Traveler Blog

Charlotte's Arts Are Having a Moment

That’s not the reason you should pay attention.
New York City-based artist Robert Lazzarini's 2016 piece "Orange Sunshine" exhibited at SOCO Gallery in Charlotte
New York City-based artist Robert Lazzarini's 2016 piece "Orange Sunshine" exhibited at SOCO Gallery in Charlotte (Courtesy the artist and SOCO Gallery)

I’ve always disliked the saying, “If you have to say it, it isn’t true.” That’s probably because I write about the arts for a living.

In my decade-long career doing this in various cities, I’ve had countless conversations about why the arts are important. A few reflexive answers: Cultural experiences bring money to a city—more than $200 million annually here in Charlote. Arts education is vital to a child’s emotional development and academic success. Students with four years of art classes average 100 more points on their SATs, a government study says. The arts also lower rates of crime and poverty. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that a high concentration of the arts means lower poverty rates and improves child welfare.

I’d add a fourth, more immediate, defense: Charlotte arts are having a moment.

Today, shows of every kind are packed. The leaders of the scene, mostly women now, are thinking of new ways to fund these endeavors and break through bureaucracy to get artists paid.

The Amys—Herman and Bagwell—along with Graham Carew, continue to create residencies in transitioning, temporary spaces in the Goodyear Arts Project.

Charlotte artist Renee Cloud's "Unintelligible," created during her residency at Goodyear Arts in 2016

Artist April Marten leads the monthly meet-up Charlotte Art Chat at C3 Lab, an emerging arts venue and coworking space for creative.

Over in Myers Park, Chandra Johnson’s SOCO Gallery creates a new buyers’ market, armed with work from artists making waves in the international scene.

And don’t forget about the hybrid spaces. Donna Scott Productions puts on all-female productions at Charlotte Art League, a place usually reserved for visual art. And in the back room of the sneaker shop Social Status in Plaza Midwood, hip-hop-themed art shows are packed, in-the-know affairs.

It’s not only the moment the city has had, but today’s moment is the result of a group of artists working hard to keep pace with the developing and growing city—a city that has had no problem burying its culture with “progress” and leaving those art moments from the past as rubble. It’s time for all of us to pay attention.

The problem with the argument that this is a big moment in the city’s arts history is that just saying that doesn’t make the arts sound appealing. Maybe the reason we keep having conversations about why the arts are important is that we spend too much time offering facts in the place of something less convenient: The worth of the arts is immeasurable.

It’s not enough to just be told about it. An example of this came in September 2016: During the protests that followed the shooting of Keith Scott, Goodyear Arts resident Renee Cloud told me she wasn’t surprised by the unrest in her hometown, but it was time to do something. “I have to use my platform within the city,” she told me then. “It’s not a giant one, but I have to use it to elevate the awareness of what’s going on.”

Cloud took the vitriol and hatred spewed on social and constructed a piece of art around it called “Unintelligible.” Letter by letter, she created printed, typographical pieces using the words she’d seen in the online cacophony, and then she filled the windows of the College Street space with them. The sentences and slurs became garbled in the artwork, reflecting the overwhelming nature of the conversations we have online in moments of crisis.

There’s no metric to the conversations created from Cloud’s artwork. But these are the types of interactions that transform individuals in ways Facebook posts fall short.

Cloud’s work was a temporary, on-site installation piece, but every day, somebody creates something new in the city. There are hardships. The arts, like most other sectors in the city, are hampered by economic immobility and lack of opportunity for non-white artists.

It hasn’t been easy for someone like Quentin Talley to run the city’s only African-American theater company for the past decade.

All of the women who lead arts projects here have stories of being ignored because of their gender, even in a supposedly forward-thinking field.

A mural on the side of Sabor Latin Street Grill by Charlotte artist Nico Amortegui

Burgeoning artists are served by community shows at Gallery Twenty-Two and Ciel Gallery in South End.

