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What to Look For at the Charlotte International Arts Festival

Top picks on your festival itinerary


Charlotte International Arts Festival by Blumenthal Performing Arts logo

The 2023 Charlotte Fall Arts Guide is sponsored by the Charlotte International Arts Festival. CIAF is an annual celebration of imaginative visual and performing arts from the most creative international and local minds. Seventeen days of 150 art installations and 170 free events from Sept. 15-Oct. 1.

The second annual Charlotte International Arts Festival kicks off on Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 8. With more than 200 attractions packed into those three weeks, it can be overwhelming to try to plan for what to catch.

We’ve picked out a handful of art installations, concerts, and interactive attractions to check for during this year’s festival. You can learn more about the many attractions at the festival website.

Art Installations

A photo of a child standing on top of a lit platform with people in the background taking photos of the colorful lights illuminating the dark field.
Aqueous. (Photo by Morgan Sasser)

Location: Ballantyne’s Backyard

Built by Brooklyn-based artist Jen Lewin, Aqueous is a sequence of interactive LED platforms that form trails of light. During the day, the sculpture shifts in color and reflection, mirroring the sky, while at night it glows in full illuminated interactivity.

Inspired by the symmetry in natural systems, Aqueous is one of the first pattern-based sculptures built at this scale. Composed of hundreds of interactive modular platforms derived from the Golden Ratio, the sculpture can be installed in multiple configurations. Each platform is controlled by code written by Lewin, allowing them to sense human interaction individually but also to link to each other to form interconnected pathways of light effects.

Location: Founders Hall

Named Best Public Art by a Visiting Artist in our 2021 Best in the Nest issue when it popped up in Founders Hall as part of that year’s Charlotte SHOUT!, Gaia returns as part of this year’s Charlotte International Arts Festival.

‘Gaia’ by Luke Jerram (Photo by Rebecca Bereiter)

Created by renowned British installation artist Luke Jerram, the huge floating globe was meant to allow viewers to see Earth as it appears from the moon while serving as a reminder of the need to protect our planet. Measuring 7 meters in diameter, the installation was created from 120 DPI detailed imagery of the Earth’s surface shot by NASA.

Sky of Bubbles
Location: Levine Avenue of the Arts

The Sky of Bubbles is part of Atelier Sisu’s Ephemeral Collection. Ephemera is an adjective, meaning the quality of being fleeting or vanishing quickly; impermanence. The installation is an immersive, light and sound temporary environment that aims to capture the concept of ephemerality and transience in visual form: the bubble.

The artwork was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, when the world stopped and everything we took for granted started to disappear. Atelier Sisu endeavored to communicate this feeling of transient beauty, and the need to live in the moment through the idea of the bubble.


Ruthie Foster
Location: Booth Playhouse

Sept. 15, 8 p.m.; $29.50 and up

Ruthie Foster’s ninth studio album represents a new high water mark for the veteran blues artist — a collection of songs possessing pure power, like a tidal wave of musical generosity. Healing Time finds Foster pushing her boundaries as a singer and songwriter more than ever before, creating a truly live-sounding atmosphere with the help of her band, who sound refreshingly loose and lived-in throughout these 12 songs.

Kim Milan
Location: Levine Avenue of the Arts

Sept. 16 & 30, 2 p.m.; Free

Enjoy the angelic frequencies of sound, instrumented by Kim Milan. There is a place between thought and action where we can find our center, harmony. Kim Milan channels this calm through vocal toning and song while accompanied by various sound-healing instruments.

A photo of Fela! The Concert's performers in colorful clothing and holding hands.
Duain Richmond & Dancers – Fela! The Concert. (Photo by Aric Thompson)

FELA! The Concert
Location: Ballantyne’s Backyard

Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; $50 and up

Full of energy and in constant motion, Fela! The Concert radiates joy through the sensual, eclectic sounds and powerful lyrics of Fela Kuti, the founding father of Afrobeat, proving why he became one of the world’s most celebrated music legends. Set against a soaring canvas of projected images, Fela! The Concert is driven by the electrifying rhythms from a live Afrobeat band, with singers and dancers who bring to life Fela’s provocative spirit.

Interactive Attractions

Charlotte Chess Center
Levine Avenue of the Arts

Sept. 15, 4:30 p.m.; Sept. 23, noon; Sept. 23, 4 p.m.; Sept. 29, 4:30 p.m.; Free

Grab a drink and join Charlotte Chess Center at the Oktoberfest Biergarten to play chess and learn from the professionals. Chess boards will be provided and chess coaches will be onsite to provide guidance and competition.

Ballantyne’s Backyard

Dates & times vary; Free

Huge illuminated animals rove the streets. These flying animals are operated by mysterious men. We, humans, are unnoticed by these creatures. Are they living in another dimension and what is their reason to invade our streets?

A photo of a person dressed in all-white holding a large bird puppet on top of their shoulders and walking on stilts with other interactive installations in the background.
Birdmen. (Photo courtesy of CIAF)

Gazillion Bubble Show
Location: Knight Theater

Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 16, 11 a.m.; Sept. 16, 2 p.m.; $29.50 and up

Behold the enchanting world of silly, soapy fun from world-famous bubble artist Deni Yang. Come watch mesmerizing bubbles dance to the rhythm of high-energy lights, lasers, and music and you immerse yourself in this magical bubble wonderland, promising fun for all ages.

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