Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Charlotte Chamber Music aims for 100,000 listeners

How's this for thinking big? Charlotte Chamber Music lays out its organizational vision like so: "Charlotte becomes the cultural center of the Southeast through the vibrant engagement of its citizens, connected to their humanity, history and each other."

We probably shouldn't hold one cultural group responsible for all that. Even when it focuses on its own role, though, Charlotte Chamber Music's goals are ambitious. By 2014, the group wants to enrich its musical offerings, develop new ways to reach audiences -- with performances online, for instance -- and "convince 100,000 people to participate."

That's from the prospectus the group is shopping around Charlotte as it starts raising the money it will need: $500,000 over the next three years. At the plan's core, the group envisions "an acoustically amazing" venue of about 300 seats -- the right size to showcase chamber music.

No one knows of such a place right now. But "it's not necessarily that we have to build something," says Elaine Spallone, the group's executive director. The answer might be a renovation somewhere -- such as the auditorium at the new Mint Museum Uptown. At the moment, sound echoes in there, says Ben Roe, Charlotte Chamber Music's artistic director. But that might be fixable.

So the group wants to bring in theater specialists to help with the search. Its plans also include hiring a full-time artistic director; studying what current and potential listeners want; and beefing up the website so it can deliver music.

Those are high hopes. But the group thinks it has the right material: music that's "intimate and personal."

"Chamber music, as an art form," the prospectus says, "is the epitome of connecting people and engaging them."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fundraising website jumps into action

N.C. Dance Theatre doesn't go onstage with Mark Diamond's "Bolero" for another six weeks or so, but the performances' first leap took place Monday: On first day of the Art & Science Council's new fundraising website, $10,000 came in to help cover the NCDT's costs.

NCDT's request was one of five that were completely funded within hours of the unveiling of The site enables cultural groups to post projects that need financial backing. It's part of the ASC's effort to energize its fundraising by going beyond its annual wintertime campaign, which seeks money for dozens of arts groups' general operations.

As of Monday afternoon, 84 donors has pledged a total of $105,000, ASC vice president Krista Terrell said. Out of the 50-plus requests on the site, these five were completely covered:

NCDT's "Bring a Ballet to Life": $10,000 to sponsor a revival of "Bolero," choreographed by NCDT's Mark Diamond in 2008. The money helps with the choreography fee, dancer time and costumes. The performances are Oct. 13-15.

Another from NCDT, "Outfit our Dreams": $1,038 to buy uniforms for children taking dance classes through NCDT REACH, a program for students whose families can't afford classes on their own. The girls' uniforms, $24.80 each, include leotards. NCDT mercifully allows the boys, whose outfits cost $36.80, to wear shorts and T shirts rather than tights.

Community School of the Arts' "Music Lessons for All": $1,300 to give need-based financial aid. Each $100 pays for a month's work of weekly 45-minute lessons.

The Charlotte Symphony's "Discover the Magical World of Music with Lollipops": $600 to buy craft materials for children's activities during the pre-concert festivals of the orchestra's Lollipops series.

Children's Theatre of Charlotte's "Help CTC Fill 'er Up": $560 to buy gas for the van that shuttles the company's professional touring troupe, the Taradiddle Players, throughout the Carolinas and Virginia.

The projects reached their finish lines with the help of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The foundation, established by former owners of the Charlotte Observer and other newspapers, is matching all pledges to the site up to a total $100,000.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Looking for cultural chemistry

Critical Mass may sound like it should stand atop a column devoted to the Catholic church, so I'll start with a confession: The name is actually a hand-me-down from a friend in another town who decided he didn't want it himself.

No matter where it comes from, the name works perfectly for Charlotte. The city has worked for decades - at least since the Arts & Science Council issued its 25-year master plan in 1976 - to set off a cultural explosion. Charlotte prides itself now on starting into its second 25-year plan with the opening of the Levine Center for the Arts uptown.

Does that mean the arts boom is upon us? Well, think about the unheralded milestone coming up: This season will be the 10th anniversary of the Charlotte Symphony's last season with a balanced budget. Since then, while the orchestra has managed to keep playing, a series of other cultural groups - beginning with Charlotte Repertory Theatre - have gone under.

So it looks like the arts community is still looking for the fuel it needs. You have to give people credit for sticking with it, though.

A while back, leaders of Charlotte Chamber Music filled me in on their coming season. They had wanted to include Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, one of the most beloved chamber works there is, but it wasn't an option. There wasn't room at the First Presbyterian Church to put four string players next to a piano.

So the group is on a quest to find a new place to go someday - part of a master plan of their own. We'll come back too that soon.