The Best (And Worst) Moments in Charlotte Arts: 2014
It’s Jan. 1, 2015, and I don’t know where to start. It wasn’t a quiet year for Charlotte’s cultural sector. In the Revue blog’s first-ever year-end rundown, we’ll visit 2014’s highs and lows, from a theatre company’s last gasp to a treasured ballerina getting one of the arts’ highest honors. We waited until after Dec. 31, because you never know when a disco ball is going to drop on a stage during New Year’s Eve.
So let’s begin with the money. A separate 2014 retrospective could be written about arts funding in Charlotte. In March, interim leader Robert Bush officially took the reins of the Arts & Science Council. Bush had been with the ASC since 2000, and it seemed like a natural progression for him to become the group’s current director. A couple months later, the Cultural Life Task Force, an appointed group of artists and Charlotte leaders, released their official report about our cultural sector’s future. The key findings brought lots of questions about the way things are done in the Queen City.
And then there was Thrive. Scott Provancher, the previous director of the ASC, had joined former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl in a $45 million fundraising campaign, which was mostly a secret before a July Observer story. Thrive, the findings of the report, and the broader state of Charlotte arts were discussed in Split Tickets, a piece that ran in Charlotte magazine’s November issue.
But in other arts news, there was much less ambiguity surrounding Patricia McBride this year. The main was feeling was elation, as the associate artistic director and master teacher at Charlotte Ballet was among five selected for 2014 Kennedy Center Honors. She was honored with Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, Sting, and Al Green. Check out a video from the day she found out below.
Other items come to mind: Millions were given for a major renovation to the old, boarded-up Carolina Theatre on North Tryon St. The Fillmore saw a bomb threat during The Head and the Heart’s set. The Charlotte Pride Parade saw record numbers, citing more than 100,000 attendees.* And don’t forget all of those other news bites that Charlotte produced this year.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a breath, and break things down by category.
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra posted its first profit since 2002, and the group continued to make memorable performances in 2014. A specific one comes to mind, involving singer-pianist Ben Folds. The performer came to Charlotte as part of the Pops series, which pairs the orchestra with tunes outside of the classical genre. Folds is known for his improvised treats during performances, and he didn’t disappoint with this one:
Meanwhile, Charlotte continues to push talent into the mainstream. Matrimony released its folk-pop full-length, Montibello Memories, through Columbia Records in May. The album caught the attention of national press, and in March, you can see them in Charlotte again at the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s Green River Revival.
Deniro Farrar has emerged as the leader in Charlotte hip-hop. His “Cult Rap” movement was taken across the U.S. in the Bow Down Tour, which paired the artist with Denzel Curry. XXL had this to say about 2014’s Rebirth E.P.:
“No doubt the next step for Deniro is to bless the fans with a feature length album building off the same elements that make Rebirth such an intriguing effort.”
Other impressive releases from Charlotte acts in 2014: The Loudermilks’ The Loudermilks* and Amigo’s Might Could.
But it wasn’t all smiles for the music scene in Charlotte. Plaza Midwood’s Reflection Studios*, a one-time staple for recording, is associated with names like R.E.M., James Brown, and Whitney Houston. The studio closed its doors in June, bringing eulogies and reflections from several artists.
The saddest news of the year for local theatre has to be the closing of Carolina Actors Studio Theatre. The June closing, whether due to internal politics or the general economic challenges of mid-level theatre, comes as a huge blow to the cultural sector. CAST entertained Charlotteans for 22 years, and it made our 2014 BOB Awards list for what it offered the community.
On the other side of the coin, the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center saw record sales in 2014, garnering huge numbers with the likes of Book of Mormon, Porgy and Bess, and Once coming through town. As Newsies prepares its assault on the Belk Theater, Charlotte continues to show that it loves the form.
Meanwhile, there are some rumblings of a new theatre venture down in the city’s South End. Donna Scott Production is teaming up with Center City Partners to offer theatre at the Charlotte Historic Trolley Museum. Charlotte arts continue to succeed through hybrid efforts, whether its fine art through bars and tattoo parlors or theatre in surprising spaces.
Still, dedicated spots, like Theatre Charlotte, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, continue to thrive in output, despite the ambiguity of arts funding.
Museums & Galleries
This year, the Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film saw a revival. It’d be a shame to see one of only four museums of its kind in the U.S. stay dead. In its new Plaza Midwood location, the museum’s now open for classes and exhibits that offer something not seen anywhere else in the Queen City.
In uptown, a new space has been introduced for fine art: artspace 525. The tiny spot on the north side of Tryon St. occupies one end of an office tower. It’s where Wall Poems of Charlotte is now based, and artists like Sharon Dowell have occupied the space.
Also, 2014 saw the opening of Sozo Gallery in a storefront at Hearst Tower. The gallery focuses on both local and national work. Every 6-8 weeks, the spot offers a new featured artist, along with a regular display.
Playwright Jeff Jackson’s debut novel, Mira Corpora, is self-described as a “coming-of-age story for people who hate coming-of-age stories.” It ended up on several “best of” lists across the country, and the book was even a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Jackson continued to create theatrical pieces elsewhere.
27 Views of Charlotte: The Queen City in Prose and Poetry offered a different kind of reading experience. Twenty-seven authors provided takes on the city, from poetry and fiction to historical non-fiction. One piece from Charlotte magazine, by former staffer Virginia Brown, was included.
This year saw the release of Tusk, Kevin Smith’s Charlotte-shot horror-comedy, and the filming of Paper Towns, a movie based on the popular John Green novel. But as far as Hollywood’s concerned, North Carolina is no longer a go-to spot.
State legislators decided not to renew the film tax credit that brought huge films and TV shows to the Charlotte area. For area filmmakers and production crews, it’s a huge blow. And now, shows like Homeland have packed their bags and are off to greener, film-friendly pastures.
However, Charlotte filmmakers continue to produce impressive work. Finders Keepers, a documentary about a man who finds a severed leg inside of a grill he bought at an auction, is headed to the Sundance Film Festival. A few of the folks behind the film are from the Queen City.
What do you remember about the cultural sector in 2014? Let us know.