Regardless of where the funding is coming from, creatives continue to act as the heart and soul of our city.
BEST CREATIVE: Kaja Dunn
Intimacy coordinator Kaja Dunn makes strides for women and people of color, consulting actors about their movements in sexually or emotionally charged scenes on stage or screen. Dunn also works as an assistant professor of theatre at UNC Charlotte and serves as the head of Theatrical Intimacy Education’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Intimacy Initiative and a consultant on race for Actor’s Equity Association.
Dunn told Queen City Nerve in May that she sees the importance of displaying elements of consent as well as representing people of color by combating particular tropes through choreography.
“If I do my job well, the audience isn’t gonna go, ‘Wow, they’re upending two centuries of sexual and racial tropes!’” she said. “But they will see beauty and they’ll see it as an expression of what has existed.”
BEST MURALIST: Georgie Nakima
Georgie Nakima’s colorful public art fuses representations of Black women with the natural world and spiraling geometric shapes. She’s gained notoriety within the art world, and has traveled to Michigan, Rhode Island, and Texas. Nakima’s talent goes far beyond murals, as this year she has been asked to create sculptures, digital art and interactive pieces all around the country.
“I considered myself very analog, but I think it’s important to break out of molds that we hold for ourselves, and to continue learning,” she told Queen City Nerve in October.
You might know her work from the mural “Earth Keeper,” which sits above the lobby at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture or her colorful “Mwanzo” sculpture paired with her murals at East Town Market, both of which were finished this year. Nakima, aka Garden of Journey, promises to increase the visibility of Black women in her work, and vows to be a visual translator of our times while finding new ways to present her vision.
BEST FIBER ARTIST: Katrina Sanchez Standfield
Intricacies like knitting and weaving take time and patience. Katrina Sánchez Standfield takes it to another level with fibers and mixed materials to create vibrant and tactile objects that examine the weaved net that keeps everyone together. Kat pairs traditional processes like weaving and knitting, experimenting with texture, color, and scale to explore contemporary issues. Intersectionality is the center of what inspires her work.
Standfield was born in the Republic of Panama and currently lives in Charlotte. She obtained her higher art education at Central Piedmont Community college, and a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in fibers at UNC Charlotte. She has been a member of Goodyear Arts and has her art exhibited all over the country.
Standfield explores ideas of community, healing, and renewal through dabbling in other methods such as mending, street art, and interactive installations, but her work with fibers remains her focal point. At the heart of her work is a desire to elicit a multi-sensory experience while engaging the audience’s desire to investigate and play.
BEST AVANT-GARDE ARTIST: Edelweiss Vogel
Edelweiss Vogel is an illustrator, freelance artist and educator. A lot of her childhood was spent making art of one medium or another — portraits, weaving, sculptures, or making garments. Vogel has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio arts with a concentration in illustration.
Not only is Vogel an artist with a cross-disciplinary background in painting, digital media, and contemporary garment design, but she is also an educator. She teaches visual art at The Brawley IB World School in Mooresville and enjoys incorporating diverse cultural backgrounds into lessons. Her goal is to help students become innovative and use their art to create discourse around finding solutions to issues that they’re facing.
Recently, Vogel was selected for ArtPop Street Gallery’s Class of 2022 in digital art. Her latest work, “T’nalak” features the T’boli, one of the native groups in her home country who are, known for being “dream weavers.”
BEST EXPERIMENTAL ARTIST: Veda Seravanan
Based in Charlotte for nearly three decades, Veda Seravanan’s work primarily involves creations of unique masks depicting different human facial expressions. Her distinctive style and cultural upbringing allowed her to become the artist that she is today. Traveling and experiencing different cultures has greatly impacted the different ways Seravanan uses colors and culture in her work, she says.
Seravanan’s art has been painting abstract architecture and stylized faces. She doesn’t hesitate to let colors take control of her creative process. She loves to see the surprise end-result when incorporating different colors and designs in her work. Her style of mask-making has been inspired by her own collection of masks, gathered while traveling the world. It also stems from her interest in mythology that exists heavily in her culture. Facial expressions have always inspired her, because the smallest expression can tell volumes.
