Charlotte was voted one of the top 25 arts destinations in the nation by AmericanStyle magazine in 2009. The number of museums, public-art walking tours, art galleries, and cultural events in the Queen City helped it earn a top spot in the rankings.
Local cultural facilities like the North Carolina Dance Theater, Opera Carolina, and the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center produce more than 65,000 events per year and generate $158 million for the local economy.
Construction of the Wells Fargo Cultural Center in Uptown along with the opening of several new museums and cultural facilities in 2010 and the success of NoDa, Charlotte’s arts district, continue to define the city as an evolving hot spot for the arts.
Little is known about the local fine-arts movement prior to the opening of the Mint Museum of Art in 1936. At this time, three well-known artists—Paul Bartlett, Alice Steadman, and Dayrell Kortheuer—started to become known on the local arts scene.
The Charlotte Colony of Painters used to meet at the art studio belonging to renowned chinaware painter Blossom Lucas. The studio–meeting space was located on the corner of East Avenue and Davidson Street. Other well-known local artists include Romare Bearden, an African-American cartoonist and collage artist, and Herb Jackson, a professor at Davidson College who earned the North Carolina Award in the arts, which is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of North Carolina.”
The Charlotte Arts Fund, now the Arts and Science Council, was established in 1958 to raise funds and awareness for arts organizations. The first fundraising drive raised $63,000, which helped raise the profile of fine arts in Charlotte.
As Charlotte continues to grow, so, too, does the fine-arts scene. The Mint Museum of Art, the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, the Bechtler Museum of Fine Art, and the McColl Center for Visual Art are just a few of the cultural facilities dedicated to fine arts in Charlotte.
The first piece of literature to make its debut in Charlotte was a poem. The work, a 245-line sonnet that ridicules prominent citizens of Mecklenburg, was titled A Modern Poem. Handwritten copies of the poem were distributed throughout Charlotte in 1777. Though it was published with the byline The Mecklenburg Censor, Adam Brevard is believed to be its author. A rare copy of the poem has been preserved in a library in Charleston, South Carolina.
General D. H. Hill established the first literary periodical in Mecklenburg County in 1866. It was called The Land We Love and included poems, fiction, and essays that were aimed at remembering the Civil War in a manner that complimented the Confederacy. Fanny Murdaugh was a frequent contributor to the periodical. She wrote countless poems for The Land We Love and penned her first novel, Nameless, in Mecklenburg in 1865.
It wasn’t until 1905, when Isaac Erwin Avery and John Charles McNeill, both reporters at the Charlotte Observer, began writing novels, that Charlotte was on the literary radar again. Avery wrote Idle Comments and McNeill authored Songs Merry and Sad and Lyrics from Cotton Land, which were revered for decades. H. E. C. (Red Buck) Bryant is the author of Tar Heel Tales and a native of Charlotte. He was the chief of the Washington news bureaus of the New York World and the Charlotte Observer and often wrote newspaper columns reminiscing about his life in Mecklenburg County.
Several bestselling authors have also called Charlotte home. Marion Hargrove wrote See Here, Private Hargrove in 1942 based on a compilation of columns that he sent back to the Charlotte News while he was stationed overseas with the military. The book sold millions of copies and is listed as one of the 21 bestsellers of all time, and was the basis for a major motion picture starring Donna Reed and Robert Walker. Harry Golden, the author of the bestsellers Only in America, For 2 Cents Plain, and Enjoy, Enjoy! also lived in Charlotte.
Charlotte continues to support a strong literary community. The annual Novello Festival of Reading and the Charlotte Literary Festival are both events that promote literature in the Queen City.
Charlotte’s first live theater performance took place in 1874 when a magician took the stage with 17 marionettes at the brand-new Charlotte Opera House. Attendance at Opera House performances was impressive, and in the 1880–1881 season alone a total of 37 performances were staged at the venue. The Opera House closed between 1890 and 1895 because of widespread financial panic but reopened in 1895 with a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The theater went dark in 1902 and was replaced with the Academy of Music. In the inaugural 1902–1903 season there were 95 performances, including The Two Orphans, The Governor’s Son, and The Tyranny of Tears. The Academy of Music served Charlotte for two decades before fire broke out on December 16, 1922, and destroyed the theater.
But Charlotte remained dedicated to the performing arts. In 1925, 150 years after the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was signed, the local Chamber of Commerce sponsored a production of The Pageant of Charlotte and Old Mecklenburg, which was performed in the amphitheater in Independence Park. In the coming years, Charlotte established performing-arts organizations like the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, the Charlotte Opera Association, the Charlotte Community Christmas Chorus, and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
© Jodi Helmer from Moon Charlotte, 1st Edition