Around the Charlotte area, there are lots of arts and cultural treasures to be found. And two of them just received significant recognition.
JazzArts Charlotte and the Catawba Nation Cultural Division were designated to be among the first “Southern Cultural Treasures”, along with 15 other Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)-led arts organizations across the Southeast.
South Arts first announced the Southern Cultural Treasures program in fall 2021 as a complement to the Ford Foundation’s America’s Cultural Treasures program, which acknowledges and financially supports diverse arts organizations across the country.
JazzArts Charlotte and the Catawba Nation each will receive funding to further their missions.
JazzArts Charlotte was founded in 2009 by Lonnie and Ocie Davis, who moved to Charlotte from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
Originally known as the Jazz Arts Initiative, the organization works to create community connections and further develop Charlotte’s audience for jazz through youth and adult education and summer camps, live jazz performances, like its Jazz Room series, and musician support.
As part of the Southern Cultural Treasures recognition, JazzArts Charlotte will receive $300,000 in general operating grants through March 2025.
“We were thrilled to say the least,” Lonnie Davis said. “It allows us to be a little more creative and take more risks with introducing new programs, and even in the performances, to continue to expand and reach top-notch, world-class talent in our Jazz Room series. It’s going to be impactful across the board.”
The funds will allow the organization to expand its existing educational programming.
That includes reinstating WeBop, a preschool jazz program, which was lost during the COVID pandemic, and growing Nuestro Tiempo, a weekly program for middle and high schoolers focused on Latin Jazz.
Mecklenburg County’s Latino population has grown by 36% in the last 10 or so years, according to research by UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute. Tapping into the rich heritage of Latin Jazz furthers Davis’ goal to create cross-community connections that otherwise may not occur.
“Our programs are helping build social capital, building social equity by connecting people who would never cross paths in our community,” Davis said.
Referring to recent internal audience research that her organization had commissioned, Davis said it showed that JazzArts Charlotte has the most diverse audiences of arts organizations in Charlotte.
“In education level, age, socioeconomic status, life stage, every aspect of diversity, we have been told that we’re the most diverse, and we’re very proud of that,” Davis said. “We have been very intentional about access and removing barriers and bringing people together.”
Graduates of JazzArts’ youth programs have gone on to big things. One former student, pianist Sean Mason, accompanied legendary jazz musician Wynton Marsalis this summer for a septet tour at the Marciac Jazz Festival in France, among other stops.
Others have left Charlotte to study music at Harvard University and the Berklee College of Music, according to Davis.
With education at the forefront of JazzArts’ mission, the funding will also help sustain Jazz Arts’ hiring of Patrick Brown, who recently was appointed as its director of education and will oversee the JazzArts Academy.
“Jazz, being an indigenous American art form, originally established and created from an African American experience… is really important to who we are as Americans,” she said. “It’s the only original American art form. And it’s our gift to the world. JazzArts Charlotte represents the continuation of the preservation of that heritage, history and culture.”
JazzArts Charlotte’s inclusion in the inaugural cohort was supported by a grant from a local Infusion Fund, a cultural fundraising partnership of the City of Charlotte, Foundation For The Carolinas, and private donors.
Catawba Nation Cultural Division
The Catawba Nation Cultural Division began in the 1980s as a small group of Catawba citizens meeting in their homes to preserve Catawba culture and history, particularly its pottery tradition.
Incorporated in 1989 and based in Rock Hill, the Cultural Division pursues its mission through a cultural center and museum, a store for buying and selling Catawba arts, the Catawba Archives, a tribal library, a language project and a historic preservation office.
As part of the inaugural Southern Treasure program, the Catawba Nation Cultural Division was awarded $196,254.
Wenonah Haire is the division’s director and oversees the Nation’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office.
When the group heard it received the grant, “We were ecstatic,” she said. “It felt really good because it was self-directed and it is a general support grant.
“General support is so important… One of the things we want to do is put some funds aside, whether it’ll be endowment or another financial sustainability instrument, to help support a salaried position.”
The funds also will go to help sustain the Catawba Nation’s existing programming, like the Day of the Catawbas, a festival that will return Nov. 19, following two years of cancellation due to COVID.
“This is when we share our cultural heritage with the outside public, an immersion to bring the family to, to see and experience the culture,” Haire said.
Part of the funding will also go to archival acquisitions.
“We have amazing works of art from our elders, both living and in the past, that we need to get pieces of — pottery, basketry, flutes —for our archives,” Haire said. “That is very important for the present but also for future generations, public and tribal, to be able to see, firsthand, some of the amazing artwork that our people are capable of doing.”
They also plan to beef up the available items in their trading post, an onsite store where arts and cultural items are sold to the public. And they are working on growing a public-access living village experience to accompany their existing historic Yehasuri wagon wheel trail.
“History is important to everyone, no matter what your culture is,” Haire said. “We are in the United States of America, but as a tribe, we are a nation within a nation.
“Charlotte was one of our ancestral homelands. We feel it’s important to let the Charlotte audience know we are alive and well and progressing, and there is much to be learned by coming and sharing with us.”
The Catawba Cultural Center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m to 5 p.m., 1536 Tom Steven Road, Rock Hill.
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