Meet twelve artists and creatives who are shaking up Charlotte’s cultural scene
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Faron Franks, 49 & Manoj P. Kesavan, 41
Faron Franks and Manoj Kesavan are architects in their professional lives, but they spent the summer as affiliate artists at the McColl Center for Visual Art. The two have long worked together on Point8, a forum for artists and creative types, and Pecha Kucha, which offers a stage and an audience to people with ideas. Their latest effort, catalyzed by the DNC, is called the Quasimodo Project. Named for their bell tower studio space at the McColl, Quasimodo brings together local artists and community partners to animate Charlotte’s streets and parks with a variety of forms of creative expression. The duo says that their democratic approach has been a worthy experiment. “Artists are participating in ways they otherwise wouldn’t,” Franks says.
During the DNC, keep an ear out for Sound Salon, a recording of live conversations during the convention at salons and barbershops across Charlotte that will be fed into center-city listening stations. Also, look for The Mile Long Gallery, a smart phone app providing descriptions of public art along Tryon Street; and daily performance art at 7th Street Public Market and Packard Place. —M. S.
Role in the scene: “As facilitators, we work to assist people to have conversations that move the creative process forward,” says Franks.
What the scene needs: “There needs to be more critique and questioning of artistic work in order for true innovation to occur,” says Kesavan.
Michael Simmons, 58
In 2009, Carolina Actor’s Studio Theatre’s (CAST) performance of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses was set in an onstage swimming pool that contained four thousand gallons of water. For this past spring’s Floyd Collins, the stage was constructed to look and feel like a cave. For most shows, ushers are in costume, ticket takers are in character, and the lobby is transformed into an extension of the set. As for the work itself, longtime director (and member of CAST’s board of directors) Charles LaBorde says “CAST also has a commitment to truth … that is unmatched by any theater in town.”
Ed Gilweit founded the organization that became CAST in 1992. After a series of mergers, Michael Simmons became a cofounder, and when Gilweit died in 2002, Simmons, already a perfectionist and workaholic, became obsessed. “CAST is my legacy, too,” he says. CAST’s only regular paid employee, he says the organization operates on “minutes, money, and manpower. I need enough of any two to produce professional theater.” Often, it’s been items number one and three on which Simmons and CAST’s volunteers, including his wife, Victoria, rely.
Actors and directors know that doing a show at CAST is demanding, and Simmons admits he’s likely to edit a script through closing night. The effort is paying off. CAST moved into a new, permanent home in NoDa last season and has received sustainability grants from the Arts and Science Council and the Knight Foundation. But don’t think for one minute that Simmons is satisfied. “This is just the beginning of what we’re capable of,” he says. “We don’t know what our limits are.” —P. L.
Role in the scene: “I’m a servant. That’s my job—to find art that is entertaining and has a message and offer this message up to the public. We want to produce art that initiates the conversation—that’s what I live for.”
Jon Lindsay, 30
Charlotte’s music scene has sputtered along over the years, but Jon Lindsay is doing his best to inject some energy into it. He hosts quarterly live music and art variety shows at Petra’s Piano Bar and performs several times a year locally with both the Catch Fire and his own band. He cofounded Machine Theater with Matt Cosper, composed the music for its debut production Thom Thom (If That Bird Won’t Sing), and is beginning work on another.
Lindsay’s second album, Summer Wilderness Program, bears a classic pop sound along the lines of the Beach Boys or Elvis Costello and was released in June on a label called Bear Heart Fox, which was launched by a Detroit imprint, with Lindsay as its flagship artist. It’s easy to imagine Lindsay as a cartoon octopus, managing all of his projects with his tentacles clutching a microphone, instruments, contracts, pens, and more.
All of this is not to say he’s made it. He admits there are still nights when he plays in front of a couple dozen people. “Those low-turnout nights are the ones that I’ll go in and play it like its Madison Square Garden,” he laughs. —C. D.
What the scene needs: “We don’t benefit from a major university campus located in the heart of our center city, where the performance venues are located. We have some world-class talent here, and we have great scene enthusiasts and venues. But what we’ve always been missing are the sheer numbers of culture-thirsty youth descending on the areas where culture happens.”
This article appears in the September 2012 issue of Charlotte Magazine
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