June 3, 2012

Charlotte museums planning special exhibits for DNC visitors

As soon as the delegates and political operatives hit town in September, many will start passing through uptown’s cultural venues for social events and other functions.

Charlotte’s cultural groups will share in the action during the Democratic National Convention.

As soon as the delegates and political operatives hit town in September, many will start passing through uptown’s cultural venues for social events and other functions. During the official welcoming parties Sept. 2, for instance, delegates by the hundreds will converge on the Mint Museum Uptown, Levine Museum of the New South and Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

Those and other groups hope to lure the guests into the galleries and theaters to look and listen – and gain a new impression of Charlotte. The museums are tailoring exhibitions to the visitors.

Madeleine Albright’s jewelry will show how fashion statements can be political statements. Centuries worth of artifacts will illustrate African-Americans’ place in U.S. history and culture. A show spotlighting a prominent Swiss sculptor will show Charlotte’s cultural scene striving for the world stage.

A side effect: The convention events and security restrictions are likely to crimp the hours when the groups can open to the nonconvention public. But the exhibitors hope to limit the disruption.

“It’s sort of our civic duty to open our doors for the visitors to show off Charlotte,” Levine Museum President Emily Zimmern said.

Will museums stay open?

There will probably be side effects on when the museums will open to the nonconvention public. Bookings for the DNC may tie them up.

Convention organizers have dibs on the Mint Museum Uptown for the convention week and a couple of days on either side of it, but “we’ve made it clear that we would like to remain open if possible,” Mint communications director Hillary Cooper said.

Scheduling will be the main factor, but there’s another: street closings or other security clampdowns, especially for arts facilities near the convention sites, could push them to limit hours.

“We don’t know what level of restrictions we’re going to have,” Zimmern said. “We will almost certainly be closed some of the time if not all the time.”

Renting their facilities – for events from weddings to nonprofit meetings – is part of how cultural groups bring in money. With the convention, Zimmern said, the rent paid by organizers could exceed what the groups give up in admissions. The Levine Museum “budgeted conservatively,” she said, and projected an extra $15,000 from DNC events.

“Our hope is that it will be much more,” she added. Regardless, “we’ll certainly not lose revenue. We’re not doing it for free, and we don’t expect to take a hit.”

The festivities could pay off for the Mint even after the convention is gone, Executive Director Kathleen Jameson said. The museum has gotten event planners’ attention, she said, and the pace of inquiries about 2013 has picked up. Because of unknowns about costs related to the events, Jameson wouldn’t predict how much the museum might make from the DNC.

The cultural groups expect scheduling and security issues to settle out by early summer. Then they’ll be able to set their hours they’ll be open to the public.

Special exhibitions

The exhibitions the groups are planning will run for weeks outside the convention dates, so Charlotteans will still be able to see everything the conventioneers do.

The Mint will showcase Albright’s jewelry at the same time as works by Thornton Dial, an artist who is “trying to figure out what it means to be an American, a Southerner and African-American Southerner,” Jameson said. Both shows spotlight “how art can be used to express who we are as a people.”

As another perspective on the nation, the Gantt Center will host “America I Am,” which includes 200 artifacts illustrating African-Americans’ place in the country’s history and culture. The show, spearheaded by broadcaster Tavis Smiley, includes items connected to Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and many others.

“By telling the stories of the events of the past,” Smiley said in a statement, “we can help the leaders of the future set the stage for active participation in the democratic process for years to come.”

Looking beyond the United States, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art will spotlight Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who made headlines when a work of his fetched more than $100 million at auction.

The convention week isn’t the only time there will be an influx of visitors, said Tom Gabbard, president of Blumenthal Performing Arts. Cultural groups can aim at the advance crews. So Blumenthal hopes to schedule performances during the preceding weeks. Blumenthal is trying to schedule performers such as comedians Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, Gabbard said, but plans are not set.

“We’re going to have a lot of people around here in the weeks before (the convention),” Gabbard said. “So we intend to have some entertainment options for them.”

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