Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Long Live the Arts, However They’re Funded
Looking forward

By Ryan Pitkin

November 5, 2019

Today’s the day when we’ll find out about the arts tax. At this point, I’m not going to bang you over the head with more coverage of a tax that’s only got a few hours of voting time left. In the last two weeks, we’ve covered the arts tax with in-depth features, op-eds representing both sides of the argument and a full-fledged debate on our podcast, Nooze Hounds. Consider your head banged.

Despite my own issues with how the entire new sales tax proposal was rolled out, what I never want to lose sight of in the days, months and years following this debate is the importance of arts in our community. I think most people agree on how important the arts are, at least folks read our publication do, but in working on Issue 25, I had yet another experience that hammered home the very tangible impact that arts can have on people’s lives.

For our latest Arts feature story, I wrote about a new dance piece called “Luck of the Young” that a group of 12 UNC Charlotte dance students will perform at the university’s 2019 Fall Dance Concert between Nov. 14-17.

I didn’t know what to expect when I planned to visit the group and their instructor, Audrey Baran, at a recent rehearsal, as I describe in the story that’s hitting racks tomorrow and will be online next week. All I knew was that the concert would include performances based on pop culture, Afro-Brazilian dance, the work of Frida Kahlo and current events, among other things.

In a phone interview before my visit, concert coordinator Gretchen Alterowitz told me about Baran’s piece, which is inspired by the April 30 shooting that took the lives of two of the group’s schoolmates. I went into the story wanting to look at how you put together a dance piece based on “current events” and came out with a whole new perspective on the power of expression.

Students rehearse “Luck of the Young.” (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

After watching the students go through a physically demanding, emotional run-through of the performance, I was able to speak with them in a group. What immediately struck me was how thankful each of the dancers seemed to be for the ability to use their passion to confront trauma that some of them never even knew they had.

One sophomore dancer named Erika Rush told me she wanted me to know just how important the two-plus-month process behind the 14-minute dance routine had been to her healing process.

“I’m very thankful to Audrey and the dancers that we have dance and art as therapy, especially from when the event happened, I didn’t really deal with it, I would say,” Rush told me. “But I’m just thankful that we have this space to let traumatic events be a catalyst for us to overcome different situations. I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”

Leah Adams, a sophomore ballet dancer who said this is her first experience with contemporary dancer, was blown away by the emotional impact of the routine.

“It’s been really interesting to see how intrinsically linked the emotions are to the movement, because all of the movement came from emotions and I’ve never had that before with dance,” Adams said. “It’s always been like codified ballet that’s just passed down through generations, but this is just based on how we felt. This whole thing has been a new experience for me.”

Other dancers, whose quotes you can read in the story, came out and told me they may never have confronted their true feelings about the shooting if not for their experience preparing this piece.

That got me thinking about the other arts stories we’ve had a chance to cover during this first year of Queen City Nerve’s existence: a group of homeless people given a voice through theatre in the StreetSmARTS program, Rosalia Torres-Weiner using an app to tell the story of the immigrants she paints, Joe Kuhlmann at The Evening Muse using his venue to host musicians, poets and comedians discussing mental health at R U OK, CLT?

It may be easy for basic folks to scoff at “the arts” as a scene full of naïve idealists doing hippy-dippy shit with no real impact, but in a banking city like Charlotte where so many people are only concerned with where they’re going to eat and drink, one needs to look closer to see that art is where the heart is.

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