Dear Miss LonelyArts:
I am an artist and just moved to Charlotte from a city with a thriving visual arts scene. I can’t believe a place this size has so little going on. I’m miserable—what can I do?
Want to Go Home
First, accept the fact that you live here now and Charlotte will never resemble the place you came from.
Second, learn a little about the place before you dismiss it. Charlotte is a city in flux—it hasn’t always been this way. Longtime residents have stories about Charlotte’s woolly art scene back in the ’80s, when the city was small and NY was exporting freaks, not bankers. A number of the city’s art pioneers are still here, but they wearied of doing all the heavy lifting and, for a long time, no one else was coming along to help out. The last things these folks need is for newcomers—the reinforcements who should have been here years ago—to finally show up and then rag on them about what they already know.
In addition, Charlotte’s economy has changed and its population is exploding, so the city in its current incarnation is like an adolescent—incomplete, irritating, self-conscious and given to clumsy growth spurts—but it also has the promise of maturation ahead of it. The Charlotte you moved to this year is not the Charlotte that will be here five years from now.
So, while you’re waiting for Charlotte to change, here are a few suggestions:
• This is a city of enterprise, so be enterprising. Maybe there isn’t a ton to do here right now, but if you want to initiate something, you’ll find surprisingly little standing in your way. Charlotteans love that entrepreneurial spirit, whether or not it is applied to something that actually makes money.
While Charlotte needs folks with deep pockets and vision to open more good commercial galleries, contemporary art spaces and other such venues, we also need more ad hoc/cheap/guerrilla ventures such as exhibitions in garages or other sites that have a ratty cache. Consider putting your energy there.
• Gas up and go. You now live in a place with a regional art scene. When you exhaust your options here, drive to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, home to SECCA, the Scales Art Center at Wake Forest University, the Weatherspoon Art Museum and more. Yeah, I know it’s over an hour away, but in the cultural mecca you came from, you may very well have spent that long just trying to get home from your day job. Don’t limit yourself to Charlotte—opportunities for viewing and exhibiting art exist throughout the Carolinas.
• Socialize in someone else’s space. For god’s sake, go to openings or open studios or whatever else is out there. Congregate with other artists just for the hell of it—don’t get bogged down in making all your gatherings productive. Do you really need to join yet another critique group? Whatever happened to the high-minded notion of getting together to drink too much, gossip and otherwise behave in a manner you’ll regret in the morning?
• Cut down on the whining. If you’re committed to improving the scene and occasional venting helps you clarify your goals, then go ahead and complain. But incessant recreational whining is annoying and makes you look weak.
Right now, Charlotte is inundated with newcomers, so there’s a good chance that many of the people you’re meeting are, like you, still in various states of adjustment, dislocation and disarray. That’s way too much disaffection for one small city to absorb, so it feeds on itself to the extent that some folks never acclimate. If you do nothing else while you’re here, help break the cycle of whining.
(And I know you’ve probably already been subjected to that Chamber-of-Commerce-on-crack boosterism that permeates Charlotte. It’s pretty maddening, but trying to temper it with an “everything sucks” attitude doesn’t work either.)
Beware of complaining about the art community because you, my dear, are the art community. In a situation this fluid, you have the potential to wield power. Maybe your friends back in the cultural mecca from which you hail will snicker at you for investing yourself in our little cultural backwater. But you know something? You don’t live there anymore.
Got a question? Ask MissLonelyArts (at) point8 (dot) org.