Local Arts

A banker turned his passion for Latin American art into an NC ‘cultural institution’

LaCa Projects owner Walter Dolhare still has the Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miró posters he purchased for $8 each in 1986.

The Wells Fargo executive remembered being proud of the framed posters hanging in his dorm room at the University of Notre Dame. It was the first time he showed an interest in art, specifically abstract expressionism and surrealism.

Dolhare’s art collection has come a long way since his college days. He opened LaCa (Latin American Contemporary Art) Projects in Charlotte’s FreeMoreWest neighborhood in 2013. He and his younger brother, artist Juan Dolhare, had dreamed of opening a gallery.

“Juan, is a very accomplished artist,” said Dolhare, 53. “The two of us started this gallery as a combination of his passion for his work and my passion for Hispanic causes and Latin American art. The two of us dreamed of one day opening something like this. One day we did it.”

Six years ago, Dolhare searched for a location for the gallery. He wanted a free-standing structure with a warehouse look. He toured 100 buildings before purchasing two adjacent buildings on Bryant Street.

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Walter Dolhare and his younger brother, artist Juan Dolhare, put their dreams owning a gallery into action when they opened LaCa Projects in Charlotte’s FreeMoreWest neighborhood in 2014. ALEX CASON PHOTOGRAPHY

“Every single building here was for sale,” he said. “I looked at this area, which at the time was very underdeveloped,” he added. “I settled on this place, which I absolutely love.”

The two buildings contain 13,000 square feet — with room for exhibits, events and artist studios. In mid-October, The Batchmaker, a locally owned bakery, will open in the shop connected to the gallery.

‘Inclusive environment’

Neely Verano worked with Dolhare from the beginning.

She served as a co-founder and the gallery’s managing director for five years. Verano stepped down last month to manage family and her newest endeavor, Sphere Series, a series of art lectures. She’s supported Dolhare’s concept to expose the Charlotte community to Latin American artists while providing a gathering place for artists and visitors.

They worked for an open and inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome, she said.

“Charlotte has been and continues to be hungry for visionary projects that are outside of what people might expect to have in Charlotte,” Verano said. “We bridged that gap in a really meaningful way.”

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Gachi Rosati is among the artists included in LaCa Projects’ current exhibit, “Convergence & Crash,” featuring works by eight women. Courtesy of LaCa Projects

Since opening, the exhibits have changed the perception of Latin American culture and art. Dolhare suspects many expected Mexican political art or peasantry art, he said. Visitors were surprised by the diversity of contemporary works and the New York City vibe of the gallery.

Currently on exhibit through Nov. 9 at LaCa is “Convergence and Crash,” featuring works by regional, national and international female artists. It will be followed by “The Iruka Elvis Spell,” an exhibit of works by Puerto Rican artist Iruka Maria Toro, from Nov. 15 through Jan. 18.

“I believe there’s a significant misconception about what it is to be Hispanic or Latino,” he said. “Opening LaCa Projects was a way to show Hispanic culture through the eyes and brushes of its artists. A primary goal of mine was to add a significant cultural venue to the city, which was lacking in particular in catering to or showcasing the talent of the Hispanic community.”

‘A cultural institution’

Miami-based, Cuban-born Carlos Estévez exhibits at LaCa Projects on a regular basis. Through connections with LaCa, he found out about the artist-in-residence program at McColl Center for Art + Innovation. He was accepted in 2016.

He works in different media — painting, sculpture, drawing, installation and found objects. Estévez’s upcoming show, “Beachcomber,” will be at LaCa Projects in March.

“LaCa, not only a gallery but a cultural institution, has the important role of presenting Latin American art to the Carolinas’ community,” Estévez said. “Latin American artists haven’t always been allowed into the center stage, and showing their work in the U.S. gives them the opportunity to reach a new audience, increasing visibility for their work.

“It helps to legitimize the works and to establish their artistic value.”

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One of Walter Dolhare’s goals in opening LaCa Projects was to add a significant cultural venue in Charlotte to help showcase the talent of the Hispanic community. ALEX CASON PHOTOGRAPHY

Passion and career

Dolhare was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He wanted a college degree from a U.S. institution, so he played tennis tournaments in the states to gain access to college coaches who could offer him a scholarship. When he was almost 21, Dolhare moved to the U.S. for a full athletic scholarship. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1990, with a bachelor’s degree in business and a marketing concentration.

After college, he acquired art with two things in mind: The artwork had to be aesthetically pleasing, and he had to feel connected to it in some way.

“I have two works in my house by a very well-known Argentine artist, Benito Quinquela Martin,” he explained. “If you grow up in Argentina, you can’t get out of grade school without being taught who this person is. He’s one of those incredibly well-known people who was embedded in my brain from childhood. When I could afford to buy one of his works, it was a way to connect to my childhood again.”

Art may be Dolhare’s passion, but banking is his career. Twenty-one years ago, Dolhare moved to Charlotte with Wells Fargo, then First Union. He serves as the president of Wells Fargo Securities, LLC and co-head of Wells Fargo Corporate & Investment Banking.

About 10 years ago, Dolhare decided to add only Latin American artwork to his collection. With so many genres and options to choose from, he wanted to align his personal connection to Latin America with his support of Hispanic and Latin American causes unrelated to art.

Dolhare soon became involved in Charlotte’s art community, starting at the Mint Museum.

Dolhare volunteered and then served on the Mint Museum Board of Trustees from July 2011 through June 2017. He remains a member of the Mint Museum’s Crown Society. In 2018, he joined the McColl Center for Art + Innovation’s board of directors.

“Because of his business acumen and contemporary art experience, Walter adds an important perspective to the board discussions — especially around long-term stability,” said Alli Celebron-Brown, president and CEO at the McColl. “Walter’s vision for LaCa Projects and its mission to connect Latin American artists with arts enthusiasts is so important to the Charlotte community, especially as the arts scene diversifies. LaCa serves as a vital partner to many organizations in Charlotte.”

“Convergence and Crash”

When: Through Nov. 9

Where: LaCa Projects, 1429 Bryant St.

Details: 704-837-1688 or lacaprojects.com

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