BEST SCULPTOR: Stuart Peterman
Stuart Peterman is a fine art sculpture artist who loves to experiment with shapes, textures and shadows. His goal when making his sculptures is to simplify an object, then add an unexpected shape or texture to create a sleek and modern look. His sculptures are made from hand-cut, hand-hammered, welded stainless steel. A lot of which feature aquatic animals, while taking inspiration from nature and humans.
Peterman is also a painter whose work is considered a contemporary version of a modern, mid-century style. He is a two-time Art in Embassies artist, 2022 Art Pop Street Gallery artist, and recipient of a 2020 Professional Development for Artists Grant from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.
BEST INSTALLATION ARTIST: Meredith Connelly
Based in Charlotte, Meredith Connelly is a multidisciplinary artist with a Bachelor’s in Studio Art from the University of Wilmington. Her site-based installations illuminate her perceived manufactured materials to highlight their organic qualities.
Connelly’s works have been on view at art museums throughout the southeast. She has been selected for a number of public projects, such as the Arts and Science Council’s (ASC) Community supported Arts Program, the I Heart Rail Trail, and Charlotte SHOUT! through CLT Center City Partners.
“I also deeply care about nature and light, which typically presents itself in my work, so I would like to know more about what community members are drawn to when they are outside, what they hope to experience within the park through art and how art might enhance and complement the land in their eyes.”
She’s perhaps best known for her work on Lights, an illuminated walking trail commissioned by the U.S. National Whitewater Center in 2019, for which she was inexplicably not invited back to help with curation in 2022. In January, she was selected to spearhead the creation of a “significant public artwork” at Ezell Farms Community Park in Mint Hill, a 90-acre county-funded project that will be located on what was once a privately owned farm at Matthews-Mint Hill Road and Mintwood Drive. The artwork is expected to be completed in spring 2023 as part of the first phase in the park’s construction.
BEST ARTS ORGANIZATION: Shelves Bookstore
Originally launched at Queen City Grounds in June 2019, owner Abbigail Glen has made Shelves Bookstore an online and pop-up shop that partners with other small businesses to educate families and celebrate the joy that reading books brings to people all over the world.
Shelves believes that reading is freedom, and their goal is to not only provide supporters with great books, but also create amazing lifestyle products made exclusively with readers, writers, and dreamers.
Glen’s most impressive accomplishment has been her pivot to delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the launch of her Reading is a Lifestyle subscription service, which operate like a virtual book club, making reading more inviting and therefore accessible to folks who may not otherwise be interested.
“When you read a book, you are freeing yourself from your biases, especially when you are reading books that are not necessarily about topics and subjects that you’re comfortable with,” Glen told Queen City Nerve in January, “which is why we also push the narrative of really diversifying the subject matter that you read,” Glen said.
BEST NEW ARTS EVENT: Public Art Walks for the Blind
Dana Draa, chief program officer at Metrolina Association for the Blind (MAB), was inspired by the Black Lives Matter mural on South Tryon Street in Uptown amidst the protests of summer 2020. Draa’s visually impaired friend Sherri Thompson asked her to describe what the newly painted Black Lives mural looked like.
“It was so impactful for her,” Draa said. “That planted the seed in my head.”
Artwalks CLT and Disability Rights & Resources worked with MAB to create the Art is for Everyone ArtWalk, a descriptive walking tour that allows people with low or no vision to get a taste of Charlotte’s public art scene through audio description, artist analysis and fellowship.
The tour makes stops at nine public works that allow participants to physically touch the art or just drop back and take in the detailed audio descriptions.
“We’re making a piece of art come alive,” said Draa.
BEST NEW ARTS SPACE: VAPA Center
The Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Center, a nonprofit organization, was created in 2021 by 10 anchor arts organization in Charlotte to create a space for artists to create, practice, exhibit, and perform their craft in the wake of the closure of Spirit Square in Uptown.
While some institutions such as McColl Center and Levine Museum of the New South helped with the founding of the space, grassroots creatives like Joanne Rogers with Nine Eighteen Nine Studio Gallery and Will Jenkins with BlkMrktClt spearheaded the efforts to launch this affordable studio space where artists could create, rehearse and host functions.
The space is home to a number of staples in the Charlotte arts community ranging in mediums from theatre (Charlotte’s Off-Broadway) to comedy (Charlotte Comedy Theater) to song (Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte and Women’s Chorus of Charlotte) and, of course, visual art (OBRA Collective, The Light Factory and more).
