For years, the Mint Museum has admitted patrons free on Wednesday nights and invited them to use their eyes. Now the Mint Uptown will ask you to use your ears, feet and imaginations as well.
The facility has just launched “Live at the Mint,” a series whose humble title doesn’t suggest its ambitious purposes.
It starts with eight weeks that veer from swing dancing to silent film to professional storytelling. Then, after a hiatus to evaluate its success, it hurtles into a four-month slate yet to be nailed down. It could bounce from an artists’ panel to a dance-music evening inspired by Pentecostal songs to a night of cabaret tunes written in the Terezin ghetto during World War II. Along the way, avant-garde theatermakers XOXO and a chamber group of Charlotte Symphony musicians may drop by the galleries.
You can take that last phrase literally. Though the Mint boasts a comfortable atrium for people such as Mercury Carter, a vocalist who has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, other events will take place among exhibits upstairs.
You might hear Arvo Pärt’s exquisite miniature “Spiegel im Spiegel” (“Mirror in Mirror”) while standing in front of “Amplitude,” an undulating metal sculpture in the Mint’s “Studio Drift” exhibit.
How did this series spring up? From a new curator’s memory of an old idea.
“The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was my ideal,” says Jennifer Sudul Edwards, the Mint’s recently hired chief curator and curator of contemporary art. “They’ve integrated all kinds of dance, theater and music into their museum space. When I interviewed with (Mint president and CEO) Todd Herman, I told him I wanted to do this.”
She’d seen variants of “Live” in Charlotte. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, where she was a curator, maintains jazz and classical music series; the McColl Center for Art + Innovation went a couple of rounds with the performance series “New Directions.” But those weren’t free, and the Mint’s live shows offer more diversity.
Edwards, board chair of Goodyear Arts, has attended alternative shows there that inspired some of her choices. She tapped Goodyear connections and asked the Mint staff what kinds of shows they and potential audiences might like.
Drinks and music
Cynthia Moreno, the Mint’s director of learning and engagement, designed artmaking activities and community events around the performances. And anyone at the museum could suggest titles for a 150-song playlist to serve as background music. (Dashiell, Edwards’ 10-year-old son, assembled it on Spotify and submitted it to his mom, who is checking songs for misogyny, profanity and bigotry. So far, only one recommendation has gone awry.)
The Mint has been relying on its own auxiliary, Bank of America and Publix Super Markets to keep Wednesday nights free. Fifth Third Bank came aboard as principal sponsor for the “Live” series, and the auxiliary added extra support.
“(One goal) is to bring in new audiences, people who may think of a museum as just a place to hang paintings on a wall,” says Caroline Portillo, the Mint’s director of marketing and communications. “We kept it uptown to see if we could attract a crowd after work on a Wednesday to have a drink and hear music.”
The venture kicked off Oct. 16 with a visit from Rabbi Judy Schindler and artist Leo Twiggs, whose paintings about the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church earned him a solo show at the Mint in 2017. The aptly named jazz ensemble Conversation Piece played before and after their talk.
The rest of the schedule looks like this:
Oct. 23: Gottaswing Charlotte offers free dance lessons.
Oct. 30: Youth Orchestra of Charlotte performs before a screening of “Poltergeist.”
Nov. 6: Elton John impersonator Carl Rosen hits the piano on the same night his idol plays Spectrum Center (where the cheapest tickets are $270).
Nov. 13: Pianist Ethan Uslan accompanies the silent Harold Lloyd comedy “The Freshman.”
Nov. 20: The Charlotte Storytellers perform original pieces related to the Mint’s current exhibitions.
Dec. 4: Mercury Carter joins Jazz Arts Charlotte.
Dec. 11: The Latin fusion band Chócala performs music from its new album.
That mix of small and large gigs lets the museum switch between sit-down and stand-up experiences. Edwards remains mindful of time limits on the latter: She doesn’t expect people to stay put on their feet for more than about 20 minutes. “We want the audience to have a fluid experience, to wander and see the exhibits while they’re here,” she says.
The first installment has been capped at two months, because the Mint is taking part in “New Pathways for Arts & Culture.” The Thrive Fund gave money to 10 local organizations that freed them to create new programming and, after eight weeks, step back to see what went right and wrong. Whatever the Mint learns from the first sessions, it will continue this endeavor in 2020.
“We want to bring in artists who don’t normally get to uptown institutions,” says Edwards. “Eric Mullis and Brent Bagwell have done their Pentecostal music-dance piece in Europe, but not here. (The alternative band) Junior Astronomers has a strong Charlotte following, but they play at Snug Harbor at 11 p.m.
“The idea is to give our audience access to talent they don’t hear on Tryon Street. We’re getting people into the mindframe that any kind of creativity can engage them.”
Want to go?
What: “Live at the Mint”
When: 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays through Dec. 11 (except Nov. 27)
Where: Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St.
Cost: It’s free; a cash bar opens at 5:30.
Details: 704-337-2000 or mintmuseum.org.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.
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