Roses For The Living

 

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My sister Diatra and me miraculously still standing and smiling after 72 hours of nonstop event prep, heavy lifting and rose wall creation for the Gantt Center’s 2016 Jazzy Holiday Gala.

This year the Jazzy Holiday Gala was organized around the idea of art & soul, conveying the unique and vital role the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture plays in Charlotte’s artistic and cultural scene and in the lives of youth, artists, educators, families and others, in communities near and far. Together at The Center was the evening’s mantra.

Jazzy is an elegant black-tie gala and major fundraiser of the Gantt Center. After three decades, it’s become a holiday tradition in Charlotte. For the past five years, I’ve been the creative strategist/event consultant for Jazzy. Photos from past events can be seen here and here and here. As with each year, I approached the event as a large-scale art project, beginning with an organizing concept through which an important narrative from the Gantt Center can be told. Then I built out the concept from the color palette to visual design to key messages and scripting to art forms and media to the presenters to the flow of the evening.

This year, art & soul emerged as perfect because the Gantt Center is a state-of-the-art building located in the heart of Charlotte, and it carries a mission to preserve African American culture and to present art in all its forms. Its location holds particular significance because it stands in what was once the thriving, predominately Black neighborhood of Brooklyn. In innumerable ways, the Gantt Center embodies Charlotte’s heart, art and soul.

On Saturday, December 3, more than 700 guests gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center and helped raise $300,000 to advance the Gantt Center’s mission, which keeps art & soul alive and thriving in Charlotte. The event’s Presenting Sponsor was Bank of America. Gala Co-Chairs were Dr. Tiffani Jones & Thaddeus Jones and Allison & Tim Atwell, who led a Host Committee that included: Ned Austin, Victor Fields, Joan Higginbotham, Charles Horton, Michelle Horton, Jerri Irby, Alene Paraison, Yandrick Paraison and Natalie Pittman.

2016 Spirit of the Center Award recipients were: PNC (corporate citizenship and partnership); Richard J. Powell, Ph.D. of Duke University (art and culture); and Mrs. Sarah Stevenson, a founding board member of the Gantt Center (philanthropy and community).

The gala opened at 6:00 pm with an hour-long cocktail reception and was followed by dinner, award presentations, art & soul impact stories, an appeal for membership, music by Al Jasper & Friends and dancing. Membership was the focus of the evening’s fundraising appeal. Throughout the evening, gala attendees were urged to becoming a new member,  renew a membership, upgrade a membership and “gift” membership for others. The aim was for every guest to purchase a membership.

A live rose wall served as the event’s focal centerpiece. Guests posed in front of a backdrop of 1,000s of red rose blossoms as photographer Jon Strayhorn took beautiful portraits (see some of Jon’s photos below). A wall of windows outside the ballroom were transformed into a photography exhibition with artful images by Ortega Gaines. A sleek program booklet comprised colorful photographs, indicative of the Gantt Center’s art & soul.

But one glorious night, Jazzy celebrates what the Gantt Center carries out nearly 365 days a year, why it has garnered community support for 42 years, and how it works to shape the future by engaging generation after generation. Whether it’s art and soul, young and old, global and local, or black, white and brown, we come together at The Center.

View the photo slideshow by clicking an image.

 

On The Ball

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Recent months have been a whirlwind. Never one for a dull moment, I jumped when presented an opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Masquerade Ball of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. Hat tip to Melissa and David for clearing the path for my attendance.

Laurie Angela Cumbo is the museum’s founder. Her graduate thesis at New York University led to the creation of MoCADA in 1999. It has evolved considerably in 17 years and is now pursuing a move to a larger facility.

MoCADA’s Mission

“Through exhibitions and programming, MoCADA incites dialogue on pressing social and political issues facing the African Diaspora, and fosters a dynamic space for the creation and continuous evolution of culture.”

A visual feast, the MoCADA Masquerade Ball fed my curious eyes and every sense and inch. The event space at BAM was filled with gorgeous decor and sitting areas, art and other items being auctioned, plentiful NOLA-inspired and Cuban cuisine, and of course NYC’s most gifted artists and beautiful people from across the Diaspora and beyond.