BEST INDIVIDUAL EXHIBIT: America Gentrified by John Trey Miles III at Nine Eighteen Nine Studio
John Trey Miles III’s America Gentrified exhibit, featured at Nine Eighteen Nine Studio Gallery in January, was a 50-piece collage series constructed on 11-by-14-inch panels that showcased the various forms of gentrification within a community. The collages were composed of pre-selected photographs that Miles chose for how they represent gentrification in one way or another.
He constructed each piece by manipulating the photographs on a computer then cutting and arranging them to recreate a hyper photorealistic collage.
“America Gentrified tells the story of gentrification everywhere,” said Nine Eighteen Nine owner Joanne Rogers, who curated the show. “People are disenfranchised, they lose their home, they lose their investments because other people are coming in and investing in the land … The artist tries to make you feel like it’s only one place. He shows you the story of the changes going on in one neighborhood throughout all 50 series.”
BEST COLLABORATIVE EXHIBIT: MÔR: A Collective Exhibition of Black Lesbian Thought at Goodyear Arts
Inspired by the words of poet Audre Lorde and the desire to create a space for Black lesbian artists, Alexandra Jane and Briona Simone Jones launched a visual arts exhibit titled MÔR: A Collective Exhibition of Black Lesbian Thought at Goodyear Arts in January.
“We just haven’t seen that space [for Black lesbians to support each other],” Jane told Queen City Nerve. “And since none of us will be hosting parties anytime soon, we thought that this was something that felt genuine to the both of us that we could open up to the Black lesbian community.”
The collective featured several artists whose work best conveyed the message of the exhibit. The featured artists were also diverse in their respective talents.
“We wanted multi-theorist forms of art, so there will be sculpture, collage work, photography; there will be a rhythm,” said Jones. “We selected people we felt we could place in conversation with one another.”
BEST EXHIBIT BY VISITING ARTIST: Reflections of a People: Photographs from the Archive of Jamel Shabazz at Gantt Center
Photographer Jamel Shabazz has had a unique career spanning 40 years, and while he’s known for his work in one field specifically, he wants people to know that, as Dead Prez would say, it’s “bigger than hip-hop.”
The New York City-based photographer held an exhibit, which featured the documented lives of Black people in and around New York between 1980 and 2014, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in January. He believed that people who weren’t from New York could still feel fulfilled by the exhibit. At the crux of Shabazz’s message was love.
“I’m hoping that through the images they get a glimpse of another side of New York,” he told Yvonne Bynoe with Queen City Nerve in February. “Often we hear about the violence, and the negativity and the poverty. I want to show images that reflect pride, dignity, families, and togetherness … that’s very important to me.”
BEST HISTORICAL ART EXHIBIT: The Language of Clay, Catawba Indian Pottery and Oral Traditions
A historic treasure trove sits in plain sight, overlooked because it began with utilitarian intent. It is distinctive blue-gray-colored pottery, including jars and jugs, used to gather water from the Catawba River by members of the Catawba Indian Nation for thousands of years.
The Charlotte Museum of History shined a spotlight on this treasure with The Language of Clay: Catawba Indian Pottery & Oral Traditions, an exhibit that featured 41 clay pottery pieces from the 19th century to the present.
“It’s so hard to fathom the scale of it, but the United States is maybe 250 years old, while the Catawba have been here for 6,000 years,” said DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren, an artist, educator and member of the Catawba Indian Nation, who took part in the exhibit by imparting traditional Catawba stories.
Rather than the Eurocentric history taught in U.S. schools, it is the Catawba tradition that is the true story of Charlotte and the surrounding lands.
BEST PHOTO EXHIBIT: BLACK GAZE: Representation, Identity, and Expression at The Light Factory
Inspired by a chance encounter with photographer Titus Brooks Heagins about a lack of resources for emerging Black photographers that he had during a visit to The Light Factory in the midst of the pandemic, BLACK GAZE: Representation, Identity, and Expression was born of his desire to give back.
Heagins and Light Factory staff mentored six Black photographers and later displayed the photographers’ work throughout Charlotte, featuring work from Cheryse Terry, Jessica Dunston, DaRemen J., Gavin Boulware, Cordrell Colbert, and Phillip Loken. The exhibition ran at The Light Factory from January to April.
