During the debut media tour of the Democratic National Convention Committee’s offices at 400 S. Tryon St. uptown, my first question was, “the 13th floor?” The convention's CEO Steve Kerrigan smiled. "We take the available floor," he said. "We're not superstitious."
The DNC team may not be superstitious, but it's conscientious of local flavor. The 17,500 square feet for the committee's staff of 50 — which will likely expand to include two more floors for a staff of about 200 by next year — is a homey space. Images of President Obama on posters, portraits or framed newspaper front pages mix with the works of local and regional artists.
The walls are lined with paintings in different styles, and photographs — including several of photographer Byron Baldwin’s shots of Charlotte scenes. During the walk-through, painter David Fulton, 31, showed off his abstracts and an Obama image in a conference room. The native of Virginia Beach, Va., has lived in Charlotte for four years. He said he is “definitely” an Obama supporter.
Artist Nellie Ashford told me she’s more of a “behind-the-scenes” person: “I just create.” Ashford talked about a work on display, based on her childhood in rural Mecklenburg County in the 1940s and '50s when she attended a four-room segregated school. The piece shows white children riding on a bus, while outside black children are walking and barefoot; they are all reaching for education, she said, but moving in different directions.
Kerrigan told me he wasn’t quite sure who first thought of filling the office with local art, but he said it was a logical decision, considering the location, “surrounded by world-class museums.” The local works are on loan and available from area galleries Hodges Taylor, New Gallery of Modern Art, Hidell Brooks and Foster’s Frame & Art Gallery.
One work is not for sale, however. It hangs in Kerrigan’s office. He bought “Sailing the Red Mark” by Edna Barker at Foster’s because “it reminds me of New England and sailing,” the Massachusetts native said. You can’t miss the connection, not with the Boston Red Sox photo and the framed pages of the “City Upon a Hill” speech that President John F. Kennedy delivered to the Massachusetts legislature on Jan. 9, 1961, before he took office. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy was one of Kerrigan’s mentors.
The Susan Burgess Conference Room is dedicated to the life and work of the late Charlotte official who campaigned for the city’s choice as convention host. Politics aside, the room — with pictures, awards and honors and Burgess’s Mayor Pro Tem plaque — is a thoughtful tribute.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to The Root, NPR, and the Nieman Watchdog blog. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.