5 changemakers to know in the Charlotte arts scene

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Courtesy of SouthPark Magazine.

This story first ran in the August 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.

They’re making their mark as actors and creators, filmmakers and promoters—and, for one, as a youth-whisperer. One by one, they’re leading change in the way art is presented, performed, and appreciated in Charlotte and beyond.

John W. Love, Jr.

My editor emailed the assignment: Write a brief profile of 2017 Guggenheim Fellow John W. Love, Jr.

I’d interviewed the cerebral artist/poet/playwright/performer before and knew brief would be tough. Then came the last line: “Try to explain some of his work.”

Explain it? Enigmas can’t be explained. And certainly not briefly. Even Love—who offered the description “ageless and ancient” for his age—has a hard time explaining his work.

“When someone wants an ‘elevator speech,’ they want to be wowed, intoxicated and edified in a sound bite,” he said. “And that’s never really enough. Anything worth exploring requires that you eventually sit down and give it its due.”

He takes a deliberate, contemplative approach to art and life—which, for him, are one and the same.

Besides big bucks (Love won’t disclose how much but will say he got every dollar he asked for), the Guggenheim award gives artists freedom—something I thought Love already had plenty of. But Guggenheim-funded freedom is different.

“Now, I don’t have to squeeze pennies until they turn into copper wire,” he said.

Love’s present pursuit has morphed from his original proposal to the Guggenheim—as he assured them it would. The multimedia installation, “Oh So, Trousseau,” features the perpetually pregnant man (a recurring character in the Love oeuvre) who is confronted by a character within his psyche. The work includes sculpture, film, video, “sound environments,” and a live performance featuring Love himself.

That’s the current plan, anyway. “The work is constantly changing,” Love said. “I’m constantly changing.”

The trousseau part refers to marriage—but not in the traditional sense: “I’m exploring the notion of what you carry when you are about to marry a more divine aspect of your own being.”

Love has won many grants—a 2017 fellowship from the N.C. Arts Council, a residency at the Anchorage Museum and a McColl Center residency twice. But the Guggenheim comes with the most prestige. The Guggenheim Foundation gets about 3,000 applications each year. Love is one of 173 fellows.

Guggenheim money could, you’d think, lead one to head for New York, L.A. or another arts capital. But Love is recommitting to his hometown. He’s the first artist to sign a lease for new dedicated arts space at Advent Coworking. He’s already paid his first six months’ rent.

“I also have another space in an undisclosed, pristine medical facility,” he added. “Considering I work ‘cleanly’ and nontoxically, it’s a curiously appropriate fit.”

Love, it seems, is everywhere. —Page Leggett

Scott Galloway. Photo courtesy of SouthPark Magazine

Scott Galloway

When Scott Galloway was 3 years old and living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he always begged his parents to get out their camera and film things. Fast forward to 2014, and Galloway, 50, is the founder of the 100 Words Film Festival in Charlotte. The festival, which features films that contain 100 spoken words, has since expanded to the film mecca of Toronto, Canada.

“I was fascinated at how people watched media,” Galloway says. “They would often scroll to the bottom to see how far into a video they were. And so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a way to track that in a way that wasn’t time, but maybe words.”

To enter the film festival, filmmakers can produce a film on any subject, at any length.

Galloway has produced hundreds of award-winning television shows, like Handcrafted America, and released documentary films, like A Man Named Pearl, in theaters. Knowing how hard it was to get his own first film into theaters in 2007, he wanted to expedite the process for other aspiring filmmakers.

“Being in a film festival helps you tremendously,” he says.

One of Galloway’s favorite aspects about the 100 Words Film Festival is that it has given Charlotte the opportunity to welcome filmmakers from around the world to our city. Filmmakers have traveled from as far as Canada, Turkey, and Italy to take part in the annual November event.

“One-hundred words is just long enough for a concise, compelling story to have a beginning, middle and end,” Galloway says.

And for these filmmakers, it just might be their big beginning. —Colby Alvino

Wendy Hickey. Photo courtesy of SouthPark Magazine

Wendy Hickey

For 20 years, Wendy Lee Hickey worked in the billboard industry selling billboard advertising. In 2002, Hickey, now 51, was serving on the board of directors for a local arts council in Pennsylvania. It was then that she thought to herself, “With this role on the board, what am I going to do to truly serve the artists in our community?” And that’s when it hit her: artists could be featured on billboards.

