Want To Brush Up On Charlotte's Culture? Just Google It
Machu Picchu. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Hubble Space Telescope. And ... Charlotte?
That's right: We're in good company. Earlier this month, Charlotte got an official page on Google Arts & Culture, a popular site and app that gives people an up close and personal view of some of the best the world has to offer.
The app lets folks tour places like the Insect Museum of West China, explore 36 different historical paintings showing Mount Fuji and, as of this month, zoom right up to the glittering "Firebird" sculpture in front of uptown's Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
Google Arts & Culture's city spotlights started in Europe, with places like Hamburg, Germany, and Milan, Italy. Now there's an eye on America's cities.
"We really are focusing on cities that we feel have a vibrant culture in not just their art, but their commerce, their sports, their food, and Charlotte is really one of the perfect places to go to," said Andrea Willis, a communications manager at Google. "It's fast-growing, and so it was really kind of a natural place for us to highlight next in the U.S."
Charlotte's just the third U.S. city with an Arts & Culture portfolio – and the first in the South. But while Charlotte stood out to Google, part of the reason it was picked is because it still doesn't have the name recognition of peers like Atlanta or Miami.
"We're really focused on highlighting cities that may not be known to everyone globally," Willis said. "We felt like it was a vibrant city that everyone doesn't necessarily know on a global scale, but one that we think that people should know."
So, Google teamed up with 13 institutions in the Queen City to get a lay of the land – and its history. App or site users can relax while listening to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra play Mozart's "Jupiter Symphony," learn about 20 Black artists in an exhibit provided by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, and zoom up to the Oldsmobile Cutlass Richard Petty drove in 1979 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
There are plenty of other ways to spend an afternoon on the site, like learning about the city's food, meeting the birds of prey at the Carolina Raptor Center, flipping through postcards with scenes of the city from years past or watching videos with artists from the McColl Center's residency program.
And people can even take a stroll, so to speak, through exhibits at the Levine Museum of the New South – something even the people who live in Charlotte can't do in person right now because of the pandemic.
"We jumped right on it, because we had already been talking about moving our exhibits to a digital platform, having ways for people to go through our exhibits without being in the building, so the timing was perfect," said Kama Pierce, the Levine Museum's chief operating officer.
One of Levine's most well-known exhibits, "Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers," is now on Google, alongside an exhibit on Latino growth in the South called "¡NUEVOlution!" and "Charlotte's Brooklyn," which tells the story of a once-thriving African American neighborhood that was razed.
"It's a very important story of urban renewal here locally, but it's a story that's told across the United States," Pierce said. "We were able to do something really unique with that exhibit. We have the pictorial exhibit, but we also have all our storytellers ... because those stories that people have lived through – it's living history – are pretty important."
Pierce says the added spotlight on Charlotte's people, history and creatives is "huge." The city's footprint has grown in terms of business, population and events like the NBA All-Star Game in 2019, the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and — kind of — the Republican National Convention in 2020.
"This just shows the world all the culture we have to offer as well," Pierce said. "It's not just ... sports teams, but we have great museums and we have great arts and great restaurants. This is going to be great for our tourism, and even on the local level, I know there are some people who have no idea what, in their own backyard, is being offered."
A version of this story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.