BEST POP-UP: Art Cart NoDa
After having shown and sold work from more than 100 local artists in the space over the last two years, Tough Ass Crew had to pack up and be out of their North Davidson space at the end of September due to rising rent. And so Matt Alvis, Alvis, a guerilla artist before he had a brick-and-mortar location, went back to his DIY ways.
In November he launched Art Cart NoDa, a new way to window shop. Art Cart NoDa allows art fans to peruse work placed in abandoned windows or in participating places like Evening Muse, then order it online and have someone bring it right to you.
Alvis pointed out that, for as long as the Tough Ass Crew [Extended] Pop-Up existed, it was the only art gallery left in the neighborhood. He treasures the time he spent in the space, meeting new artists and allowing both established creatives and up-and-comers to make some money in his gallery.
He also treasures the idea that NoDa is an art-centered community, which inspired his choice of location to launch his new window-shopping venture.
“That’s a central part coming into the neighborhood for anybody,” he said. “If they’re from out of town, they’re coming in an Uber or on the light rail, and if they come on the light rail, I don’t want the question to be, ‘I thought this was the art district.’ I will try to overwhelm them from all of the places where people have been priced out.”
BEST EDUCATIONAL EXHIBIT: Mental Health: MIND MATTERS at Discovery Place
The special exhibition Mental Health: MIND MATTERS, open at Discovery Place from January to April, explored the stigma of mental illness, emphasizing that it is common, can happen to anyone, and is treatable.
For a locally exclusive portion of the exhibit, Atrium Health partnered with Discovery Place to build the Path to Mindfulness, which asked patrons to gauge a few aspects of their own mental health, getting them into the right mindset to peruse the broader MIND MATTERS exhibit.
“Although [the exhibit] does an exceptional job at assessing the mental health side of the equation, we felt that mental health is a part of overall health. So if we’re not suffering from a mental illness that doesn’t mean that there’s not something for all of us to learn and maybe consider adding to our lives,” Discovery Place’s Chief Science Officer Heather Norton told Queen City Nerve.
“We wanted to have the complementary conversation around being mindful because we feel like, especially over the past many months, all of us have been grappling with feelings of stress or confusion, maybe depression, and this is something that maybe could be beneficial for everybody.”
Mental Health: MIND MATTERS also featured hands-on activities and multimedia experiences, some of which were labeled as “empathy-building” to demonstrate what some people who live with mental illnesses experience, including but not limited to depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
BEST NEW PUBLIC ART: ‘Where Inspiration and Strength Blooms’ by Sam Guzzie, Owl, and Kalin Renée Devone
The arrival of this beautiful 80-foot-high mural along the Rail Trail at the Convention Center in the summer came with a bittersweet message from perennial Best in the Nest Winner Sam Guzzie, who worked on the mural alongside fellow local artists Kalin Renée Devone and Owl. In an Instagram post titled “An ode to murals: The death of a profession.” Guzzie revealed that she would be leaving the medium due to health complications related to her fibromyalgia diagnosis five years previous.
In the heartfelt post, Guzzie voiced her love for the practice.
“Not only did I thrive on the challenge of large scale painting, but I saw repeatedly, the positive impact on individuals, community and cities alike. And particular in healing grief and loss, collective heartache. Murals have the power to inspire beauty in the mundane, offering the spark to ignite the endless possibilities of growth within our everyday,” she wrote.
“My excitement for murals and public installation, and my belief in their large scale healing potential, is genuine, to the core of my being. My eyes honestly light up over that shit. Public art is part of my identity, not just what I’ve done for work. It’s how I think, it’s the medium through which I first saw humanity outside of myself. And yet thoroughly an aspect of self.”
Though we’ve sadly lost Guzzie as a muralist, we’ve seen her create beautiful works in a number of other mediums over the years and are intrigued to see where her mind will take her and the Charlotte arts scene next.
BEST NEW PUBLIC ART AS PART OF GOVERNMENT PROJECT: Excelsior by Stacy Utley, Edwin Harris
Charlotte artist Stacy Utley and Durham-based architecture firm Evoke founder Edwin Harris technically unveiled their latest public installations in summer 2021, but since the long-awaited 5 Points Plaza in west Charlotte didn’t officially open until spring 2022, we’re counting it as a new project this year.
