For three Charlotte art galleries, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t altered them this year as much as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Two — BLKMRKT CLT and LaCa Projects — had their missions reaffirmed. A third has re-evaluated everything through a new lens. Here is a look at what they are going through.
The Black Lives Matter movement, born of generations of racial inequality, has been good for Black businesses, artist/graphic designer Dammit Wesley said.
“White guilt and corporate America’s hyper-awareness of racism have opened the door for opportunities that never would have presented themselves otherwise,” Wesley said. He co-owns BLKMRKCLT, a “collective of BLK Culture,” with photographer Will Jenkins.
The Camp North End gallery and event space is open again — and offering masks and hand sanitizer at the front door.
“We haven’t stopped exhibiting work,” said Jenkins, who also goes by Sir Will and simplisticphobia. “We just moved the work to the street.” Working with Brand the Moth (a local mural and public art nonprofit) and other partners, they helped create the Black Lives Matter street mural in uptown Charlotte.
That’s led to even more opportunity.
The Knight Foundation funding is helping BLKMRKTCLT create “UNTITLED,” a street exhibition and month-long experimental residency that’s empowering local artists of color with the resources and creative freedom to make meaningful public art. Meet and see the artists at work on the 200 block of South Tryon Street on Sept. 26, the final day of the residency, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
When asked what else they’d been doing during the novel coronavirus lockdown, they responded via email, “Creating. Napping. Avoiding being brutally murdered by a corrupt Charlotte police force. Calling for the murderers of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rashard Brooks and Keith Lamont Scott to be brought to justice.”
They believe good may come from the upheaval.
“A reset button has been hit,” they said. “Black businesses finally have an opportunity to compete with businesses and institutions that had essentially iced them out for generations.”
“This time has really forced people to… take inventory of the things that bring them joy. It’s been great to see some artists thriving because the money someone used to spend on going out to clubs and bars, they are now investing in (local artists).”
LaCa Projects, a gallery that focuses on Latin-American contemporary art, recently opened “Beachcomber,” the third solo exhibition it has hosted for Carlos Estévez. The multimedia exhibition, containing more than 50 paintings, found object assemblages and ceramics, will be up through Jan. 16, 2021.
“We had to shift our schedule and extend certain exhibitions, but we’re happy to report that nothing has been canceled,” said Morgan Mathieu Tran, gallery manager at LaCa Projects in the burgeoning FreeMoreWest area.
Estévez’s work draws on his life in Cuba, Paris, Miami and Charlotte, and uses illuminated manuscripts and medieval texts as part of his imagery. There’s been a “substantial shift” in the artist’s practice, Tran said. His technique and subject matter will be new, even to Charlotte audiences familiar with his work.
LaCa Projects’ small staff was able to work from home during the COVID-19 lockdown, and they reopened to the public with safety precautions in place. Masks are required for all, and there’s a limit to how many people can be in the space.
“Operating by appointment has helped,” Tran said. “We’re lucky to have a lot of square footage, which makes social distancing easier.”
Tran said LaCa is lucky to have patrons who have stood by it, too.
“As a lot of people spend time at home, I think they are beginning to understand the value of outfitting their homes with art.”
The Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t changed much about the gallery, but has reinforced its efforts.
“LaCa has acted as a creative vehicle for social justice and minority representation for as long as it has existed,” Tran said. “It’s inspiring and important to note: We’ve seen a spike in support for minority creatives. We’re hopeful that this kind of support will be integrated into the fabric of our culture as a permanent fixture.”
The Light Factory
The coronavirus pandemic has allowed The Light Factory, Charlotte’s only gallery dedicated exclusively to photography, to take stock of its mission.
“COVID forced us to finally do some of the things we’d been talking about for three years,” said Kay Tuttle, The Light Factory’s executive director. “For too long, we’ve been an incredibly white organization. Our doors were open to anyone, but we didn’t actively cultivate relationships. We’ve made a conscious effort to change that.”
The Plaza Midwood gallery remains devoted to showing nationally and internationally prominent photographers but is adding a focus on local photographers of color.
“Behind the Ink,” the first show highlighting local Black photographers, will be up through Oct. 9. Developed in conjunction with the nonprofit Creating Exposure Through the Arts, “Behind the Ink” features work — of people and their tattoos — by young photographers primarily from west Charlotte.
The gallery, now requiring masks and limiting capacity, is open Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., but for the Sept. 25 “Ink” opening, the gallery will be open until 7:30 p.m.
This summer, The Light Factory led a free virtual workshop series “focused on creating a story through photography, adding words to enhance the story and presenting the work to the community in new and innovative ways,” Tuttle said. The culminating exhibition, “Seeing Voices: Community (Un)heard,” will be online and in the gallery Nov. 16 through Jan. 7.
Coming in 2021 is “Dead Reckoning,” an exhibition of Bryce Lankard’s photography. “He’s a mature, white photographer,” Tuttle said. “A lot of these images are of people of color. There’s one of a child playing with a pretend gun. There’s another of a Confederate flag painted on a building.”
Much of this work was shot in the 1980s and ‘90s — pre-Black Lives Matter.
The Light Factory asked Black photographers, including Josh Galloway and Maleek Loyd, to respond. Said Tuttle: “We’re hosting public conversations about the work along the lines of, ‘Who has the right and privilege to take photos in a neighborhood you don’t belong in?’”
Photography by Galloway and Loyd will be on display from Jan. 21 through March 12 in a show tentatively titled “2021: Imperfect Vision.”
While the gallery was closed, Tuttle offered The Light Factory’s dark room, lighting studio and 44-inch printer to young photographers — mostly artists of color.
“The Light Factory has done a lot of changing since March,” Tuttle said. “Our organization was created in 1973. It’s sad that it’s taken us this long to change. This year has been the impetus we needed.”
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