Levine's Cultural Institutions Begin New Era of Cooperation
Kicking off a Levine Center for the Arts media event Monday morning, the president/CEOs of the center’s four member institutions indulged in their own act of self-referential performance art by mimicking the famous star-packed Ellen DeGeneres “selfie” from last year’s Academy Awards. Out came the selfie stick; up went the “say cheese” smiles.
It was a tongue-in-cheek gesture that underlined a larger goal. It’s been nearly five years to the day since the Mint Museum opened its uptown branch, capping the most ambitious arts and cultural project in Charlotte’s history: A $127 million campus that clustered the Mint, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, and Knight Theater—part of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center—on two city blocks. Since then, the four institutions have shared space and staff but largely stuck to their own exhibits, programs, and projects.
The point of the media event—and, in its own way, the CEO selfie—was a new effort by the Levine Center institutions to work together on programs and marketing efforts and encourage patrons to visit the entire campus, not just a segment of it. (The event was held at the Wells Fargo Auditorium, below and part of the Knight Theater.)
The Levine Center recently won a $250,000 grant from Foundation for the Carolinas’ THRIVE Fund for cultural projects to pay for a first-ever joint marketing campaign, a free community festival next May and, starting early next year, free half-hour docent-led museum tours aimed at uptown office workers. “We want to draw people out of their cubicles and give them an experience beyond Mellow Mushroom,” the Bechtler’s John Boyer said, referring to the popular pizza restaurant across Church Street from the campus. “Not that I don’t like Mellow Mushroom.”
The member institutions have collaborated in small ways over the years. But this is the first time they’ve begun a comprehensive effort to cross-market to the community—including, the center announced Monday, a new $20 ticket, good for 48 hours, that grants admission to all three museums.
“All of it is essential in getting the community to understand that there is a value to this destination, that you can make a day of it,” said Kathleen Jameson of the Mint, which is leading the effort. “You can go to the Mint, grab a bite to eat, then go over to the Bechtler, go to the Gantt. Most communities don’t have that, and I think we haven’t been as intentional in communicating what we have here and what’s so special about it.”
Much of the THRIVE Fund grant will pay for an official creative agency to run the joint marketing plan; the contract went to Charlotte-based Orbital Socket. The agency will publicize the Levine Center as a whole and the member institutions’ individual exhibits and events, such as the Gantt Center’s year-long emphasis on the link between art and activism and the Blumenthal’s hosting of Breakin’ Convention: An International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre on Oct. 9 and 10.
The center ultimately wants to earn the cultural weight and cachet of more well-known arts and cultural institutions, such as the Lincoln Center in New York and Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. The Levine hasn’t reached that level not because its leaders haven’t wanted to, Jameson said, but because, running a young enterprise, they’re still learning as they go.
“We’re all running fast, and often we’re leaner and meaner than we should be; you know, you’ve got your head down and you’re trying to meet your annual operating budget,” she said. “But the more we can do to let folks know about their choices—more to do, more things to experience—I think just folks knowing that in town will make a big difference.”
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.