Behind a stark table with only her vanilla-colored laptop opened in front of her, Crista Cammaroto sits tucked into the far corner of the Progressive Eye gallery alone with her thoughts. As UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture’s newly established director of galleries, Cammaroto toggles back and forth on her PC, multiplexing on numerous projects she is juggling, all part of her day’s work in overseeing the new Center City gallery and the Storrs gallery on the university’s main campus.
While new to her role at UNCC, Cammaroto has been a fixture on the Charlotte arts scene for many years as a prolific interdisciplinary artist whose work is in the permanent collections of the Denver Art Museum and the private collection of Andreas Bechtler.
She plays an active part with the collaborative exhibition group called CORE Visual Art, an organization comprised of former affiliate residents of the McColl Center for Visual Art. Cammaroto’s influence on Charlotte was also felt as artistic director and curator of The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography & Film and with educator roles at both Queens University and Central Piedmont Community College.
Chartered with creating programming that fosters interdisciplinary collaborations and experimentations among faculty and with artists from outside the university, Cammaroto looks to challenge visitor’s notion of what art and design can offer. As she puts it, “I like to break rules, but do so in an eloquent way."
The striking installation over her left shoulder on the gallery’s north wall left little room for doubt that the imagery she is attracted to is bold and makes a statement. Her very first exhibition, “Here’s to Hoping it Rhymes for a Reason,” is a riotous barrage of reds and oranges swirling about and serving as a strong strategic foil to this angular and almost pristine space.
An experimental collaborative work by Charlotte based artists, Antoine Williams and John Hairston Jr., the mural depicts Queen Charlotte as the queen bee surrounded by various worker bees. “The mural shows Queen Charlotte as a Moor, highlighting her tribal roots,” interprets Cammaroto. “The workers can be construed to represent those attracted to education, and the transfer of knowledge by the queen.”
The exhibit was the first in what will be many collaborative works featured at the gallery. "Part of my job is to shine a light on the best of our UNC Charlotte creative intellect by creating a venue that exudes an openness to the community of Charlotte for collaborative 'new work' exhibitions and performances from our own faculty,” says Cammaroto. “This exhibit was an early risk for me to take – it represents one of those magical unions I’m always on the hunt for.”
With the Center City gallery space targeted at showcasing faculty and external creations, Cammaroto looks to the Storrs gallery on campus as a venue that will feature student work and also highlight work that is exemplary of architectural and design techniques that students need to become more fully aware of.
Together with university colleague George Kaperonis, Cammaroto will also serve as steward to the Lona-Frey collection, a historically significant collection of contemporary art. Much of the collection will find a home for exhibition throughout the new Center City building. Its significant holdings include pieces by Robert Motherwell, Robert Mapplethorpe, Julian Schnabel, Jim Dine and Roy Lichtenstein.
As a curator, Cammaroto likes to work with artists who enjoy working in unconstrained ways and think of themselves as problem solvers.
Her second exhibition in the Center City gallery, “Playground,” showcased the work of three university faculty members in a collaborative work of performance art. Fiber artist Mary Tuma together with E.E.Balcos, a dancer and choreographer, and painter, Maja Godlewska, came together to create an installation where the sky “touches” the ground and tricycles climb the walls in playful ways, allowing for viewer projection and interpretation.
According to Tuma, Cammaroto has been a huge influence for the exhibit and shown great flexibility in working with the artists.
“Working with Crista is a lot of fun partly because she too is an artist and understands the creative process,” says Tuma. “We have changed our minds so many times and she just rolls with it, accommodating whatever whims of ours she can.”
Ken Lambla, dean of the UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture, says he doesn’t feel the university could have made a better selection than Cammaroto in taking on the reins of the newly established position.
“Crista has a strong background of both collaborative and interdisciplinary work,” says Lambla. “These were two important characteristics we were looking for. On campus, we’re looking to have the Storrs gallery connect all disciplines and become a showcase for the college. With the Progressive Eye gallery in Center City, we want that space to be a figurative and literal window into the college. Crista is the perfect lightening rod that will spearhead the concept of projecting the best of the best in art and design through our gallery space and in our collaborative work.”
Cammaroto is eager to share her enthusiasm for her new position. “I see my role at the university akin to that of a crane,” Cammaroto says, referring to the oversized construction workhorse. “There is this incredibly strong base of intellectual talent found in our faculty, arts administrators and in the energy of our students. This weighty base allows me a vast reach both locally and wherever I find work that demonstrates the possibilities of what art and design can be.”
She’s already looking ahead to the upcoming Democratic National Convention and foreshadowed thoughts regarding a corresponding exhibit that will evoke questions from its viewers. “It will be provocative and ask questions about what government could, should and will be,” Cammaroto says with a wide smile.
Questions, it seems, are much more fun for Cammaroto than answers.
UNCC College of Arts + Architecture
Center City Building
320 E. Ninth St.
Charlotte, NC 28202
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.