Blumenthal Performing Arts
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Winter 2021-22
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Public Art Thrives
Blumenthal Continues to Engage the Community In the Aftermath of SHOUT!
by Liz Rothaus Bertrand
When Charlotte SHOUT! was canceled because of a spike in COVID-19 cases just weeks before the city-wide cultural festival was to begin, it was a major disappointment. Our community, like others around the country, had already been through a year and a half of pandemic living.
After careful reflection and determining it could move forward safely, Blumenthal Performing Arts decided to continue with a portion of planned public art installations. These included three main anchor projects in the fall and starting to roll out another 24 interactive artworks over the coming months as part of Made in CLT – a new, ongoing initiative to highlight Charlotte’s own outstanding creative community. “The public was hungry to get some of this cultural programming,” says Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard. “It just needed to be done safely.” The decision to continue was partly pragmatic. Some projects had already been delayed a year, were paid for and were in transit from overseas locales.
“The bunnies were already in boxes, on the way to our docks,” says Bree Stallings, Blumenthal’s director of artistic experiences, referencing the giant, inflatable rabbits of "Intrude." “So the option (was) to send them back or to blow them up – so why not blow them up?”
Photo by Becky Bereiter
The giant bunnies of the "Intrude" exhibit light up the First Ward Field uptown.
The Giant Bunnies Return With 'Intrude'
Created by Australian artist Amanda Parer, "Intrude" had been an iconic highlight of Charlotte SHOUT! in 2019. This October, the installation expanded to 12 bunnies and found a new home in First Ward Field across from First Ward Park, thanks to the help of Daniel Levine and Levine Properties. It delighted visitors of all ages, appeared in numerous selfies, and served as the backdrop for at least one wedding during its two-week residence. The work playfully evokes the cute, fairytale image of rabbits but also aims to draw attention to their role as a destructive, invasive species in Australia. For Parer, they are like the jumbo-sized “elephant in the room,” akin to humankind’s often-overlooked, but apparent, role causing environmental harm. Continuing this and other projects was a strategic move too. Getting people to come back uptown is a daunting challenge, says Gabbard, and anything that can be done to help people re-engage with the city is a good thing. “It really aligns with a goal that’s been a part of the performing arts side,” he says, “and that is placemaking. You create unique places that attract people to come together to enjoy the arts. And so I view it as another chapter of that.” Bringing in new staff like Stallings, a highly respected artist in Charlotte, has also broadened the organization’s expertise and ability to do that, Gabbard adds. She has been part of the creative team leading many recent efforts to engage the local community and partner with Charlotte-based artists, including the blockbuster "Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Charlotte," We Are Hip Hop, and the new Made in CLT initiative.
Photo by Becky Bereiter
The Earth installation called "Gaia" floats majestically in Founders Hall uptown.
Bringing Planet Earth Into Focus Through 'Gaia'
While "Intrude" hopped about a few blocks away, another international art installation captured the public’s attention. In the Bank of America Corporate Center, U.K. artist Luke Jerram’s "Gaia" – a spinning replica of planet Earth, 23 feet in diameter – floated in Founders Hall.
Created using detailed images from NASA’s Visible Earth series, each centimeter of "Gaia" represented 18 kilometers of the Earth’s surface. It recreated the view of Earth as it appears from outer space. Jerram tried to give viewers a sense of awe and an appreciation for the interconnectedness of life on the planet through the installation.
Ruth Sloane, left, and daughter Aisha Dew pose in front of the large-scalle installation of an excerpt of Sloane's poem, "We Rose!" at Old Settlers' Cemetery in Charlotte. The installation was part of the "Of Earth and Sky" project.
Here's Sloane's complete poem:
WE ROSE! In spite of Slavery In spite of Jim Crow In spite of Segregation In spite of Dehumanization WE ROSE! And we still rise! Because We returned to our African roots and Became Powerful LIGHTS Of Positive Change So today I can call my own name Ruth Sloane And my daughters name Aisha Dew And call forth our ancestors And understand

Engaging Local Poets With 'Of Earth and Sky'
The third anchor project also was a Jerram creation but developed in conjunction with local talent. "Of Earth and Sky" debuted in Gloucester, U.K., in 2020. The Charlotte edition – the first to come to an American city – was produced and presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts. From great big, bold letters gracing parks and building facades to tiny messages, popping out in unexpected places, a diverse array of poetic excerpts contributed by local poets formed a temporary sculpture trail around uptown. With 46 installations in all, these words of inspiration, hope, fears and revelations about the past year were drawn from the hundreds of local submissions to "Of Earth and Sky." Organizers say they were pleasantly surprised by the community’s response. They had anticipated receiving about 20 to 30 poems, all of which they intended to replicate in installations, but then a flood of entries came in.
“It was a good problem to have,” says four-time Emmy winner Boris “Bluz” Rogers, Blumenthal’s director of creative engagement. Still, with more than 200 submissions, it was no longer feasible to turn them all into public installations. So, he and the other project leaders and poetry curators, including Stallings, local poets Jay Ward and Jordan Bailey – both members of the 2018 National Poetry Slam Championship team, SlamCharlotte – suggested creating an anthology, as a permanent testament to this ephemeral work of art.
