Charlotte’s 20- and 30-somethings crave connecting over interesting experiences; it only takes a quick look at any local brewery’s upcoming events to see it. So the city’s arts organizations look to tap into this crowd, and help them make those connections, through what some call young affiliates’ programs. Here’s a look at seven such programs currently active in the city, each offering opportunities for people typically age 20 to 40. They vary by genre and in detail, but the goal’s the same: Get people together, and to art.
BRAVO! at Opera Carolina
Opera Carolina is in the middle of creating a more robust fall schedule for its Young Affiliates program, called BRAVO! These new programs will include meet-and-greets at bars and breweries with the cast of operas being performed at Opera Carolina, as well as the traditional networking events the program had hosted in the past.
The program typically caters to people from about 23 to their late 30s, according to Megan Miller, Opera Carolina’s marketing director. The goal here expands: Yes, it’s to connect young professionals – but also to dispel some of the common misconceptions about opera.
“Young professionals are getting older now; they’re less focused on marriage and settling down. They’re out there networking and trying to become the best version of ourselves,” Miller said. “What we want to do with our group is compliment that.”
There are no membership dues, and Miller said the email list has more than 200 names. It’s the laid-back setup that Miller credits with making BRAVO! successful.
“A lot of what it is is cultivation – getting that next generation of opera lovers and arts and culture lovers together,” she said. “We’re also looking at having a few networking events that are maybe not opera-related but a broader discussion about arts in Charlotte, and giving our young professionals arts voice in the community.”
Bechtler Young Visionaries
This group is open to all Bechtler Museum of Modern Art members but is driven primarily by young professionals between 20 and 40. It’s hands-on in its programming, offering courses on graffiti and visits to art collectors’ homes, so that members can learn more about how to start their own collections.
“The Bechtler Young Visionaries (group) was originally designed with the intent to provide educational opportunities, but with a huge focus on art collecting and history of art,” said the museum’s Rebecca Morris. “There’s always a fun and networking aspect, but we want our programs to have that meaty substance.”
Morris, director of individual giving, said the young professionals program is an affiliate group of general members – so once someone’s paid for a museum membership, the cost is an additional $35.
That money goes into supporting general museum initiatives and community outreach, she said. With membership comes discounted tickets to the museum’s yearly gala, access to exclusive workshops and to other smaller events, so people “get to know one another and get to know the artists and the curators.”
Young Affiliates of the Mint
One of the first such programs in Charlotte, Young Affiliates of the Mint has been connecting people since 1990. It’s one of seven affiliate groups with the Mint Museum and puts its membership dues toward supporting the museum’s educational programming and partnerships with schools.
For the cost of membership to the Mint plus $25, members get access to the annual gala, the Derby Days event, events specific to exhibitions and discounts at some restaurants.
But there is an expectation that members will become more directly involved with the museum by volunteering for positions on the program’s board or with other museum-affiliated groups, says the Young Affiliates’ current president, Lauren Harkey. Still, she says: “You can do as much or as little as you want. We have some people who come to every event and have others who come to an event here or there.”
Club Blume at Blumenthal Performing Arts
Club Blume is a low-requirement group: No membership dues, no work and no requirements, other than that you be between 21 and 39 years old.
Club Blume is simply a gathering of people who’ve signed up for the email newsletter, said Joy West, marketing and publicity manager for Blumenthal Performing Arts, who also leads the club. The idea is to be a comfortable and low-cost gathering place for young professionals interested in performing arts.
The email sent out to Club Blume members typically has discounted tickets or free tickets to performances, social mixers or meetings with performers and professionals who can give a more detailed, behind-the-scenes look at an upcoming show.
“We just want this to be accessible to everyone,” West said. “We are a group of diverse young professionals and I think by making sure there are no dues or requirements it just lends itself to being accessible to everyone.”
ENCORE! at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte
ENCORE! sets itself apart from other groups by being primarily volunteer-based, and while it does not have an age restriction, most members tend to be in their 20s and 30s, according to Ryan Deal, director of advancement at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
ENCORE! supports Children’s Theatre by providing ushers at performances and raising funds for the general operating budget and events such as Santa’s Bag, where children can purchase holiday gifts for their families. Additionally, volunteers with ENCORE! attend the annual Patron’s Party, a gala to say thank you for the work done throughout the year.
“Encore is a group of volunteers who all believe in the importance, the viability, the dynamism of theater and theater education for young people and their families,” said Deal. “This is a really great opportunity for folks who share that passion but who may not be practicing theater artists themselves but they see the importance of the work.”
ENCORE! members pay $60 per year, which is a direct donation to the theater’s general operating budget, Deal said.
Young Donors Society at the Arts and Science Council
The Society isn’t partnered with one specific arts or culture organization, but supports several. Members make a yearly donation of $500, and must be under the age of 40. They’re then invited to events that their gifts specifically support, such as exhibition walk-throughs or sit-downs with local artists.
“When you make a gift to support the Arts and Science Council, you’re supporting the entire cultural community – organizations like the Mint and Bechtler – but you’re also supporting grassroots organizations,” said Nick Stewart, ASC’s director of individual giving. “You’re also supporting creative individuals.”
Young Professionals’ Council at Levine Museum of the New South
The council will oversee the Levine Museum of the New South’s effort to connect with young community leaders. It will also oversee the implementation of Scene@Levine, an after-hours program series designed for young adults in the city, says Mandy Drakeford, senior vice president of development and marketing. The leadership team will be announced in September and the first event for Scene@Levine will be Oct. 5.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.