At the big institutions such as Blumenthal and the Fillmore, live music and theater shows are attracting record numbers. The artistic middle class, though, has few options. The banner of “the arts” encompasses many nuanced, mostly disparate fields. From a financial and staffing standpoint, these creations don’t have much crossover. Theater takes an army of passionate, underpaid people with specialized skills. Visual artists can sell work on any wall in town, but often don’t have a place outfitted for the initial, messy pursuit of creation. Folk bands don’t get grant money. What threads all of these endeavors together is that, when done right, each results in a bold, singular expression of humanity.

All of us want something cool to be happening in the city in which we live. If a city is a body, with all of its essential organs, the arts are the conscious. They’re that unexplainable, pivotal part of the human experience. There’s a reason why 300-year-old symphonies still make listeners weep. There’s a reason why a new mural in your neighborhood makes you smile. But like anything truly good, art dissipates if we don’t talk back, if we don’t engage with it, and if we don’t pay for it. If we don’t interact with it, art will leave, and we’ll become the boring city that so many outsiders maintain we are.

These days, when someone asks why the arts are important, I’ve come up with a new approach. Instead of offering facts, I say, “Let me show you.”

This article was originally published in Charlotte magazine's March 2017 issue.

My Miami: Standing Strong After Hurricane Irma

We're back! Locals and visitors come together during trying times to rebuild and recover.
Miami Bayside skyline
(©Roman Stetsyk/Shutterstock)

For endless days, Hurricane Irma languished over the Caribbean causing incredible devastation. With an uncertain track, the powerful storm—a Category 4 at landfall in the Florida Keys—turned its fury towards Florida. It had residents and visitors fleeing from South Florida and Southwest Florida, to Orlando and Tampa Bay, in the largest U.S. evacuation in history. Ultimately, its powerful winds left a path of destruction, downed power lines, gas shortages, flooded streets and property damage in its wake, hitting the Florida Keys the hardest.

Still, as the storm tore through South Florida, I saw the best of my community. I am a rare breed—I was born and raised in the beloved “305.” I have experienced more than half a dozen hurricanes including Hurricane Andrew in 1992. And yes, we are the beach and nightlife mecca everyone wants to visit. But, let’s not forget that nearly 2.7 million people call Greater Miami home, six million if you include Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches.

University of Miami Ibis mural

As my fellow Miamians prepared for what Hurricane Irma would bring, we temporarily shelved our carefree, laid-back attitude to help friends, family, neighbors and strangers with sand bags, long gas lines and plywood runs to endure what Irma would bring. We pulled together and I could not be more proud of how the region and the state came together, during and after Irma.

In its aftermath, we continue to count our blessings and grateful that it wasn’t worse. The recovery may seem daunting but we will endure as past generations have rebuilt after other natural disasters, economic depressions and the darker days in our history.

Like The Kinks song says, “we might be bruised but we’re not broken”—and it has never been more apropos than now.

Zeitz: Cape Town's Newest Art Museum Is a Waterfront Grain Silo

The Zeitz Museum is Africa's largest contemporary art museum.
Zeitz Museum Cape Town South Africa
An historic grain silo transformed into Cape Town's Zeitz Museum. (©Iwan Baan)

Cape Town is officially a contemporary art hotspot. 

The Zeitz Museum, opening Sept. 22, is home to the largest collection of contemporary art in Africa; it focuses solely on 21st-century works by African artists and general admission is free through Sept. 25 to celebrate the opening.

Zeitz Museum Cape Town South Africa

It brilliantly combines the old with the new: the 102,000-square-foot facility stands on the site of a historic grain silo on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the most popular attraction in Africa. Zeitz is home to more than 100 galleries spread out over nine floors; the galleries and cathedral-like atrium were carved from the silo's 42 tubes with 65,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Zeitz Museum Cape Town, South Africa

Temporary installations stand alongside the museum's permanent exhibitions. Among the temporary exhibitions are "Harvest" (through January 15, 2018), created for the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, in which large paintings and sculptures question society's dependence on the land; "Luanda: Encyclopedic City," (through January 13, 2018) that has 23 stacks of 5,000 mass-produced images from photographer Edson Chagas; and "Regarding the Ease of Others"  (through March 31, 2018), a look at how African society emerged after colonial rule. 

