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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.

New Levine Museum App Showcases Charlotte History With Augmented Reality

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Levine Museum of the New South
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The Levine Museum of the New South's KnowCLT app lets people use their smartphones to explore Charlotte's former Brooklyn neighborhood using augmented reality and recorded oral history.

Charlotte is notorious for making over the old with the new. If you’ve ever found yourself both admiring new construction and wondering what it replaced, you’re not alone.

And now there’s an app to help. Levine Museum of the New South just launched KnowCLT, which lets people use their smartphones to conjure up scenes of Charlotte's past right before their eyes. Users just head to Charlotte’s Second Ward, pull out their phone, turn on their headphones and take a GPS-guided walk down memory lane.

“With this app people can explore the history of the Brooklyn neighborhood at home or uptown in Second Ward, where the neighborhood once stood,” said Eric Scott, associate director of exhibits and programs at Levine.

Brooklyn was a thriving African American community in the heart of what’s now known as uptown. It’s all but lost to history.

“There are seven sites that are brought back to life using augmented reality, so users can see structures that no longer exist where they once stood and then listen to community members speak to the significance of the sites and their memories of them,” Scott said.

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Levine Museum of the New South
Signs and footprints throughout uptown Charlotte's Second Ward indicate where people should use the KnowCLT app to learn about the former Brooklyn neighborhood through augmented reality.

There are signposts throughout Second Ward that people can scan with their phones, and there are even painted footprints on the ground that indicate where someone using the app should stand to get the most immersive experience. The phone acts as a lens to the past, showing historic structures superimposed on top of modern Charlotte.

People can use the app from anywhere, but the augmented reality features can only be accessed in the old Brooklyn area. The app has seven chapters with audio recordings and transcripts that help tell the neighborhood’s story from its heyday to its destruction during urban renewal starting from 1961-1970.

That process wiped out more than 200 businesses, nearly 1,500 homes and displaced more than 7,000 families, according to the Levine Museum.

There’s also a chapter focusing on the former neighborhood’s future and plans and hopes for the area. Much of the app’s content, including its living history interviews, come from Levine’s “Brooklyn: Once A City Within A City” exhibit.

Augmented reality areas include the site of the former Second Ward High, where people can hear from those with memories of the school, including a former driver’s ed teacher, an honor roll student and a resident who was heartbroken when she found out the campus would close before she could attend. And there are many other sites in the same vein — the Alexander Funeral Home, Savoy Theatre and Brevard Street Library, to name a few.

Charlotte nonprofit Potions & Pixels, which uses games to make a social impact, teamed up with Levine to design the app.

Founder Michael Zytkow says one of the ideas behind Know CLT was to use the video-gaming experience to help educate and enrich residents about the city.

“You link better to your community,” Zytkow said of the experience of using augmented reality to glimpse images of the past. “You connect better to what happened and realize that history is all around us.”

And like a game, KnowCLT has achievements that users earn for completing tasks. Zytkow says the team partnered with several Black-owned businesses to offer perks for people who get achievements through the app.

“When I see Second Ward, I think so strongly of Brooklyn now because of this app and because of the experience,” Zytkow said. “And I think that’s the unique opportunity that place-based experiences like this offer. You’re out there, and you’re standing in front of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and you can’t help but feel like, ‘I know the history here, and I know that there stood the first Black library in Charlotte.’"

Right now, Brooklyn is the only area featured on KnowCLT. But Scott says that could change.

“We have a list of topics that we are talking around right now that I hope we can also open up to some community polling to see what people are interested in learning about and parts of the city that they’d like to explore,” Scott said. “And that’s the cool thing about this, that we can just keep adding new experiences, keep building it out and make history more accessible.”

There’s more information about the app at museumofthenewsouth.org. It’s also available in smartphone app stores.

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