GanttFest draws hundreds to uptown arts center

Re-post from
By Kathy Haight

About 1,500 people - including a busload from Atlanta - celebrated art, poetry and more Saturday at GanttFest! uptown.

The free event at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture marked nearly a year since the center opened as part of what is now the Levine Center for the Arts on South Tryon Street.

Visitors got a chance to create their own art, watch dance performances, and listen to poetry, African storytelling and music.

"Art opens up your mind," said Jackie Edwards, 49, who made her first visit to the center Saturday with her husband, Phil, and 11-year-old daughter, Ayana.

The family moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Huntersville eight years ago and said the Gantt Center compares favorably to some museums they've visited in New York.

It's been a year of growth for the Gantt Center, said President and CEO David Taylor. Revenue and memberships are up, and about 67,000 visitors have come through the doors since the October opening.

"We've had visitors from all over the East Coast," Taylor said. "We want to continue building a flexible and exciting business model that hopefully can keep people engaged and willing to return more than once."

Revenue is up 66percent to $1.5million this year, Taylor said, thanks in part to a successful fundraising campaign that wrapped up in March.

Membership has grown to about 960 - double the number from June 2009, before the former Afro-American Cultural Center relocated and rebranded itself as the Gantt Center.

By the end of next month, the center will have brought 10 exhibits of African-American art to Charlotte, while also hosting an array of educational and cultural programs, including workshops, lecture-demonstrations and summer camps.

On Friday, for example, students from Northwest School of the Arts and Charlotte Country Day School met with artists Sam Gilliam and Kevin Cole, whose work is featured in an exhibit that opened Saturday.

In a second-floor classroom Saturday, Cole encouraged GanttFest! teenagers to express themselves in a hands-on art workshop.

"My goal is for them to come up with their personal voice about themselves using shapes and forms," said Cole, a wall-sculpture artist.

Using oil pastels, colored tissue and other materials, the teens created works of art incorporating West African symbols.

"Sometimes I draw for hours," said 14-year-old art lover Jaquan Dozier of Charlotte, who sketched a royal blue oval filled with patterns of red, gold and turquoise. He likes the sense of freedom he gets from drawing, and chose symbols of excellence and craftiness.

Emily Rapp, 17, of Charlotte, made a blue and gold paper sculpture combining symbols for creativity and loyalty.

"I go to an art school," she said, "so creativity is a really important part of my life." Rapp is a senior at Northwest School of the Arts.

Outside the Gilliam-Cole exhibit, Collette Hopkins, 59, of Atlanta, said she brought about 50 Atlanta residents to GanttFest! in a bus-and-car caravan.

"I was excited to see their work and wanted to share it with others," she said of the wall sculptures by Gilliam and Cole.

Saturday was her second visit to the Gantt Center.

"It's so striking and beautiful," she said of the center. "It brings so much to the Charlotte arts community."

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