She moved to Charlotte six years ago and created ArtPop Street Gallery with a mission to promote local artists’ work and make art accessible to communities through available media space. Now, art pops up on billboards, news boxes in Uptown, and on digital billboards at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and in Ballantyne Village.

“We are helping the careers of local artists, because you have the opportunity to connect to the artists, to buy their art, to commission them for art,” Hickey says.

In partnership with ArtPop volunteers and the Knight Foundation, she connects with the Charlotte region’s artists with a call for submissions.. The program reaches 11 counties.

Five years in, ArtPop has expanded to 14 cities across the country, and has served 97 artists in the Charlotte region and 265 nationally. The free exposure that these artists receive equates to $70,000 of advertising.

“It’s really changing the lives and careers of artists. And beyond that, our public is being exposed to art at the same time,” she says. —Colby Alvino

Caroline Simas. Photo courtesy of SouthPark Magazine

Caroline Simas

Born to creative parents, Caroline Simas grew up surrounded by art. She has an eye for noticing art in nature, and she’s known for her abundant use of florals in her work.

Simas, 47, started hand-painting Bible passages onto greeting cards, touched up with colorful flowers, in 2004. This was the unofficial start of her brand, Multiple Blessings, which rolled out pretty notes blending painted scenes and scripture.

Not long after, she debuted her work at a friend’s home show and they were a hit. The shop 3 French Hens in Strawberry Hill wanted to feature her greeting cards immediately. Since then, the business has taken off. Today, Multiple Blessings is still a faith-based brand, but has expanded beyond cards. Simas offers her work on gift and home decor items like stationery, notepads, wall decor, garden flags and outdoor pillows.

In an unusual move for Charlotte artists, Simas started licensing her work in 2007.

“I started realizing that I was spending more time on the business side of it, and less time creating,” Simas says.

She ended up working with companies like Tervis Tumbler and Tiny Prints. Now she licenses her work through Courtney Davis Inc. in Franklin, Tennessee.

“I’m at this place where I’ve finally been able to hire the people to do all of things that are not my gifts, and that allows me to focus on what I’m best at, which is the creative side,” Simas says.

You can find her painting away in her studio at 1717 Cleveland Ave. in Dilworth, where she hopes customers shopping at the boutique downstairs, Fashion & Compassion, will pop in to say hello. As a bonus, some of her original work is sold in the boutique.

She loves the sense of community that comes with visitors seeing her at work, dirty smock and all.

And above all, she says, “I just can’t wait to wake up every morning and create.” —Colby Alvino

Jen Band. Photo courtesy of SouthPark Magazine

Jen Band

Jen Band remembers the moment 12 years ago when she came up with the idea for Playing For Others. While she loved her work at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, where she taught music and dance and directed musicals, “I felt like there had to be something more,” says Band, who is 38.

“It was this lightning bolt that hit me. I wanted to teach teens that you could take what you’re passionate about and use it to benefit the greater good.”

That same day she emailed some of the students she’d worked with and asked them to meet her at Freedom Park. She expected a handful to show up. Instead more than 100 teens and their parents came to hear her idea.

Many from that gathering were part of the inaugural year of Playing For Others, a nonprofit that encourages teens to figure out who they are and how they can impact society through the arts, service, and personal development programs. Each year, teens bring the stories of 10 local nonprofits to life through dancing, performing music, reciting spoken word pieces, and creating digital art works. They perform all around the community, including Booth Playhouse, McGlohon Theatre and CPCC.

One of the highlights each year is when the teens team up on stage with kids with disabilities and perform a show. The performance always sells out.

“There is a way in which we can use art for so many different things—not just to entertain or question,” says Band. “We can also use art to honor other people. That’s really important, to bridge the divides between people, to use art as a way to forge relationships with people who are different than you.”

Sixteen-year-old Desmond Pang has been involved in Playing for Others for three years and serves as the co-president. “PFO allows me the freedom of expression,” Pang said. “I also realized that the arts can restore and heal a community. We did a show and I saw people connecting through music and art. It showed how important the arts are to make everyone feel connected and loved.”

That’s exactly what Band had in mind all those years ago when she sent the email asking a few teens to meet her in the park.

“We’re always finding different ways for the teens to use things they love to impact the community in a really positive way and to push the envelope of what the arts can do. It’s exciting,” says Band.

Teenagers are vulnerable, she adds. They “need people in their lives who are their biggest fans, people saying ‘your voice matters.’ … Here’s an avenue in which to make a difference.” —Michelle Boudin

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