BOOM, let there be art
Plus: Top news of the week — Myers Park High sexual assault case concludes — CMS rolls out 'Top 40' project list — Cotswold Chick-Fil-A rezoning gets green light — Charlotte FC player dies at 25
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Q&A: Since Manoj Kesavan founded BOOM Charlotte over 10 years ago, he’s created space for local artists and the city’s diverse art scene. BOOM will host its sixth annual art festival in April.
Editor’s note: As The Charlotte Ledger gears up for its fourth annual 40 Over 40 Awards, we’re sitting down with award winners from previous years to gather their wisdom and hear about the big contributions they’re making to the Charlotte region.
We’ll publish portions of our conversations in a series of articles like this one, but you can hear the conversations in their entirety on The Charlotte Ledger Podcast.
When the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte in 2012 to nominate President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for re-election, the host committee had no plans to highlight local or regional art. Manoj Kesavan decided to take matters into his own hands.
Kesavan and his informal artist collective designed a showcase of over 80 street performances including spoken word, theater and musical performances that received international media attention.
After the DNC left town, Kesavan rode the wave of energy and excitement from his collective and founded Que-OS, a nonprofit that transforms how art and culture is created and shared, and BOOM Charlotte, Que-OS’s artist-led performance and visual arts showcase.
Kesavan, a former architect and 20-year Charlottean, recently spoke with Ledger podcast host Steve Dunn of Miles Mediation and Arbitration to talk about how BOOM Charlotte has changed over the years, what to expect to see at the BOOM art festival in April, and how being artist-led shapes the organization.
You can listen to the full conversation here.
The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: After the Democratic National Convention ended, what inspired you to turn your artist collective into BOOM Charlotte and to create an arts festival?
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the idea of a fringe festival. The original one started in Edinburgh [Scotland] to showcase what was too fringy, too edgy for the main Edinburgh Arts Festival. I think it started in the ’50s or ’60s. It grew into maybe the largest art festival in the world. It's such a huge thing, especially in the U.K. The idea is that they actually are on the fringes of the city in bars and coffee shops and places like that. The fringes are where the pushing of the envelope happens.
A lot of our artists have been going to fringe festivals in other parts of the country, so it was strange for us that we didn't have our own fringe festival. Asheville has had one for many years, Greensboro has had one for like 15 years, Atlanta, and everyone else. We had $0, but we had some of the best artists in town on our team, so we thought, let’s try this. Let’s make a fringe festival.
Q: Prior to the pandemic, BOOM was held in the Plaza Midwood area. When Covid happened, you moved online. Now that you’re back in person, you’ve taken on a new life at Camp North End. What’s that like?
We have a lot more space. How [BOOM] is different from most other fringe festivals, is that I feel like we have really expanded the definition of fringe. If you go to Atlanta Fringe or Asheville Fringe, it’s still a wide space, but most of them have, say, MFAs in theater dance. They come from that very conventional academic definition of the center as well as the fringe.
However, partly because our collective itself is very diverse, racially, age-wise and everything, we are very intentionally examining what does fringe mean in today's society? Culture happens when somebody pushes against the mainstream. Culture happens at that friction point. If you look at American music, blues and rock and roll, pretty much all of that comes from the Black community. Fringe has been in the Black community, so BOOM is now a majority Black festival, and I think any major festival in the U.S., especially in the South, would be majority Black if it was purely based on talent and if you’re really trying to capture that point of cultural creation where new culture is actually being invented.
We feel like our success is in creating something that is truly representative of the diversity of the city.
Q: What does it mean to you and to BOOM to be an artist-driven organization?
Early on, Tom Gabbard, who is the head of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and has been a wonderful advisor, said something like, “your strength and weakness seems to be your artist-run organization.”
So, the good side is, during the pandemic when everything just froze, we were able to quickly pivot and go online and also respond to the crisis instead of being completely frozen by it. We partnered with local, mostly artists of color and with journalists and did a series of graphic stories about the pandemic, which was later collected into a book, which is like a fascinating snapshot of this unique time in history.
Artists don't get up to do the same thing over and over again, so we are great in responding to crisis, to challenges. However, it’s still herding cats.
Q: What are your observations of Charlotte and where do you see us heading into the future?
Funding is a huge problem for arts everywhere, in the U.S. at least. The Arts and Science Council did a big equity audit back in 2020, and it showed that only 3.5% or less of their funding historically has gone to artists and organizations of color combined. And if you remove the Gantt Center from that, it drops like 1% in a city which is 55% people of color.
There are all those very structural problems. We are still stuck in that [former Bank of American Chairman Hugh] McColl era when it comes to what is considered art and what needs to be supported. When the leadership of McColl was trying to build a new city, when Charlotte was really growing, they had a checklist of things. We needed a performing arts center, we needed a proper museum, we needed a symphony, an opera, and things like that. The Arts and Science Council supported that. They support these few entities who also have city-owned buildings, so they are rent-free. The whole arts infrastructure was set up to support those, and we haven't been able to evolve out of that, which makes it very hard for grassroots groups.
