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3 Charlotte artists making an impact in the community

By Grace Cote
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/24/17/19/fvKLP.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Betsy Birkner works in her studio space at the McColl Center for Visual Arts. Her ceramics deal with feminist issues, and the roles in which women are cast by the world.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/24/17/19/suddH.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Photos by JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Photographer Andy McMillan in his studio at the McColl Center for Visual Arts. He considers social justice in explorations of the contemporary American male persona through photographic portraits.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/24/17/19/GDPNl.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Rosalia Torres-Weiner in her colorful studio space at the McColl Center for Visual Arts. From the McColl Center website, "Rosalia Torres-Weiner is an artist/activist who draws on her Mexican heritage to address persistent issues faced by immigrant populations."
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/24/17/19/ATuN7.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Betsy Birkner with her work, "I should be happy", in ceramic, silver leaf, and encaustic wax. Described on the McColl Center website, "Through her work, she exploits elements of fashion as vehicle for self-expression and concealment. Her creations are the embodiment of protection and power as evidenced in a series of fantastical coats of armor inspired by deities, royalty, and pop culture icons."
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/24/17/19/bqJ7H.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    A frame from Rosalia Torres-Weiner's story, "El Papalote Magico", "The Magic Kite", which tells the tale of an immigration.

More Information

  • Full Slideshow
  • Reaching out

    The McColl Center for Art + Innovation will underscore craft, social justice and international by launching affinity groups assigned to its spheres of impact. Community leaders will be invited to participate, and President Suzanne Fetscher hopes they will deepen conversations and identify opportunities.

    This traces to McColl’s rebranding – its new name (it was McColl Center for Visual Art) and new mission statement. Previously, it was “Advancing artists, community and the creation of contemporary art through residencies, exhibitions, outreach and education.”

    Now it is “McColl Center for Art + Innovation empowers artists to advance community through the creative process.”

    See the art and artists: The center, 721 N. Tryon St., is open 3-9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays.

    Details: mccollcenter.org; 704-332-5535.



The McColl Center for Art + Innovation’s eight current artists all are being pushed to address social issues through their work this summer. Three of them are just being pushed a little bit harder.

Since last year, every artist has been expected to provide content related to one of 10 “spheres of impact”: environment, craft, education, business innovation, beauty, design and architecture, technology, international, social justice and health.

But now that the program is moving out of its infancy, the McColl has focused on enhancing spheres that have been less prominent – craft, social justice and international – and their stewards are Charlotte artists Betsy Birkner, Andy McMillan and Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Betsy Birkner Craft

The Windgate artist-in-residence’s work deals with feminist issues; her ceramic breastplates are metaphors for the barriers women place between themselves and society, decorated to display a facet of the cultural pressures they face, such as body image, motherhood.

McColl President Suzanne Fetscher says Birkner and future craft-focused artists will be “challenging traditional notions of craft by asking what the materials can do or what craft is even about.” Birkner proves this by taking a functional material and using it to question cultural norms.

While refining process and experimenting with techniques, color and application of textiles and found objects, Birkner is enthused by the communal nature of the center, saying it is “a fantastic opportunity to share ideas and techniques in art processes and possible collaboration.”

Birkner also is leading an outreach project called Gratisphere, which encourages individuals to express gratitude through printed cards and social media.

Andy McMillan Social justice

The affiliate artist considers his sphere through photographic portraits that explore the contemporary American male persona. He puts ads on Craigslist seeking ordinary adult males to stand before his lens; these images often end up looking like stills from movies.

During his summer residency at the McColl, McMillan “will focus on a new series that will draw from the tradition of the human figure as depicted in the Southern landscape.”

Although his attention will be on producing art rather than an outreach initiative, he will not leave the residency with a completed body of work. However, he hopes to “get past the early stages of the project to the point where a concrete language has formed,” allowing “the existing pictures to point the way toward the work’s completion.”

Rosalia Torres-Weiner International, social justice

The affiliate artist – one of several Latinos who will serve the international sphere over the next year and a half – seeks to bring voices to children affected by immigration through paintings, murals and collages.

She is working on illustrations for a fictional book titled “The Magic Kite,” about a boy whose father is deported. She also will advance her Papalote Project, a series of art workshops that help local children share their stories of how they have been affected by the deportation of a relative.

“I am trying to serve my Latino community as a bridge to the arts,” Torres-Weiner says. She hopes to “open up new pathways to culture in the city that we now call home.”

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation.
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