CHARLOTTE — In 2005, Tom Friedman famously proclaimed that the world is flat. It seems this flattening is rapidly extending into unexpected corners, like the Carolina arts scene. More and more, art critics across the country bemoan the loss of local culture in the artwork they see from state to state, whether in large cities or in small towns.
“Trends move faster across the country and around the world,” notes Lance Esplund, chief art critic at Bloomberg News. “I’m seeing less regionalism, less and less sense of a feel for the place and the people from the artists’ work. In some ways I think that’s kind of sad. I remember seeing a show and reviewing it in New York and then flying to Santa Fe and seeing 10 of the exact same things.”
Charlotte’s Larry Elder aims to change that.
Elder launched Carolina’s Got Art!, a two-state arts competition in 2009 with the goal of supporting Carolina artists.
“We want Carolina’s Got Art! to represent the diversity or artwork being created across the Carolinas. To do that, you’ve got to find artists in the large metropolitan areas as well as in small towns and communities, which is no small task.”
Now in its third year, Carolina’s Got Art! has cemented a partnership with Belk, which strongly supports investments in regional arts. Thus far, they have received entries from over 130 cities and towns across North and South Carolina.
“We pride ourselves in having coverage from all corners of both states,” said Michael Orell, co-producer of the art exhibition, which will be held at Elder Gallery in Charlotte’s SouthEnd arts district.
The team tracks entries by location, placing a pin on two large state maps to highlight where they have had success getting the word out and where we haven’t. “We want our maps to look like they’ve gotten the measles,” he said.
A glance at the artwork submitted to any of the previous Carolina’s Got Art! exhibitions shows serious variation by region and even by state. This year’s entries include sculptures made of twist ties, vessels constructed from pine needles and paintings of varying subject matter and techniques.
This variation and uniqueness among the work was a defining reason that Esplund chose to serve as juror for the 2013 exhibition. In the coming month, he’ll select roughly 100 pieces from all the entries received that, in his opinion, represent the best that the two states have to offer.
“I’m hoping there will be some real surprises…cool things, new things,” said Esplund. “That’s why we’re all in this business, to discover people and see things you hadn’t expected to see.”
And he has seen a lot over his career as writer for Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun, Art in America, Harper’s, The New Criterion, and The New Republic.
When asked why Esplund would undertake such a project he responded: “My interest in doing things like this is that it gives you the sense of the area, the place and the people. More professional venues do not give you this. It’s more a flavor of the place. I believe in supporting younger artists, unknown artists, emerging artists, people who are just genuinely good but don’t have any options.”
Artists who want to enter can do so online via www.carolinasgotart.com. The deadline for entries is March 15.