Collectively known as Excelsior, the project is named after the historic Excelsior Club, a longtime center of Black social and political life in Charlotte. Individually, the artworks are titled “Ever Upward” and “Even Higher,” the Latin definitions of excelsior.
“Ever Upward” is a cluster of folded laser-cut metal panels found at various points on West Trade Street on the southwest side of I-77. The four 7-foot abstract forms represent “‘the walk upward’ that Dorothy Counts made to integrate public schools in Charlotte, ‘the charge upward’ that every student that passes through the arch of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) takes, ‘the road upward’ that is Trade Street from ‘Uptown’ to the highest point, which is Biddle Hall and the ‘the prayers upward’ as we continue this journey,” Utley said in his artist statement.
“Ever Higher” is a sculpted piece consisting of three metal panels that include images significant to the Historic West End and the Five Points area. One panel features a reflective finish where the viewers can see themselves reflected in the artwork. Combined, its panels form a torch that is illuminated at night by LED spotlights.
It includes images of Dorothy Counts Scoggins, who was one of the first Black students to integrate public schools in Mecklenburg County; signage from the Excelsior Club; and JCSU’s Biddle Hall.
BEST FOLLOW THROUGH: Independent Picture House
It all began as a dream, shared by many but articulated by two men. In spring 2020, Brad Ritter and fellow cinephile Jay Morong set out to open Charlotte’s very own community movie theater in the wake of the Manor Twin closure.
Due to delays related to the supply chain, the Independent Picture House’s proposed summer 2021 opening was repeatedly pushed back, but Charlotte Film Society Board President and IPH Executive Director Ritter; and Morong, a senior lecturer in theater and film at UNC Charlotte and the program director for the CFS, remained undeterred.
While construction pressed forward, they concentrated on fundraising and fostering community support. On June 24, the Independent Picture House, Charlotte’s first ever nonprofit community cinema, opened with three screens, a lavishly appointed main theater, a cozy-cool micro-cinema, and something in between for the Goldilocks viewers.
The picture house has garnered over 750 new members and counting, and it has reached its capital campaign goal of raising $750,000. Charlotte is the real beneficiary here, getting screenings of Oscar-tipped fare like TÁR, the immersive David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream, a program of locally produced Halloween-themed horror movies and much more.
BEST PHOTOGRAPHER: Kevin “Surf” Mitchell
Kevin “Surf” Mitchell is an accomplished photographer who graduated from Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte. You may have seen Surf’s work on MTV, BET, iTunes, or other mainstream media channels. Despite all his endeavors, Surf calls Charlotte home and continues to support his community.
Surf’s latest project, the Couch Surfing Expedition, spanned over eight years. The premise of the expedition consists of typically 10-15 creative collaborators who travel to a destination to set up for a photo that depicts Surf’s wife Kaylin Little sleeping in a onesie pajama on a loveseat-sized couch. The set-up and breakdown of the set has to be done quickly due to location choices like a busy street or a very public area.
“It really represents the risk that artists take and the struggles that they go through to get to wherever they want to go. Every great success story starts with a couch. The couch is the representation of the start of the journey,” Surf told Queen City Nerve in July.
BEST ARTISTIC FASHION STATEMENT: Bonito’s Hats
Behind Bonitos Hats is Dreamer Jorge Gonzalez, who started making and selling painted hats in the style he remembered from his childhood in Mexico as a way to feel more connected to his family and culture. Now his hats are in pop-ups and markets in Charlotte, Asheville, Charleston, Raleigh, Durham and Winston-Salem, and shipping online to customers all over the world.
Bonitos Hats are made in Mexico by Gonzalez’s cousin before they’re shipped to Charlotte, where Gonzalez and his husband, Trey, paint them with traditional Mexican and Aztec patterns — butterflies, flowers, birds, cacti, feathers, snakes and custom designs. While some are more popular than others, no two hats are exactly alike.
Jute and canvas hats are sealed with a clear acrylic polyurethane cover, which prevents fading smearing and makes them water-resistant and UV ray-protected. Some folks hang them on their walls, but they are truly wearable pieces of art.
