'We Want To Make A Difference': New Organization The Charlotte Center Combines Humanities And Civic Action
Mark Peres had a realization in late 2019 while he and a friend had lunch and pondered the future of society, in general, and communities in Charlotte, specifically.
Democracy is fragile. Perhaps in danger, even. And more people need to be more engaged in our community and the world at large to ensure a strong societal foundation.
“Last year, as we know, was a particularly intense period of partisanship and dysfunctional government and declining social trust,” Peres said. “And so we kind of posed the question to ourselves: How could we bring people together around ideas and build relationships and inspire and equip people to engage in positive civic action and kind of rebuild the ties of social trust and create something exciting in the community?”
His answer is a new organization: The Charlotte Center.
Peres, a creator with a background in journalism, law and education, is a firm believer in the humanities and sees creativity and the arts as a springboard for deep thought and civic engagement. He sees The Charlotte Center as the vehicle for doing just that.
The mission of The Charlotte Center is “to strengthen democracy by inspiring and equipping citizens to engage in enlightened civic action. We bring the humanities and civic imagination to bear on the challenges and opportunities of civic life.”
It is a lofty, amorphous goal. Practically, it means bringing people from across Charlotte together to talk and learn and share – and hopefully inspire new ideas for how to better the community.
The Charlotte Center has four central ways to do that: Sensemaker, Wisdom Wednesdays/The Forum, The Accelerator and The Festival.
The Sensemaker is a community outreach program that The Charlotte Center plans to use to survey area neighborhoods to find out what is on the minds of residents. The Charlotte Center plans to partner with the city of Charlotte with technology.
“We can see patterns of what people think in the region, and then that becomes the basis of policy making and ideas that emerge from communities in terms of solving problems that they're encountering,” Peres said.
Wisdom Wednesdays/The Forum is a speaker and discussion series that tries to bring a diverse swath of people together to listen, engage and interact. The first Wisdom Wednesday was on Feb. 24 with Dr. Robert Corbin, a scientist, philosopher and educator who invited virtual attendees to explore the nature of “truth.”
“Our thinking here is to kind of reimagine community conversation, because what often happens is there's a topic and a speaker and people show up,” Peres said. “They passively sit in the audience. They listen. There might be some Q&A at the end and then they go home. And nothing really happens as a result.
“We want to kind of get people thinking in a new way. But the idea is that potential solutions and insights are then prompted from the ground up out of that discussion and then we capture those ideas.”
The Accelerator part of the organization is the idea of turning ideas generated from connection and learning into action. It is the least defined part so far, though.
“We're going to allow that organically to kind of emerge over time as to what's the best way to help people,” Peres said.
Finally, The Festival is intended to be an annual, in-person symposium to review the previous year and plan for the next.
It’s all very ambitious. But it has funding and support from some of the biggest people and organizations in the city, and it has big goals. Poetry might not be able to create world peace. But it might inspire anyone who hears or reads it to think more deeply – and find solutions to the ills in society. Same with literature or philosophy or any similar work of art.
“I think it has tremendous practical value in terms of asking really deep and core questions that can shift what's possible around us,” Peres said.
“We're (three) months in. So the question is, you know, where are we six months down the road, two years down the road? And I think we want to be a leading cultural institution in town. And so whether that means physical space one day or presenting our programs in different venues in town, we anticipate partnering with other established arts and cultural organizations. Those conversations are already underway. We want to make a difference.”