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Charlotte’s burgeoning art scene is making another big push, joining St. Johns as the second city to franchise its own Arts Night Out event from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.
Downtown Charlotte, which has a classic American small town main street design, will look a little bit more like Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood Friday.
There are 17 participating businesses — all a short walk away from each other, with each featuring its own unique artist.
The night is set to feature interactive art demos, nature photography, live musicians — ranging from folk to hip-hop, custom quilting, and, of course, all of the wares Charlotte businesses have to offer.
But why Charlotte? Two of its firebrands, CharlotteRising, an economic development nonprofit, and Windwalker Underground Gallery, a local art hub, drew the right amount of attention to the town.
“With all of the momentum from CharlotteRising, Windwalker definitely gained some attention. We hosted a series of events that brought the community into the building and brought some regional attraction,” said Windwalker board member Kalli Dempsey. “I think we’re taken a little bit more seriously now.”
After being named one of the 10 cities in Gov. Rick Snyder’s Rising Tide program in 2015, which was designed to spur growth in smaller cities with bubbling activity, Charlotte’s community has run with its opportunity to create a new image for the town.
The designation inspired the formation of CharlotteRising, a Michigan Main Street affiliated nonprofit revitalizing Charlotte’s downtown. One of the organization’s primary conduits for growth? Arts and culture.
“We believe it is growing rapidly. In 2016 we were fortunate enough to earn a $10,000 Public Art for Communities grant from LEAP, to commission our first art piece downtown. And that was a huge success,” said executive director Dillon Rush. LEAP is the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, which nurtures development for member governments.
“Arts Night Out — how perfect, how simple. We’re talking about foot traffic and sales and investment and contagious positivity from the get go with that art and creativity flavor,” Rush said.
Arts Night Out coordinator Taylor Rupp wishes to expand the program via surrounding communities organizing their own take on the monthly event. The Arts Council felt that downtown Charlotte was a natural fit.
“Those few blocks have condensed businesses that you can go into and they’re all open at the same time,” said Rupp. “Windwalker Underground Gallery and Charlotte Rising are the two that took it under their wing and really made the event their own.”
Windwalker Underground Gallery — the pet project of Richard Turbin that has posited itself as a home for art in Charlotte, has attracted regional attention by hosting theater productions, live music and, of course, art exhibitions.
It just wrapped up hosting the inaugural edition of the city’s own original festival, Arts of Charlotte, and local artists have been especially thankful for the platform the organization has given them.
“Before Windwalker, I didn’t see anything as far as art in Charlotte — other than maybe our coffee shop, which used to have art hanging on their wall, but they even stopped doing that,” said Deeanna DeNio, owner of Paint Parties by Dee. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities and things since I’ve gotten hooked up with Windwalker that I never even had before.”
But for Windwalker, starting from scratch and working up to hosting Arts Night Out, was a 45-degree uphill battle.
“The first event I hosted here was a family friendly St Patrick’s Day event in 2016. I put a lot of work into it and nobody came,” said Dempsey. “I decided I was just going to keep doing things until people came. Hoping for word of mouth, wearing people down, showing them we have really cool things here — you just have to come.”
Dempsey said the gallery has run into a curious case of attracting more outsiders than locals, the age-old situation of “there’s nothing to do here.”
“I hear all of the time, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life and I didn’t even know this was here.’ And it’s amazing to me, because I think that our residents haven’t completely bought into the idea that Charlotte is awesome,” said Dempsey. “I think that that’s starting to happen.”
Arts Night Out will hopefully continue the momentum.
“I think that having something like Arts Night Out will encourage people to come down here and actually see what they have available to them downtown.”
Arts Night Out
Charlotte Friday, June 15, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Open Mic at Charlotte Beach Market 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Downtown Charlotte, Michigan For a full list of businesses and artists visit: www.myartsnightout.com