— Compiled by Lindsey Banks
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 25: A Lasting Legacy: Exploring the Impact and History of Porgy and Bess, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Gambrell Auditorium in Biddle Hall at Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte. Panel discussion presented by Opera Carolina and Johnson C. Smith University that will explore the lasting and nuanced legacies and impacts of Porgy and Bess on the global stage through centering Black voices in North Carolina’s operatic landscape and beyond. Free event.
THURSDAY, JAN. 26: Modernism + Film - Murs Murs, 7 p.m. at The Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. (Cocktail hour with cash bar will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.) The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art presents a screening of the film Murs Murs, a kaleidoscopic documentary which Agnès Varda created about the striking murals that decorate the city of Los Angeles. Bursting with color and vitality, Mur Murs is as much an invigorating study of community and diversity as it is an essential catalog of unusual public art.
Here’s a fun weekend activity: Nominate someone great for the Ledger’s 40 Over 40 Awards!
Nominations are open for this year’s Charlotte Ledger 40 Over 40 Awards, Presented by U.S. Bank. It’s a great (free) way to honor someone who may be an unsung hero in Charlotte, and it only takes a couple of minutes to do!
We’re looking for people who are making Charlotte a better place, and who are aged 40+. Do you know someone who …
Is aged 40+, and
Lives or works in Mecklenburg County, and
Is making our community better?
If your answer is “yes,” why not nominate someone today! Nomination is fast, easy and open to all. The deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 7. Our panel of independent and wise under-40 judges will get to work soon, and we’ll honor the winners in a fun celebration in person on April 27. (Go ahead and mark your calendar for that now — you won’t want to miss it!)
This week in Charlotte: Capt. Sully calls out airline safety issues; Construction begins on Charlotte’s first med school; NCDOT says public engagement ahead for Johnston Road project
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
Myers Park High sexual assault trial: (Ledger, Ledger🔒, Ledger🔒, Ledger 🔒) The Ledger had gavel-to-gavel coverage this week of the court case in which a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools student alleged that the district had been negligent in its response to a sexual assault by a fellow student. The jury ruled in favor of the district on Friday night.
CMS releases list of ‘Top 40’ projects: (Ledger🔒) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools rolled out a “top 40” list of proposed projects estimated at $2.88B as part of the district’s comprehensive review, including the addition of new magnet and IB programs to existing schools.
Josh Stein running for governor: (AP) Democratic N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced Wednesday that he will run for governor in 2024.
State official charged with hit-and-run: (Observer) N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood has been charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor for hit-and-run, leaving the scene and property damage and is scheduled to appear in Wake County court on Jan. 26.
Cotswold Chick-fil-A rezoning approved: (WSOC) The Cotswold Chick-fil-A’s rezoning request to demolish its location and replace it with a drive-thru-only building was approved by the Charlotte City Council in an 8-3 vote Tuesday.
RSVP to change South End nightlife: (Observer) RSVP, located at 225 Fairwood Ave., will offer four concepts — a bar, cocktail lounge, rooftop bar and nightclub — under one roof to elevate Charlotte’s entertainment scene.
BofA hiring freeze: (Bloomberg) Bank of America has told executives to hold off on hiring for most positions, as the company prepares for an economic turndown.
Duke Energy denying liability claims: (WSOC) Duke Energy says it will not pay claims related to the Dec. 24 blackouts, which it says resulted from “extreme weather conditions.”
Panthers under fire in coach search: (Observer) Nicole Tepper, the wife of Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, allegedly did not complete the required inclusive hiring training necessary to take part in potential candidate interviews, which is a violation of league rules.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Sully calls out airline safety issues: Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger, who was recently honored at the renaming of Charlotte’s Sullenberger Aviation Museum for his 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson,” expressed his concern in an interview with Forbes about the lack of attention around multiple airline safety issues, like single-pilot cockpits and building cellphone towers near airports.
Bank customers are spending less: Bank executives say they’ve noticed their customers are spending less money as the economy gets shakier, but they also say they’re not worried (yet).
Opportunities for Johnston Road public engagement ahead: Following a Ledger article published last Friday about early draft plans to widen Johnston Road in the Ballantyne area, an N.C. Department of Transportation official told The Ledger that public engagement opportunities are still to come on the project, possibly in the spring or summer of this year.
Charlotte’s first med school underway: Construction began Tuesday on The Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte and the surrounding innovation district, called The Pearl, at the intersection of Baxter and South McDowell streets in Midtown.
Ways of Life (🔒)
Tina Telschow of Rock Hill battled cancer with the same independent spirit that she brought to her entire life. She passed away on Dec. 17 at 62.
How Charlotte can salvage its transit sales tax: Charlotte wants to invest in light rail, buses, sidewalks, bike lanes and greenways, but the state legislature, which controls what goes on the ballot, thinks Charlotte should focus on building roads instead. WFAE’s Steve Harrison explains how Charlotte can convince the state legislature to let it raise the sales tax by a penny to satisfy everyone’s visions.
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project