MOST EXCITING ARTS DEVELOPMENT/OPENING: Archive CLT
After her mother passed away, Cheryse Terry found consolation in collecting Black memorabilia from eras that impacted her mother’s life. That collection eventually led her to opening Archive CLT book cafe at the corner of Beatties Ford Road and Lasalle Street in August.
A west Charlotte native, Terry’s mission at Archive is dedicated to preserving the history of Black culture.
It is a Black-owned, Black-centered vintage enthusiast cafe that has items ranging from HBCU yearbooks to rare publications to vintage inspired posters. Famous XXL and Ebony magazine covers adorn the shelves next to works from Audre Lord and James Baldwin.
The book cafe also displays art from Black creatives in Charlotte and offers an array of beverage choices from ethically sourced coffee to curated mixed drinks. We suggest the Foxy Brown iced latte, which by itself is worthy of a mention in the Food & Drink section. Stop in for some chill time or to attend any of the array of events hosted at Archive, including coffee tastings, monthly book clubs, wellness events and community engagement.
BEST ARTS BOOK: ‘Behind the Ink’ by Creating Exposure Through the Arts
Behind The Ink is a years-long tattoo photography project from local arts organization Creating Exposure Through the Arts (C.E.A.) that showcases impactful images and a short film documentary of people from various races, cultures, ethnicity and age groups that will tell stories behind their tattoos. Though officially released in April 2021, C.E.A. was finally able to celebrate the book release in December of that year, which is how it got our attention.
Through a series of photo workshops, a collective of teen students, former students and instructors explored similarities among various identity groups with a focus on diversity and inclusion when sharing dialogue around differences.
The book is a 32-page photo coffee-table book featuring portraits and stories from many Charlotte folks, including tattoo artists like Crystana “Dutchess” Lattimore, a Charlotte Latin grad and former star of VH1’s Black Ink Crew who played a major role in the Behind the Ink Project; photographer Justin “UncleJut” McErlian; rapper Deniro Farrar; former Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis; and others.
BEST FICTION BOOK: ‘Poster Girls’ by Meredith Ritchie
Meredith Ritchie’s debut novel follows the story of two women living and working in Charlotte during World War II, delving into a largely forgotten part of Charlotte’s history. Ritchie’s two protagonist Charlotte transplants — Kora, a Black woman from Alabama; and Maggie, a white woman from Boston — take jobs at the Shell Assembly Plant, a massive naval munitions assembly factory that employed one in 10 Charlotteans during WWII.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Ritchie wanted to acknowledge white guilt and white savior complexes. She reflects on a time when men weren’t around and corporations were forced into a situation that proved how gender and racial equality is attainable — if only it were desired by those in power.
“It’s a labor shortage – plain and simple, an economic labor shortage. [Poster Girls] lifted the curtain on this really brief two-and-a-half-year period of equitable history in Charlotte,” she told Queen City Nerve upon the book’s release in early 2022. “Like, they got paid the same, they rode the same buses together, they got along well, and then they were literally fired the day the Japanese surrendered and the tree snapped back, and they were all told to go home and be exactly as it was. But it worked for those two-and-a-half years.”
BEST POETRY BOOK: ‘The Other Woman’ by Rosebud Turner
Rosebud Turner has been a Charlotte resident for over 40 years. It has been the home where she started her career in education and raised her children. Due to diabetic complications, Rosebud lost her sight in her late fifties.The Other Woman serves as a poetic memoir of the emotional journey of a woman who puts others’ needs before her own. She feels as though she is “the other woman” to her husband, her children, and even to herself. The detrimental selflessness had caused her to lose her true self. It’s not until she loses her eyesight that she fully gives herself the authority and permission to be who she’s always been: strong, insightful, creative, and resilient.
The story allowed readers to connect with the poems through personal reflections on their own life experiences.
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK: ‘All the Places We Call Home’ by Patrice Gopo
In her 2018 collection of short stories for adults titled All the Colors We Will See, Charlotte-based author Patrice Gopo explored how the reality of being different affected her quest to belong. Inspired by her own upbringing as a Black child of Jamaican immigrants living in Anchorage, Alaska, Gopo expanded on these themes in a way that children could relate to in hopes of reaching kids who are going through similar experiences that she once did.
