Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Charlotte Arts City?

Something's going on in Charlotte. On Saturday, only a few months after the city's orchestra was bailed out by former Bank of America head Hugh McColl and the C. D. Spangler Foundation, a new performance space, the Knight Theater, hosted an open house.

The 1,150-seat hall is part of the so-called Wells Fargo Cultural Campus, a two-block-long strip on South Tryon Street that includes new homes for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture and the Mint Museum, as well the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, set to open in January.

Further uptown, the North Carolina Dance Theatre is building its own headquarters, complete with administrative offices, a costume shop, and, most importantly, six studios for rehearsals and teaching. There are also plans to open a black box theater within the 34,000-square-foot space, which sits beside the ten-year-old McColl Center for Visual Art.

This mini-boom shows that there's definitely philanthropic interest in beautifying the Queen City, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a sustained commitment to the organizations that curate the exhibitions, play the music, and dance the dances in the new buildings. The Charlotte Symphony plays in a good-looking, relatively new concert hall built in the mid-1990s, but struggles financially and nearly folded over the summer.

It also remains to be seen whether the public will show sufficient interest to keep funders engaged. For most non-profit arts organizations, ticket sales aren't a significant revenue source, but nobody--not big-money donors, not the government--wants to give money to groups that appear irrelevant to the community at large.