They’re everywhere amid Charlotte’s tangle of traffic, construction and development, an exploding population of innovators, artists and neighbors are forging connections deeper than mere infrastructure, as local residents harness their creativity to create stronger, healthier and happier communities.
It can be seen at an Afro-Caribbean garden that grows traditional medicinal plants, a mobile maker space that brings creative programming to all ages or a pop-up market that sells fresh food at a bus stop. It’s shared through a community storytelling project that encourages people to share their truth.
At the root of this creative revolution is a nationwide nonprofit, the League of Creative Interventionists, and executive director Jonell Logan says there’s only more growth to come. The League started in San Francisco and is always expanding — an eighth chapter recently started in Charleston, with a ninth pending in Denver, Colorado — but Logan’s primary focus for the near future is on the Queen City.
The organization identifies people working on projects that can benefit communities throughout the city, Logan says, then encourages those individuals to apply for fellowships made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which can provide them with the funds, mentoring and peer support that can make their work succeed.
“Our organization believes that people in communities can solve or find solutions to some of their challenges using creativity,” says Logan, who became executive director of LoCI last year.
The organization recently announced this year’s class of Creative Interventionist fellows, Charlotteans Alex Alcorn, Hannah Hasan and Brandon Ruiz.
On Oct. 13, the organization is hosting Gathering and Giving: Charlotte LoCI Family Dinner, a cocktail reception and welcome supper for the trio of fellows at Camp North End. As a ticketed event, the dinner is an outlier for LoCI. Practically everything else they do, from inception to implementation, is free to attend or take part in.
In addition to the projects proposed and shepherded by current fellows, the League hosts bi-monthly community meetings where people come together to converse with fellows and each other about what is happening in their communities.
Those meetings help shape the League’s interventions, pop-ups that take place in a growing number of neighborhoods around the city that address the ideas and concerns that have come from residents on the ground, Logan says. She recalls that, in one neighborhood, food access was a key concern of residents, so LoCI put together an intervention: a pop-up grocery market at the bus stop. Another intervention included a bus stop party.
“We wanted to engage people to take public transportation, to get them to think differently about it, so these random pop-up people came out and had a party [with] a disco ball,” Logan says. “Sometimes [interventions] are serious, sometimes they’re silly.”
The one concept connecting this medley of projects and pop-ups is community, Logan says. In vetting applicants for fellowships, a written application laying out the specifics of their plan is important, she maintains, but a philosophy about community that matches the League’s is just as vital.
“For some folks community is something that is separate from them,” Logan explains, “but we’re interested in supporting the work of people who are deeply rooted and invested in the idea of empowering people, versus the idea of coming in and bestowing gifts upon people.”
To that extent, the 2019 fellows are entwined in the neighborhoods they hope to serve, and not a set of saviors helicoptering in with preconceived solutions.
With the Charlotte Herbal Accessibility Project Community Garden, for example, 2019 fellow Brandon Ruiz cultivates Afro-Caribbean urban gardens on Tuckaseegee Road and East 36th Street.Through the fellowship, Ruiz says he hopes to expand and develop a third location in the Lakeview area of north Charlotte.
Ruiz’s plots are home to plants from the Caribbean as well as other parts of Latin America, with his focus on herbs and vegetation traditionally used in natural remedies. The plan is to provide surrounding communities with an herbal pharmacy — preventative alternative care that is less costly and often more proactive than standard Western medicine.
The fellows do not work completely independently, Logan says. The League urges each fellow to build a community of peers who can be resources for each other, and in some cases mentors. To that end, Ruiz is partnering with alumni fellow and current LoCI Charlotte Chapter project lead Quintel Gwinn on the Lakeview project.
“Quinn [discovered] some planting beds that have not been activated for a while, so [Ruiz] can work with her [in] activating that space,” Logan says.
Prior to approaching LoCI, Hannah Hasan made her mark with Muddy Turtle Talks, a storytelling series that captures and preserves the stories of people living in west Charlotte neighborhoods like Enderly Park before gentrification and development obliterate the character and culture of those communities.
“I think I caught the League’s attention [with] this process of going into a community that is rich in history but is also lacking visibility, and [celebrating] the stories of the people and places within that community,” Hasan says.
Hasan came to LoCI with a proposal that is a variation on Muddy Turtle, which is a translation of the Native-American word that served as the namesake for Tuckaseegee Road. The new story series is immersed in a different community, Lakewood, with the understanding that it will diverge from the focus and structure of Muddy Turtle Talks.
LoCI organizers were excited about the concept, the gathering of stories to be spoken and shared in community space, Hasan says.
For her part, says she believes the LoCI fellowship will prove invaluable.
“As an independent artist it’s important to have the name, support and energy or organizations like the league behind you,” Hasan says. “It gives credence to the fact that you’re someone who knows what you’re doing, and that they believe in you.”
Local arts activist and creative Alex Alcorn says that, while supporting the projects of her co-fellows, she’ll be working on a mobile maker space that will bring creative programming to Lakeview, as well as east Charlotte communities. At this point, the pop-up mobile arts lab is a rented truck, Logan says.
She explains the philosophy underlying the pop-up mobile arts lab, which at this point is simply a rented truck: “If people are creative, but don’t have access to materials, they’re often left out. How does making those materials available in underserved areas change the creative dynamic?” Logan wonders.
“The goals of this project are to bring arts programming to underserved communities, and to explore creative ways to upcycle materials to reduce the amount of reusable resources that are currently going into our waste streams,” Alcorn adds.
She says LoCI is providing her with an abundance of resources, citing mentorship, project funding and connections to a network of other creative interventionists with whom she can share best practices.
Logan is no stranger to promoting and disseminating the arts. A native New Yorker, she realized she wanted to work in the arts after interning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Her passion led to gigs at MoMA, the Whitney Museum in Manhattan and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Upon moving to Charlotte in 2013, she worked at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture before leaving to start her own consulting company, the 300 Arts Project, which helps cultural organizations become more inclusive while partnering with contemporary artists.
Logan says she’s excited about her work with the League because she is supporting artists and engaging the community while drawing on her experience with traditional arts organizations and nonprofits.
“[LoCI is] a dynamic, growing and strategic organization that can make an impact and be a champion for creatives,” Logan says. “As a scrappy organization we’re able to take chances in a way that more traditional organizations cannot,” Logan maintains. “It’s a blessing to be able to think about taking risks, [and] to learn from them.”