Crowds enjoy day of free art

Sitting in the afternoon sun and snacking on bagged lunches, Phyllis Tydings and three members of her Girl Scout troop took a quick break from museum hopping Saturday in Charlotte.

Already, Tydings and her Concord Girl Scouts had ridden a stage coach and visited Discovery Place. Still on the list were a stop at the Mint Museum Uptown and a scavenger hunt at the newly opened Wells Fargo History Museum.

"I think it's a real good experience for the girls to see some of the things they wouldn't be able to afford otherwise," Tydings said.

Thousands flocked to uptown Charlotte on Saturday for the Wells Fargo community celebration.

The daylong festival closed part of Tryon Street to make room for dancers, singers, and food and art vendors. It also gave visitors free admission to all of the area's museums, including the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the McColl Center for Visual Art and the Mint.

Wells Fargo, which recently completed its sign conversion for its bank branches from Wachovia, footed the admissions bill.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for people from all over Charlotte to come here and celebrate," said Jay Everette, spokesman for the bank. "Hopefully they will be able to come back and enjoy (the museums) in the future."

Bill Underwood spent part of the day at the Mint with his wife and their friends from out of town. They might have come to the museum anyway, but the surrounding festivities and free admission made the decision easy, Underwood said.

Apparently others agreed. People of all ages and races strolled by the museum's third-floor benches, where Underwood sat.

"Just watch the collage of people that walk by," said Underwood, 74. "I think it's been very successful."

Down Tryon Street, in the Wells Fargo museum, onlookers took a peek into early American banking.

Across the room from banking artifacts such as clunky adding machines and a treasure chest rocked a red stage coach. Inside sat Brett and Tiffany Zabek's three children: Noah, 2, and twins Alexis and Siena, 6.

The family had driven from Cornelius to attend the celebration, which ran from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Brett Zabek said it was a perfect reason to visit uptown's museums.

"When something like this comes along, it's really nice," said Brett Zabek, adding that he'd like to visit the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, "but that might not be possible with the three (children)."

Wells Fargo joined with Charlotte Center City Partners and the Arts & Science Council to put on the celebration.

Krista Terrell, spokeswoman for the council, said the group had planned the event for nearly a year.

She said a goal was to open Charlotte's arts and culture scene to those who didn't have a chance to visit it before or to those who never knew it existed.

"You don't realize that all this is here," Terrell said.

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