevard co-owner Monique Douglas agreed that there is something special about the group of buildings on the corner.
“We call it ‘the intersection’ because we believe it’s an intersection of community, culture and collaboration, aside from being (at) a physical intersection. We want it to be known as a collision point; you come to this intersection and you’re going to collide with people who are like-minded,” she said. “The Brooklyn Collective is a place of inclusivity and a home where you can feel comfortable in coming and knowing that our interest is truly in upward mobility for our community.”
Photo by Jonathan Cooper
The Brooklyn Collective is made up of Brooklyn Grace (foreground), the building that is now Studio 229 (dark gray with the mural), and the Mecklenburg Investment Company (brick building with the yellow facade behind Studio 229).
Blumenthal’s partnership with the Brooklyn Collective began last year with the launch of Acoustic Grace, a monthly concert series featuring artists in the Charlotte area set in Brooklyn Grace. While a small audience has had the chance to enjoy these events in-person, Acoustic Grace has been live-streamed on Blumenthal’s social media channels to allow more people a first glimpse of the refurbished church and an initial listen to the local musicians and singers who take the stage.
The Blumenthal-Brooklyn Collective creative union has since expanded to include another event: The Atelier at Grace. Poets are welcome to the workshop series to draw inspiration from the other wordsmiths around them and from the space itself, which boasts some unique architectural features.
“The first thing I noticed was how amazing it sounded in there,” Rogers said, remembering the first time he entered Brooklyn Grace.
Brooklyn Grace interior.
“A lot of people love that whole cathedral hall sound.”
Jessica Macks
Musician and vocalist
The idea for Acoustic Grace was, as the name suggests, born of the striking acoustics. The remarkable sound also lends itself to spoken word and poetry.
“A lot of people love that whole cathedral hall sound,” said Jessica Macks, a musician and vocalist who works with Rogers to direct and curate each Acoustic Grace event. “They love to hear the ringing, the reverb and the full bounce that it gets when it hits from the ceiling and back down to the floor.”
Beyond music, beyond poetry, beyond hip-hop and graffiti, the idea that continues to echo throughout Charlotte’s creative scene is more accessibility.
For Rogers, that key idea for creative organizations to remember when looking out into the community is that creativity “can exist and grow and thrive in any place you put it,” and it is vital to give local creatives space for their work to manifest without limits while paying homage to the rich past of the space in which they create.
“We get to rethink how we can really get folks into these spaces now,” Rogers said. “More diverse groups, more creatives of color and marginalized folks who have some really amazing show ideas, but they never have the real access to get into uptown or our bigger theaters. And there are ways to work toward that.”
Blumenthal’s partnerships with the creative, innovative teams at Camp North End and the Brooklyn Collective is only the beginning of ensuring Charlotte’s history is not overlooked and its future is more equitable, accessible and creative. ◼
Special thanks to Kadeeja Janneh and the Camp North End team and Jason Wolf, Monique Douglas and the Brooklyn Collective for additional research about the history of Camp North End and the Brooklyn neighborhood, respectively.