The program recognized the Museum’s impact and honored individuals who have positively influenced contemporary African diasporan arts, Brooklyn and the wider community. Singers Maxwell (!) and Estelle, along with style maven Bevy Smith were Honorary Gala Chairs.

As with past soirees (like this one and this one), experiences at MoCADA’s gala fueled ideas for the Gantt Center’s Jazzy Holiday Gala and other events. Unsurprising though, being a guest is way more fun than working as an event planner. That’s how it goes. — VF

Delish

“Life is a glorious banquet a limitless and a delicious buffet.” — Maya Angelou

Every sense was fed at Friday’s ‪#‎CultureFeast‬, a long-table, family-style dinner with 200 lovers of art, culture and food in the center of South Tryon Street. An idea cooked up and served by Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council, it was quite a delicious evening that I’ll savor for some time.

My sister captured this fantastic photo of the night’s color and vibrance.

Diatra pic of culture feast

‘Someone Gave 4 Me’

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“LOVE wall” pic from The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit at JCSU.

#getyourgiveon

Deb Willis: ‘A remarkable book that informs and honors’

Charles W. Thomas, photographer of Giving Back recently reached out to a respected and highly accomplished artist in the field of photography and asked that she preview our book and provide advance commentary. Given the range of demands on her schedule, we are honored that she dedicated time to read our book. And given her credentials as a photographic historian and expertise as a curator of photography, we are nourished by what she has written . . .

“Giving Back looks poignantly at the notion of giving. The meticulously edited narrative enlightens us about the idea of caring and sharing communities. From this book, one sees through Thomas’s photographs relationships marked by respect and honor. The text and photographs inform the reader about strength, in multiple perspectives.

“Through the rich photographs—which are full of spirit and beauty and enhanced by the framing of the subjects—we see Thomas’s respectful eye. Giving Back simply tells us that Black people care which is evidenced in the photographs and the narratives. This book is useful for anyone who is interested in philanthropy but also will be appreciated by people who have a love for portrait photography.

Giving Back is a valuable resource and, in my view, will encourage others to reconsider what it means to give. 

It is a welcome addition to books promoting this field. I found the idea of the book stimulating, as it is a much-overlooked discussion. Fullwood and Thomas assembled a remarkable book that informs and honors. It enables us to imagine through the quotes, as the photographs illuminate and engage us about the pleasure of giving.
”


— Deborah Willis, Ph.D., author, historian, photographer, 2000 MacArthur genius award recipient and professor at New York University 

A Thousand Words Spoken

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher

Today is the birthday of Charles W. Thomas, Jr., the photographer for Giving Back. I’m taking the occasion to publicly thank Charles for collaborating with me on this project. Our dispositions and skill-sets proved a good match; however, it was a shared pride in our cultural heritage and love of our community’s stories that defined our work together. (Though, my loyalties as a Tarheel might rightfully be questioned for working so well with a Duke grad! Sorry about that.)

Still an amazingly vivid memory, my initial conversation with Charles happened almost four years ago. We had crossed paths professionally, but neither of us truly knew the other or had never even had a one-on-one conversation. Months earlier, I had conceived of and mapped out the book project and was now in search of a photographer.

I wanted to find someone who would approach the project with an artist’s eye and could capture the striking beauty of our people and our stories. Knowing of his affiliation with The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film, Charles had been on my list of prospective photographers, and several people in Charlotte’s arts community also had suggested I meet with him.

During our meeting, I unfolded my vision of the book and shared notes from a concept paper. Charles held an amused look as I rambled on about what I envisioned and the timeline and the resources and the logistics for making it happen. He expressed his past desire to pursue a similar concept. As we talked further, there was clear alignment of our values and artistic aspirations.

A crucial move, choosing Charles as my photography partner on the project was no doubt divinely inspired. His collaboration has been a God-sent steadying force—from his initial blind faith in my vision to his level-headedness, patience, professionalism and generosity. During the photo shoots, he established a trusting rapport with each person and thus captured telling images. He also was easy about the unexpected twists and turns of the project and the constant stream of ideas coming from me.

You will soon see, in each of the 180 photographs featured in Giving Back, a thousand words spoken not only about every subject but also about the wide soul and genius nature of Charles Thomas.

Thank you and have a happy birthday Charles!

— VF