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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.

'Balancing Act' Showcases Growing Popularity Of Public Art Amid Pandemic Restrictions

Balancing Act
Mitchell Kearney/Photo by Mitchell Kearney
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People use "Balancing Act," a new public art display in First Ward Park, to make music beneath the Charlotte skyline.

Tucked off at one side of Charlotte’s First Ward Park is an artistic masterpiece and a technological work of wonder.

And you might overlook it if you walk by because it simply looks like three large, colorful Frisbee discs poking out from the grass.

“Balancing Act” by Daily tous les jours is the city’s newest public art display installed with the help of the Arts & Science Council, and it has actually been at First Ward Park since February 2020. Thanks to COVID-19, what was intended to be a four-month prototype process extended into this year, when the display was formally unveiled.

The result is a creative and interactive artwork that is an example of how public art is quickly becoming the best and safest way to enjoy art as we (hopefully) ease out of the pandemic.

“Balancing Act” is three unstable disks that are intended to invite passers-by to hop atop each one. When the disk tilts, it emits a different tone.

“And you go through various octaves, that if you were to actually walk around the perimeter of each disk, is kind of like ‘do-re-mi,’” said Todd Stewart, ASC’s senior public art project director. “You're going through the various scales.”

If you’re able to balance the disk completely, however, it plays a melody. And the remaining disks will then join in that melody.

“And then the challenge becomes, well, if other people are playing on the disk as well, how does your deviating from balancing on one disk impact how other people's disk is performing?” Stewart said. “And you really are kind of then composing music in this really new and physical way that people wouldn't be used to.”

Balancing Act
Mitchell Kearney/Photo by Mitchell Kearney
Both adults and children can use "Balancing Act."

Each disk actually functions as a speaker, thanks to something called a transducer. And each disk is also a challenging balancing activity that becomes more difficult when more people hop aboard. It can also be enjoyed solo, however.

“Our goal was to make it as user-friendly for a variety of ages and ability,” Stewart said. “I think we found a happy compromise kind of in the middle to where it kept it challenging, but still kind of welcomed people to really interact with it.”

The artwork is the culmination of about five years of work that began when First Ward Park first opened in 2016. The city wanted a defining piece of art that would help integrate neighboring schools, ImaginOn and UNC Charlotte’s central campus.

swings.jpg
Cushy Creative / Daily tous les jours
The Musical Swings -- shown here at West Palm Beach -- that inspired a request for the artwork that became "Balancing Act."

Inspired by interactive musical swings created by the Montreal-based art and design studio Daily tous les jours, ASC asked the artists to create something original — and “Balancing Act” was the result.

In all, “Balancing Act” cost $255,000 for artist’s fees, design, engineering, fabrication and installation. That money comes from Charlotte’s Public Art Ordinance, which specifies that funds for public arts are 1% of the city's capital improvement plan.

It’s also the latest addition to Mecklenburg County’s public art collection, which is growing quickly. “Nested Hive” is a kaleidoscopic-like pavilion at the new Eastway Regional Recreation Center; “Open Book, Open Mind” was installed in November at the South County Regional Library, and “Divining,” a dowsing rod-inspired artwork, was installed in September at Latta Nature Center.

Stewart said some projects were delayed by COVID-19, but ASC is also working on public art projects that are scheduled through 2024 to keep up with the Public Art Ordinance — and because it is one of the most popular ways to experience art right now.

He doesn't have data to back up his hypothesis, but through observation he's seen the popularity of public art throughout Charlotte grow in the past pandemic year.

“There’s no ticket price. It's out, so you can do it physically distanced from one another,” he said. “Often, visiting these locations involves some recreation, whether you're walking along the greenway or in one of our local parks along certain streetscapes.

“I think Charlotte's been good for public art since I've been here. And I feel like it's something we've invested in as a city and as a county. But it does feel like there's a pretty great enthusiasm for it here now with what we're living through."

And in First Ward Park, "Balancing Act" might have taken a bit more time than envisioned to fully install, but Charlotte's newest public art display to seek out is a surprising musical experience.

"It's had its twists and turns, but I couldn't be more pleased," Stewart said. "I think it's one of the more exciting pieces in our collection currently just because it is so unique and that people can kind of interact with it."

Balancing Act
Mitchell Kearney/Photo by Mitchell Kearney
There are many different ways to make music using "Balancing Act."

Do you want to know more about arts and culture in the Charlotte region? WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry, will keep you in the loop. Sign up here to have Tapestry delivered straight to your inbox.