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Wishful Thinking

Ten ways to improve the local art scene in 2003

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Charlotte is a cultural backwater. Charlotte is the national poster child for sprawl. Charlotte is driven by money, not history.The Queen City sure catches a lot of flak. Deserved and undeserved. And everyone's got a solution. So do I.

Following is a wish list for the new year, 10 modest proposals for improving the cultural infrastructure of the best Southern city above sea level. (That excludes New Orleans.) One day, when the City Council grows a backbone, they might consider pulling on these wishbones. This is a recipe for a cultural World Class City. Feel free to send in your own recipes.

1. Airlift the Mint Museum from Randolph Road to the site cleared for the new basketball arena. Claim squatter's rights. The museum would front the arena, requiring all ticket holders to pass through the atrium to get to the games. The museum's high brow image would fade with the influx of middle, low and unibrow patrons. Fans passing through the turnstiles might just look left and right. Some lucky ones will get lost in the galleries; recidivists will be enlightened through osmosis.

2. Christen Hugh McColl Art Czar. No one has coughed up more support for art here in the last 100 years. He's paid for the position many times over. Every public sculpture, every painting on every wall -- every mark, mural and mosaic gracing every building is installed, hung and assembled with his blessing.
3. Clone Joie Lassiter. We need more New York City in Charlotte. Lassiter's aesthetic and her cadre of urbane, sophisticated, inscrutable, ironic, jaded, droll, raw and polished artists are the best antidote we've got for the Mayberry image still skulking around the shadows of the uptown towers. She's Soho; we need a Chelsea, too. A counterpoint to her counterpoint. And while we're in the lab, let's clone artist Maya Godlewska, too. Can't get enough of her.
4. More public art. Not more rocking chairs, but commissioned eye candy for intrepid pedestrians eschewing the confines of their internal combustion boxes. More murals in alleys, a few downtown walls for oversized political cartoons expressing attitudes left, right and center. Those bronze placards with great quotes gracing the walkway to the public library downtown? We need more of the same -- inlaid into sidewalks, on the sides of concrete and brick walls, in parking garages. Quotes uplifting and brooding, glib and garrulous, profound and peevish. From Proust, Picasso, Scarlett O'Hara and Pee-Wee Herman. Favorite quotes will be solicited by lottery from Mecklenburg County voter registration rolls. Let the silent responsible citizens speak.

5. Queen (or King) Artist for a Day. Initiate a once-a-year juried visual art invitational open to all Charlotte area residents. Top 20 finalists show three pieces for a month at Spirit Square, McColl Center for Visual Arts or -- best -- the new Mint Museum at the entry to the arena. Final grand prize winner will show six paintings in the windows on Seventh Street across from St. Peter's Church and will receive a six month residency at the McColl Center and 10 free "What Would Hugh Do?" bumper stickers.

6. More Art Talks in the excellent tradition of the Light Factory, Mint Museum and the Residency Program at, yep, once again, The McColl Center for Visual Art. These talks by artists demystify the work (occasionally) and humanize the artist, showing a face behind the work and answering the eternal question, "Who did that?" To bolster participation in the Art Talks, everyone in attendance will receive a complimentary Powerball ticket. Also, once a month, visiting artists are invited to Charlotte Talks, the weekday morning talk show hosted by Mike Collins. The artist's work and career will be discussed, and in consideration of continued public interest, each artist will be obliged to share an intimate lurid detail of his or her personal life. Stories reinforcing the image of the "Genius Gone Wild!" are encouraged.

7. Paint the buses. Commission artists to paint the city buses. Will it increase use in public transport? Probably not, but it will make it a helluva lot easier to look at those big, stinky gallumps tottering down Fourth Street. I suggest artists paint knockoffs of great paintings -- Monet's "Water Lilies," Van Gogh's "Starry Night," Picasso's "Guernica." Our local mavens of culture can fume along with the buses.
8. Move the Light Factory. Our most enduring and egalitarian cultural jewel escapes the dry swamp under Ericsson's shadow and moves uptown where she belongs. Oh yeah... that's already happened! Oh, man, see where wishful thinking will get you?

9. Paint the Pink Building. Invite Charlotte's underground community of graffiti artists to remedy that sorry boner of a building. One artist per floor. Each individual tagger-artist contained to 11 feet vertically wrapping all sides of the building. A stacked mosaic of renegade expression, potty mouth words and images prohibited. It's risky, but indubitably less profane than that piece of pale Vegas polluting the South End skyline.

10. Citizens Unite! Buy Art. It's bound to bring a better return than your PSL. Enhance your home or office. Honor Hodges Taylor Gallery, Blue Pony, Jerald Melberg, Noel Gallery -- those stalwart and durable purveyors of great local, regional, national and international art. Pay homage to that thin frayed edge of the creative fringe brave enough to live and work as artists in the Queen City. These are the people who help make Charlotte more than the city built on money.
And what will come of these modest reforms?Regional political luminaries will engage artists in lively dialogues about their work. Heated arguments will ensue. Community activists will rally round the artists, defending free expression rights. Right wingers will take up arms with free range fundamentalists to discuss appropriate disciplinary measures. City Council will convene and fulminate impotently. Visiting artists will be slandered as outside agitators, terrorists, Yankees. Townspeople will take up the debate, both defending and condemning the artists. Factions will form, dissolve and reform by the hour.

The great art debate will draw national attention. USA Today, Peter Jennings and NPR will descend on the Queen City. The debate will foment civil unrest. Principled alliances will emerge, manifestos will be written, lunatic cells formed. The spontaneous and inexplicable engagement of the enlightened multitudes will lift the city's narcotic cultural miasma and Charlotte will careen onto the national stage.

This year, Charlotte will be named America's sexiest city. World Class for 15 minutes.

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