The Charlotte Art League: a creative community

Arts / Article

Down on Camden Road in the South End where manufacturing once flourished a busy hub of artists are creating and collaborating. The Charlotte Art League (CAL), a non-profit visual arts organization, is the genesis of this activity. “Some artists can work in a studio for weeks with just a little social contact with others. I couldn’t manage that. The social stimulation provided by the Charlotte Art League fulfills an important need,” commented Doug Day, artist and member of the Charlotte Art League.

In operation for more than 40 years, CAL does not fit within a single category of arts non-profits. In fact, it is hard to define: it is a gallery, a collection of studios, a support network and a classroom all in one. The League rents affordable working studios to artists; creates monthly exhibitions in its gallery space; and provides art workshops and classes. Its membership of about 150 people is open to emerging and professional artists, art educators and patrons. This inclusivity was part of the original intention of CAL’s founding members, Annie Ackerman, Wilma Allen, Doris Banisch, Dot Davis, Marie Dorsey and Kay Mitchell – five women who broke away from the Guild of Charlotte Artists in the mid-’60s.

Above all the Charlotte Art League supports Charlotte artists. The Vision Statement says it all: “CAL exists for the purpose of art: to create it, teach it, foster it, promote it, advocate for it and grow from it.” The significant number of artist studios within the League’s building fosters a creative community where artists can collaborate, critique each other and be inspired. As new member Cynthia Powers put it, “CAL is an environment where I can focus with people I can relate to.”

The mix of artist members from emerging artists to seasoned professionals generates an eclectic mix of art with great variety in style, medium, subject and theme. Carol Lee Mueller, a long-time member, provides an apt description. “CAL is the best place to go and see a macrocosm of the Charlotte art scene,” she says.

Among the work on display at the Charlotte Art League is the high detail of Cynthia Powers, whose realistic portraits are intimate and personable. “Uptown Girl,” her current project, is a portrayal of friend and artist Barbara Ruth Mann with the Charlotte Skyline in the background.

Also on view is the multimedia work of Doug Day. “A Different Twist” makes Day’s enthusiasm for exploring form and material evident.

And the subtle yet intense abstractions of Carol Lee Mueller, whose work in mixed media encourages viewer response and curiosity.

No matter what style you prefer at CAL the message is clear: “Buy local art.”

The Charlotte Art League is not just a supporter of artists. It has a larger mission to enrich “the cultural vitality of Charlotte through the visual arts.”  With this in mind, CAL has sought to be a “cultural catalyst” in the South End.  According to Sandra Gray, vice president of CAL’s board, the League has been central to the gentrification of the neighborhood. Mueller remembers when the neighborhood was downright “scary” and she first balked at the idea of opening CAL in its current location. Now this area of Camden Road and South Tryon is bustling with shops, art galleries and artists’ studios. Even a thriving nightlife exists.

Additionally, the League makes art accessible to the public. It is open Tuesday-Thursday, 11- 3 p.m.;  Friday, 1-8 p.m.; Saturday, 11-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Visitors have the rare chance to see artists at work due to the open studio concept, and most artists are happy to discuss their work with visitors. For those familiar with CAL, you’ll be happy to hear that air conditioning is in the works  – just in time for that oppressive summer heat!

While admission is free, consider making a donation. As in the case of all arts organizations in this recession, funds are tight, and we need to do all we can to support grassroots efforts that promote art and add to Charlotte’s cultural vitality.

The Charlotte Art League 1517 Camden Road Charlotte; 704-376-2787 or [email protected];