“The anthology could live on forever in people’s homes, in a library, in a bookstore,” Rogers says. “You know, just anywhere a book could exist and live is where that could be. The anthology idea was born out of this need to make sure that everybody got a chance to be a part of this history.” Providing opportunities for people to interact with art and even participate in creating it, as with "Of Earth and Sky," brings positive energy to the city. “I think people want to be inspired, they want to get engaged with art again,” Rogers says. A project like this one also draws in people who may not have ever realized they had a creative side, or only recently discovered that creative side through necessity or new opportunities presented during the pandemic. “We’re still finding ways to make big art and small art happen,” he says, “which I think is super important. And the ideas of things we didn’t get to do are still on the table. They’re not completely gone, they’re just pushed back a little more.”
This crocheted exhibit, “The Great Barrier Reef,” by Kelly Rose Zimmerman located in Founders Hall, is part of Blumenthal's Made in CLT program.
Made in CLT
That’s exactly the case with Made in CLT, also originally slated to be part of the Charlotte SHOUT! festivities. Instead, these interactive projects, showcasing the outstanding artwork of Charlotte’s own creative community, began appearing around the city in the fall and will continue to be introduced over the course of the next year. Maintaining these commitments, in spite of SHOUT’s cancellation, helps invigorate the community; it also reaffirms Blumenthal’s commitment to local artists as valued creative partners. “It’s very important, especially during these times that have been so hard on the artist community,” Stallings says. “Paying artists quickly and fairly is a number one priority of mine. And it’s not even just that. Because as an artist myself, I understand the thing about getting paid (is) you want to do the thing you said you were going to do. That’s the yummy part of all of this. So, however we can work to provide those opportunities and leverage the networks that we have and the social media pool that we have, we’re going to do it.” Some Made in CLT highlights this fall included Kelly Rose Zimmerman’s crocheted piece, “The Great Barrier Reef,” which was strategically located in Founders Hall, near Jerram’s "Gaia." Both shared a similar focus on caring for the Earth. Zimmerman’s colorful work was made from more than 35,000 yards of yarn and brought into focus how pollution destroys ocean habitats. It also reminded viewers that even small changes in our habits, especially when it comes to cutting down on one-time-use plastics, can make a big difference. Two Wells Fargo Center Plaza hosted two other Made in CLT installations through Thanksgiving. Among them, the joy-inspiring “Energy Field Tokens” by the husband and wife duo of Gray Edgerton and Manoela Madera, who go by Kiik Create. Recent transplants from Brooklyn, the couple made a big impression on Charlotte with these vibrant sculptures incorporating LED lights. Nearby was another sculpture that played with light. Brazilian-born architect and artist Aguinaldo Santos Jr. recreated an old-fashioned camera on a huge scale with “Project1839.” Visitors could walk inside and experience how photography (and our own eyes) work, as refracted light bounces off an object and initially creates an upside down image. Santos’ artwork was modeled on the daguerreotype, the first widely-available photographic device, introduced in Paris in 1839. At Brooklyn Collective, artist Justin Hicks’ upcoming collective memory project will use storytelling and photography to share about the citizens who lived in the neighborhood, a once thriving cornerstone of Charlotte’s Black community, razed during “urban renewal” initiatives of the 1960s and ‘70s. Next door at historic Brooklyn Grace, WonderWorld will project its film, “A People’s History of Charlotte,” highlighting the history of the working class in Charlotte. The 12-minute projection mapped video debuted at Charlotte SHOUT! in 2019 and is accompanied by a musical score composed by Nkeiru Okoye (originally commissioned for the 250th anniversary of Charlotte’s founding) and performed by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. To find out more about these and other upcoming events, follow @blumenthalarts on Instagram or check online at Stallings says we can expect works in this series to be bold, playful and aware.
Photo by Becky Bereiter
"Energy Field Tokens" and "Project 1839," in the background, were on display at Two Wells Fargo Center Plaza.
What These Types of Opportunities Mean to Charlotte
“Amazing work has come from the local community because the Blumenthal trusts artists to show up and do,” says Elizabeth Palmisano, an award-winning multimedia and fiber artist, who was among the 50+ artists engaged for creative work at "Immersive Van Gogh" in 2021. “... It sounds like not a novel concept, but it really is the exception, not the rule.” Palmisano’s work will also be featured as part of Made in CLT next year. Sharing these world-class arts experiences with the community is a good reminder of how much Charlotte has to offer and an open invitation for people to go out and explore. “We get to dismantle the idea that you have to go to Atlanta or New York or D.C. or Miami to get really cultured art,” Blumenthal’s Rogers says. “Charlotteans will find it’s right here, where they live: it’s their next-door neighbor, it’s right up the street, it’s in the back room where their kid’s banging away at something and they discover their kid is super creative back there. “It’s this idea that art has always lived in your own backyard, in your own home, on your own block, in your own city. It’s really re-establishing what we’ve already known – that there’s some super creative people here.