In All the Places We Call Home, a child requests bedtime stories based on her multilayered heritage: from South Africa to Jamaica to Zimbabwe to her current home in the United States. This beautiful book creates a stirring portrait of a child’s deep ties to cultures and communities beyond where she lays her head to sleep — something many children can relate to.
BEST ARTS WORKSHOP: We Rock Charlotte, Amplify!
We Rock Charlotte, which rebranded from Girls Rock Charlotte in February in an effort to reflect their increasingly LGBTQ+ clientele and become a more welcoming and inclusive space for trans kids among a wave of hatred from the right, holds year-round Amplify workshops to help build on that mission; it’s not just about welcoming, but lifting up.
Workshops range from writing, practicing and performing music to learning to spray-paint a wall and other ways to use arts to boost the voices of underserved communities, including film, social justice programming, and more.
“There’s so many things that young people carry with them. So much judgment and shame,” workshop leader Elizabeth Palmisano told Queen City Nerve in April. “But when you introduce a creative outlet, they take that thing inside them and kind of pull it out and look at it in a more objective way. They really look at it and not feel judged.”
BEST DANCE PERFORMANCE: Megan Payne & Joy Davis, ‘PLOW’
An original dance performance by Megan Payne and Joy Davis featuring music from Dylan Gilbert at Goodyear Arts in May, PLOW was a hymn to our lived experience of “home,” as well as a celebration and interrogation of Payne’s origins in Central Appalachia. Payne and Davis are two of the most exciting dance artists working in the region.
In his review, Matt Cosper wrote, “Sequences of expansive unison movement and tightly nuanced gestural work explode out of those long stretches of mundane task-based choreography. This tension of opposites forms the backbone of the excavation Payne is performing here, and they serve to shed light on what might be the most interesting formal aspect of PLOW: its complicated relationship with form.
“The piece is choreographed for two performers and so ostensibly speaking it is a duet. But even though there are two performers, does PLOW have two characters? The specter of this question haunts the entire performance. Am I seeing two distinct characters or two versions of the same woman? Two aspects of the same self?”
BEST SPOKEN WORD PERFORMANCE: Kia Flow & Jerm 747, ‘Flow Town’
Part of BOOM Charlotte’s return to in-person festivities at Camp North End in April, husband-and-wife team Kia Flow and Jerm 747 showcased their respective strengths as spoken-word performer and musician/producer with “Flow Town,” the story of an artist “who has elaborate visions of her grand performance someday with thousands of people in the audience cheering her name.
While she “still has a 9-to-5, is a full-time student and is still trying to figure this thing called life … she enjoys creating and has enlisted the help of her companion in her latest endeavor.”
A semi-autobiographical account — Kia met Jerm at an open mic in 2015 and has collaborated with him artistically since — the tale is a relevant one in the era of grind culture and gig jobs.
BEST LOCAL THEATRE PRODUCTION: ‘The Maids,’ XOXO
Under the direction of company founder Matt Cosper, experimental theatre troupe XOXO has delved into darkness, madness and playtime. In the wake of the troupe’s occult woodland trek Bohemian Grove, psychedelic Zen western All the Dogs and Horses and post-apocalyptic fever dream #Cake (Year Zero), it should be no surprise that Cosper and company grab Jean Genet’s absurdist masterwork The Maids by the scruff of its neck and bend the play to their will.
As the two sisters/servants who roleplay as imperious mistress and groveling lackey, Kadey Ballard and Kate McCracken are by turns capricious, vulnerable and frightening. When Jennifer Adams swans in as the real Madame, her disdain comes across as clueless disregard — like Elon Musk’s prepubescent snark toward victims of violence.
Nothing, however, can prepare an audience for Cosper’s lurid reconfiguration of Genet’s climax, a ghostly, demonic ritual where no one is in control — a peek into the well of tortured souls.
BEST COMEDIC THEATRE PRODUCTION: ‘She Kills Monsters,’ Charlotte’s Off-Broadway
The spring co-production of She Kills Monsters from Charlotte’s Off-Broadway and Women-In-Plays, directed by Sheri Marvin, was plenty of fun, much louder than it was fearsome. Yet there was a serious side to Agnes Evans’ quest for the Lost Soul of Athens in the fantasy realm of New Landia. Wresting the stolen Lost Soul from the fearsome five-headed Tiamat isn’t truly the crux of Agnes’s quest (nor was it stolen, precisely, for we’re back in 1995, when demon overlord Orcus actually traded the soul for a neat TV/VCR combo).
