Visual art: Thinking globally, showing locally

When Charlotteans seek out visual art, they often gravitate to the South Tryon cultural district’s glittering museums. But right now, a lot of the excitement is elsewhere.

In 2014-15, look for exhibitions and projects that examine social and environmental issues from a local perspective. And keep an eye on spaces that are new, growing or experiencing a rebirth.

McColl Center for Art + Innovation marks its 15th anniversary with exhibitions that demonstrate its commitment to social justice and environmental awareness.

The season kicks off with “Arctic Utopia” (Sept. 19-Nov. 22), Charlotte-based artist Marek Ranis’ exploration of how climate change affects culture, and continues with “Encuentros/Encounters” (Dec. 6-Jan. 1), featuring Dignicraft, a groundbreaking artisans’ collective and distributor of lead-free ceramics.

During her recent McColl residency, Brooklyn-based filmmaker, writer and artist Alix Lambert worked on “CRIME USA,” her ongoing investigation of the criminal justice system.

Lambert’s exhibition “CRIME USA Charlotte” (Jan. 23-March 21), incorporating film, sculpture and works on paper, will include community collaborations that look at crime through the eyes of perpetrators, victims and others.

KEEPING WATCH, a three-year initiative that began in 2014 with a focus on plastics, continues with KEEPING WATCH on WATER: City of Creeks. It begins with an Oct. 24 TEDxCharlotte presentation, although most events occur in March and April of 2015.

Taking place at UNC Charlotte’s Projective Eye Gallery, Discovery Place and other venues, KEEPING WATCH on WATER combines science, history, art and writing. It will encourage people to understand that they live not only in a neighborhood, but in a creekshed, too – and that whatever they put into a creek affects everyone around them.

New York artist Lauren Rosenthal’s cut paper maps and a project by Pennsylvania-based artist Stacy Levy, which will track an object’s journey from a storm drain to the Catawba River and beyond, are just a few of KEEPING WATCH’s visual art offerings.

When Latin American Contemporary Art Projects opened in March 2013 in the FreeMoreWest neighborhood, it announced an ambitious agenda combining exhibitions, studio space and a cafe.

After a first year of strong exhibitions, LaCa Projects has cleared some construction and permitting hurdles and entered its next phase: It is now reviewing applications for its three artist studios, which will be ready for occupancy in October.

Gallery highlights include an exhibition of new paintings by Cristina Toro (Nov. 6-Dec. 19) and a painting retrospective by Roberto Marquez (Jan. 8-Feb. 20).

One of the newest kids on the block, a rtspace 525 is a friendly, informal spot in a former retail space at 525 N. Tryon St. Since March, it has served as the studio of artist-in-residence Sharon Dowell and the headquarters for Amy Bagwell and Graham Carew’s Wall Poems of Charlotte.

Among its inaugural year exhibitions are “the reflection once removed: self-portraits” (Oct. 23-Nov. 23) featuring work by regional artists, as well as a children’s show and a UNC Charlotte student show.

Things looked grim for The Light Factory last year, when money woes forced it to close operations at Spirit Square. But it has re-emerged as a lean, energetic, volunteer-run operation in new digs at the Midwood International & Cultural Center.

This year’s exhibitions include Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” project, which has garnered national attention (Sept. 19-Nov. 1); noted Southeastern photographer Sam Wang (Dec. 5-Feb. 7); “Photogenic Nature” (Feb. 20-April 11) and the popular juried Annuale (April 24-June 6).