Speaking of Art …

Manoj Kesavan's lunchtime salon has grown into a full-blown support group for creatives

It didn't take Manoj Kesavan long to start making an impact on his new home. A few weeks after Odell and Associates, an uptown architecture firm, recruited him to Charlotte in 2002, he began organizing regular salons over lunch in the Odell conference room. Six colleagues attended the first one. Kesavan doesn't remember the topic, but the idea was for the architects to, as he says, "remember why we became architects."

Before long, he was inviting neighboring gallery owners and artists. Fast-forward seven years. The group has a name (point8), a Web site (point8.org), a mushrooming e-mail list, and 50 to 100 attendees at its forums (although the monthly forums are on hold for a reason we'll get to later). The mission has long expanded beyond architecture. Each forum still has a topic (past examples: "Stadium: The Disposable Cathedral" and "Transcending Pop"), "but they are all framed in such a way that whatever medium you are in, you can relate to it," Kesavan says. Point8's goal, Kesavan adds, "is to find common ground that ties together otherwise unrelated creative fields."

Kesavan, thirty-eight and a native of India, thinks Charlotte, if for no other reason than its size, has potential to be an artistic hub. "Any decent-size city has a large number of creative people," he says, "however, what is often lacking is this kind of venue for critique. … There should be strong, objective, critical attention being paid to whatever is being created, so that some standards are set, so the people who create the stuff get some feedback so they can improve their stuff."

It's that line of thinking that led Kesavan and point8 to bring Pecha Kucha to town. A Japanese concept for which cities have to submit a rigorous application, Pecha Kucha is like an open mic night for the arts. Each presenter gets twenty slides and twenty seconds per slide. There are no other guidelines. Point8 has hosted three Pecha Kucha nights (which is why the forums are on hold) with a fourth to come early this fall. As many as 300 people have attended.

While others in the creative community complain about a lack of support or media coverage, Kesavan says that's a waste of energy. "It's more what we can do, not what others should be doing. … Creative people need to step up and create an impact so people notice it." Even if it's just six people talking over lunch.

Big Idea

"Let's face it: even though we like to pretend (and sometimes believe) otherwise, Charlotte is still a provincial town on the cultural map, far away from the spotlight. However, the world has changed: everyone, almost anywhere in the world, is more connected to everyone else. Moreover, the traditional media and the associated power structures that defined the cultural centers have eroded in recent years -- things have opened up. As the history of art shows, great new ideas and movements rarely develop in the power centers. The relative privacy of being away from the spotlight often spurs the growth of original ideas into fresh new movements, which eventually command attention from everyone elsewhere.

"After a decade of a self-conscious adolescence of fast growth, Charlotte needs to stop looking outside for ideas and direction and draw inspiration from the often-unfashionable realities around us. We need to value what we have here, and encourage, challenge, and critique each other. We also need to hold on to the faith that something good can come out of Nazareth, as it could from New York.

"Our Lady of Incessant Tweets will take care of the rest."

Categories: Feature, The Buzz