The sixth-floor restaurant affords 270-degree views of the city and a rooftop sculpture garden gives additional sensory delights. The museum also houses a bookshop, reading rooms and a costume institute. 

Gallery: Zeitz Museum Exhibits

All images Courtesy Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

Tap Into Beer's Healing Properties at This German Castle's Beer Pool

While drinking is fun, the bath works wonders for hair and skin.
Castle Starkenberg
Starkenberg Castle (Courtesy Castle Starkenberg)

Pool party takes on a whole new meaning at Starkenberg Castle Brewery where beer is the pool's main component.

Locals, tourists, bachelor parties and the like can take to the beer bath every night for five hours to get the restorative effects of the beer and beer yeast, while indulging in Starkenberger Beer from two taps poolside and three in an adjoining hall. 

“It is very popular," said brewery spokesman Frank Dielen. "Every weekend is booked until the end of October, we are open every night, but the weekends are booked.” “We suggest they take music with them. They can order food in our nearby restaurant, get pizza delivered,” he added.

Since 2007, the brewery in a castle nestled in the mountains of Tyrol, Austria, a popular destination for skiing and hiking, has made pools available for use. Currently there are three pools—which were once fermentation tanks—and hold a maximum of four people at a time.

Woman in beer pool

The pools use 3,200 gallons of water in addition to 79 gallons of beer and are mixed with beer yeast. Mountain spring water is key but yeast is the secret ingredient for what tones the skin and brings a shine to hair.

“The yeast at the bottom of the tank is good for the hair and skin. Afterward you feel the effects for four to five days,” Dielen said.

This Museum Looks Like a ...

The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum is dedicated to the art of carpet weaving.
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum

The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum rolled out its best carpets starting in 2017.

The country's national symbol is the carpet, and the carpet-shaped museum celebrates the folk art heritage. The rugs are typically made from natural pieces like lamb or sheep's wool and dyed with natural dyes.

The building was designed by Franz Janz and inside the curved walls display collections of carpets and carpet products like bags, valises and pillowcases. The space is home to demonstrations of local carpet weaving techniques and carpets aren't the only thing on display. Browse galleries of ceramics, metal works, national garments and artifacts that date back to the Bronze Age.

Azerbaijan Carpet Museum

Interior of Azerbaijan Carpet Museum

Video: 3D Audio Makes This Youtube Channel Perfect for Travel Inspiration

Destin Sandlin, host of the hit Youtube series "Smarter Everyday," records his experiences with 3D audio technology.
Men holding up a 100-pound tuna on a houseboat
Hear the 100-pound tuna slap the houseboat floor during a fishing trip that Destin Sandlin takes with friends. (Courtesy Destin Sandlin/Sound Traveler)

Experiencing the sounds of a city is one way poets and writers have romanticized travel for centuries and now, thanks to an engineer, there are videos with 3D sound that put the viewer right into the travel scenario with spacial awareness. 

Destin Sandlin is Youtube famous for his channel "Smarter Everyday," a series that explores the world and applies science to everyday happenings. As if a career, family and two Youtube channels weren't enough—Sandlin created a second series on the same ideas called "Smarter Everyday 2"—the creator of the hit show started another Youtube venture called "The Sound Traveler.

Using 3D audio by way of microphones that Sandlin places in the upper part of his ears, he's able to walk through cities and towns in addition to famous attractions like New York City's Times Square and give his audience an in-depth exploration of the space. The depth perception that the 3D microphones give capture sound binaurally—creating a sensation of being in the space or the area that Sandlin is in—from being able to hear rain drops hitting both sides of the street in Munich to experiencing the cacophony of sounds at a daily, outdoor market in Mesa de los Santos, Colombia.

As anyone can imagine, after watching any one of Sandlin's videos we've got the overwhelming urge to go out and explore the areas he visits ourselves.