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Arts & Culture

UNC Charlotte Pops Up Mobile Arts Unit

A new venue for the arts is popping up this week in Charlotte. Unlike most theaters or performance halls this particular space will be on the go. 

Credit Meg Whalen

Typical artistic spaces like museums or stages are permanent fixtures. People go to these locations to view art or see a performance.  That’s where UNC Charlotte’s Mobile Arts and Community Experience—or MAX—is different. 

Jose Gamez is an associate professor of Architecture and Urban Design at UNC Charlotte. He stands on a wooden stage that folds out of MAX, a re-purposed shipping container turned traveling arts venue. Gamez says it will also serve as a mobile classroom. When folded up, MAX looks like a rectangular cargo unit you’d see attached to a train. 

Gamez says having a mobile space that brings the arts to neighborhoods in Charlotte is something he’s been dreaming of for over a year. So has his colleague Carlos Cruz, an assistant professor of voice and movement at UNC Charlotte. 

"Jose is actually my mentor at the university," Cruz says. "It’s been a dream kind of come true. There is a tradition in Latin American theater and in Puerto Rico of traveling stages. The idea of taking the theater to the people if the people are not coming to the theater."

The project was made possible by a $350,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

Boxman Studios, a company that takes out of commission shipping containers and turns them into almost anything (for example kitchens and greenhouses) partnered in the design and construction of MAX.

This week to give Charlotte an idea of MAX’s full potential, the unit will be placed on the Levine Avenue for the Arts, located between the Mint Museum and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Musical and acrobatic acts will take place on Friday with a drama performance Saturday.

Chris Bess is a performer from Raleigh and he's excited about the unique stage.

"This is so interesting. There's a lot of good stuff for climbing...there's stuff to jump off of, there's stuff to flip off of. There's a lot of space for handstands. We're going to have some cool aerial acts," Bess says. 

The aerial acts Bess mentions are made possible by another feature MAX has—a 22-foot-tall truss. Perfect for climbing and hanging ropes and hops from.

Circus artist Jacki Ward Kehrwald  travels the world performing alongside her husband, Nicolo. She says in their line of work they’ve seen all sorts of stages, but none quite like this.

“The traveling circus tent is a thing in our world where you set up a tent everywhere, or going to theaters…but having a stage like this that’s mobile that can travel around within a city to different locations in a more urban environment is unique and exciting," she says. 

Jose Gamez expects MAX to begin 4-6 week residencies in neighborhoods by the fall. He says he hopes this project will bring the university closer to the city. 

“We’re only a few miles…9 to 10 from uptown but it perceptually sometimes seems like forever and a day away. This is one way to bring us back in visibly to people in their neighborhoods in their backyards in uptown and places of high visibility," says Gamez.

He says, MAX is almost like a third campus for UNC Charlotte and it’s one he hopes the public will be curious about.