Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The history of arts and banking in Charlotte

Only in Charlotte would the headlining speakers at a giant celebration of the arts be two bankers.

In between performances by members of the Charlotte Symphony and the North Carolina Dance Theatre at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and Wachovia CEO Ken Thompson took the stage to announce the city’s most ambitious cultural fundraising drive ever – seeking to raise $83 million by 2009.

Their appearance along with Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers was a quintessentially ‘Charlotte’ moment. Whenever anything significant involving the arts community happens, usually one or both of our megabanks gets involved.

The tradition began with former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, who deserves the lion’s share of credit for shaping an arts district on North Tryon Street. He believed a vibrant arts community would benefit both his company and the city where it has its corporate base.

Under McColl’s watch, which ended with his 2001 retirement, the bank paid millions to convert the former ARP church on North Tryon into an artist’s colony. Ditto for the Mint Museum of Craft + Design in the former Montaldo’s department store building. Those Ben Long frescoes in buildings around downtown? McColl’s idea. Walk under the domed archway in the Transamerica building, between Therapy Cafe and Rock Bottom Brewery, then look up and you’ll see McColl’s image in one fresco – he’s the one with an hourglass and pup tent.

And so the tradition has fallen to the two Kens, of Wachovia and Bank of America – Rogers of Duke Energy drew laughs on Monday night by calling himself their Barbie. The two banks have pledged $15 million apiece to the fund drive, and Duke has pledged another $5 million. The funds will be used to operate new cultural facilities being planned in uptown.

Some wonder whether the Arts & Science Council will be able to reach its goal. For years, Charlotte held the rank of the No. 1 city for per capita giving to the arts in the nation. So I’d say the chances are good.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When is Duke going to get on board and have a "Ken" CEO like the other big boys in town?

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And to all those outsourced employees, this is another "kiss it" moment.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a most worthy campaign for the arts in Charlotte, deserving of broad-based support from the people of Charlotte and indeed from all Carolinas communities who appreciate what is being done to create a true arts mecca at "the Crossroads of the Carolinas."

The great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok ("Concerto For Orchestra") spent the last two years of his life (1944-45) and completed a number of compositions while receiving medical treatment in Asheville, just a stone's throw from the Blue Ridge and Western Piedmont "homeplaces" of bluegrass flatpicking virtuoso Doc Watson and the late finger-picking blues guitar legend Etta Baker.

Thus it is only natural that in the field of music, for example, Charlotteans have for several decades now nurtured the development of a broad and diverse range of musical and other artistic performances in the heart of the Queen City. Combine this musical legacy with a heightened interest in the visual arts, film and dance, and one can only hope that this ambitious drive by the Arts and Sciences Council will culminate in meeting its goals by going for "The Tops" (Cole Porter) and maybe even bringing in "The Four Tops" too.

12:10 PM  

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