Those who don’t go beyond the first floor of the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte might just think it’s a gallery. But the top floors hold the real machinery of the organization - the artist-in-residence studios.
The Center, one of the nation’s top-rated residency programs, provides artists with studio space, art materials, a stipend, and housing for its residents that are increasingly moving out of the studio and into the community.
Residents at the McColl Center have quite a selection of tools to play with. There’s a ceramics studio, digital media lab, dark room, printmaking studios.
Matthew Steele spent most of his time in his residency last year in the woodworking shop. He creates structures that echo industrial projects. They range from pieces you can hold in your hand, to Hand of Ghost, an 8 foot long bridge made of thin slices of wood held together with tiny nails.
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He applied to the residency because he thought it would help get him into grad school, but his plans changed a couple of months into his residency.
“The more I thought about it,” Steele says, “ If I could stick around I would be meeting as many artists every quarter that I would meet in grad school.”
What he was looking for out of grad school, he found in the McColl Center.
“It’s such a great place to foster ideas and meet people that are doing things that are weirder than you are,” he says. “And just get inspired every day and work with them and help them and let them help you.”
Matthew landed a job with the McColl. By day he runs the media lab, and by night he’s back in the McColl’s woodworking shop.
The McColl Center for Visual Art has nine studios. Artists in residence receive studio space, funding for art materials, and a stipend, usually about $3,300 over three months. Artists from outside the area get housing across the street from the center.
And the projects they produce aren’t meant to just hang on the wall; their art moves into the community.
“We are shifting the direction or focus in the kinds of artists we invite to be in residence” says McColl Center President Suzanne Fetscher.
“We’re starting to invite artists that have a more community based practice and that means artists who are addressing issues that are really relevant to 21st century cities.”
The issues include health, the environment , social justice, education, business innovation, international, technology and science, craft, and beauty.
For example, one artist used natural materials to build an outdoor art installation that also manages urban runoff. Another Artist in Residence from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools developed lesson plans to be used in CMS arts curriculum.
As for what residents do after their residencies, it varies as much as their art. Some have gotten contracts with galleries while others have moved on to other residencies.
And then there’s Matthew.
“The proof is in the paint because I’m here,” he says. “So like the McColl center got an artist to stick and they’ve brought in a lot of people, so it’s a magnet in that sense. Like yes, people are here for three months and maybe something they make will stick around or a project will stick around. But sometimes they stick around and that’s what grows art in a community.”