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Arts & Culture
These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

School Of Good Citizenship Encourages Voices To Be Heard At RNC -- Virtually

Courtesy LigoranoReese
Charlotte Community Virtual Choir performance of "I Believe" by John P. Kee from "I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found" livestream Aug. 24-27.

At first, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese had grand plans for a way to both make a statement and foster discussion at this year’s Republican National Convention. The artist duo known as LigoranoReese envisioned an enormous one-day workshop somewhere in uptown Charlotte, with an open exchange of free thought and learning. In effect, a classroom.

Maybe even in a schoolhouse made out of ice.

The two artists have experience with ice and conventions. For the 2012 DNC, they brought a massive ice sculpture to Charlotte’s Marshall Park. The words “Middle Class” were spelled out and melted in the North Carolina sun, providing a physical depiction of what might be happening to that socioeconomic status.

They’ve been doing similar ice sculptures -- what they call "temporary monuments" -- at political conventions since 2008 in Denver and St. Paul, Minnesota, with melting words like "Democracy" and "The American Dream."

"It's so amazing to see people come up and touch the ice," Ligorano said. "They just connect to it as a material, and then they stand back and they see that it's 'democracy' and they see that it's melting. And it has that kind of 'a-ha moment.'"

But after Reese and Ligorano visited Charlotte over Memorial Day in 2019 and sweltered through a 90-degree day, the two realized that walls of ice in a schoolhouse would not work.

Credit Courtesy Nora Ligorano
This "middle class" ice sculpture sat in Charlotte's Marshall Park in 2012 during the DNC.

And then, well, the words everyone seems to utter in 2020: The coronavirus happened. So LigoranoReese pivoted to a virtual program centered around this year’s RNC at the end of August.

And then the RNC opted to move to Jacksonville, Florida. And then sort of back to Charlotte -- at least the only in-person version -- but on a much smaller scale than what was initially intended.

“But by then, I would say that the program changed so much, it didn't have to be framed around this political convention anymore,” Ligorano said.  

It’s still a school, as they originally planned. The School of Good Citizenship is what they call the project that includes a series of virtual workshops, presentations and exhibitions and is highlighted by virtual choral and spoken word performances that begin Aug. 24.

The focus is on using art as activism to ponder themes of social justice, voting rights, mass incarceration and social inequity.

“As this project developed in Charlotte, we started to seeing that an undercurrent -- and it's actually more of the central theme -- is really giving people voice and giving them the opportunity, to empower them to have a voice,” Reese said.

Credit Courtesy Nora Ligorano
"Truth Be Told" Temporary Monument at the National Mall, Washington, D.C., in 2018.

Jonell Logan is the project manager, leading The School of Good Citizenship from Charlotte as LigoranoReese work remotely from their Brooklyn home. She’s monitored a series of workshops that began in June at The Light Factory in Plaza Midwood (virtually, of course) about how to inspire social change through art.

And she’s seen something unique about this project with its open access to anyone, anywhere: People from from around the globe who aren't just artists are joining in because it's virtual.

“I don't know how many of us were bakers before (the pandemic), but all of a sudden everybody's baking,” Logan said. “So it's really an opportunity for people to do something different and not just be prompted by the idea that, ‘Oh, this is art’ or ‘I'm an artist.’ I think (they’re) a little bit less afraid to kind of take a chance and to try something.”

An open-call exhibition on voting rights begins Aug. 20 in partnership with the Levine Museum of the New South, and the virtual choir and spoken word performance entitled “I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found,” is a four-night series that will feature 52 singers, including from a Charlotte Community Virtual Choir.

The meaning is pretty clear.

“Bring people together and literally give them voice,” Ligorano said.

Even as plans changed, that has always been the purpose of The School of Good Citizenship.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.