If you can manage to take so much silliness seriously, you might descry a distinct vein of feminism in Marvin’s directing, for the men, when not merely annoying, consistently deliver their villainous vaunts at high volume. Kudos, then, to Nyugen as well for upending this traditionally masculine world of geekery.
BEST STUDENT THEATRE PRODUCTION: ‘Diary of Anne Frank,’ CPCC
Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. somehow turned famed 13-year-old Dutch immigrant Anne Frank into a talking point in January, comparing rules enforcing COVID vaccinations to the tyranny of Hitler’s Germany. Fast forward to the end of the year and we’ve seen a wave of anti-Semitism bubble up from under the surface where it has always existed. Safe to say 2022 was a ripe time for dusting off and re-examining The Diary of Anne Frank.
CPCC Theatre director Marilyn Carter brought the 1997 Wendy Kesselman adaptation to life onstage at Halton Theatre in February, where set designer Robert T. Croghan impressively fit four floors. Croghan’s costume design was as impeccable as his set, and Carter’s casting is always spot-on, allowing theatre patrons to get a new view of an old tale that is as relevant now as ever.
BEST TOURING THEATRE PRODUCTION: ‘Hadestown’
Musicals can oftentimes become hackneyed once it becomes apparent that the creators could have just written a play with some adjoining music rather than fit every line of dialogue into song, but the experience at Hadestown was quite the contrary. The jazz Harlem Renaissance-era blues and jazz music, played onstage by a live band that blended well with the cast, made this show feel more like a concert than a play.
Yet still, the actors pulled the audience into the plot, intertwining two mythic tales — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King Hades and his wife Persephone — as it invited us on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Playwright and music director Anaïs Mitchell’s beguiling melodies and stage director Rachel Chavkin’s poetic imagination pit industry against nature, doubt against faith, and fear against love.
BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS: Nasha Shandri
Nasha Shandri stormed the stages of Charlotte this year, putting on no less than three great performances: paying multiple roles in Brand New Sheriff’s run of The Colored Museum in February, as Averie in Three Bone Theatre’s production of Colman Domingo’s Dot in May, and again with Three Bone in August as the titular character in the company’s run of Toni Stone. It was this third rendition of the first woman to sign a professional baseball contract and play with a men’s team that locked her in as Charlotte’s top stage performer of the year.
As our theatre critic Perry Tannenbaum wrote upon catching the play, “Nasha Shandri immerses herself engagingly in all of Toni’s quirks, vulnerabilities, and strengths — candid rather than arrogant, sassy rather than seductive. Above all else, Toni loves baseball — the ball, the glove, the game. Both [playwright Lydia R.] Diamond and Shandri make us believe it.”
BEST STAGE-TO-SCREEN TRANSITION: Lil’ Skritt as Jeremy in ‘Babe Beach’
Locally-made buddy comedy Babe Beach was the first acting gig for Daniel ‘Skritt’ McLemore — best known as Charlotte rapper Lil Skritt — but it didn’t show.
Skritt was a natural in front of the camera in his starring role as Jeremy, a self-appointed sex-crazed maniac obsessed with helping his nerdy friend, Danny, lose his virginity. The two embark on a wild and raucous road trip to Babe Beach, a legendary beach full of women that may or may not even exist.
The independent feature-length film, directed and co-written by Charlotte filmmakers Cagney Larkin and Bobby Canipe Jr., sold out its premiere screening in June at The Independent Picture House in NoDa. In an interview before the premiere, Skritt told Queen City Nerve that his experience rapping and in music videos helped him memorize and perform his lines for Babe Beach.
“To make everybody’s life easier … I’m going to go over [a] scene a thousand times where it’s just like playing off in my head,” he said. “But before this, I had no acting experience, so the jargon and all this other stuff, I mean, I learned a lot while being on set for this movie.”
Skritt added that he caught the acting bug during his experience on Babe Beach, so maybe we’ll see more from him on the big screen soon.