How to attend an art exhibition in Charlotte

How to attend an art exhibition in Charlotte
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After many discussions about what exactly I write about, I have noticed a trend. As soon as something along the lines of “gallery opening” or “exhibition” comes out of my mouth I get this sideways glance and nod, as if to say – I didn’t realize people went to those kinds of things much less wrote about them.

Many people I know have never really approached visual art outside of school field trips or family vacation stops at museums. Many I know would never walk into a gallery by choice.


There is a social stigma surrounding fine art; one that may be growing less pronounced by the year but one that still exists. It’s time to set aside the idea that exhibition or gallery openings are intimidating, boring, or for the rich; that the art therein is confusing, meaningless or too complicated. Like going to the movies, watching a TV show on Netflix or consuming any other kind of visual media, all it takes is knowing what to expect.

Luckily Charlotte’s visual art scene is flourishing in more ways than one. So if you hear about an exhibition at, say, the McColl Center for Arts + Innovation or perhaps the Mint Museum, or at Twenty-Two off of Central Avenue, keep these pointers in mind and your night admiring the work of Charlotte’s best and most talented artists and curators will be worth it 10 times over.



I promise, gallery openings are not for rich old people. 

As a whole, the art scene here in Charlotte is extremely diverse. Walk down Sout Tryon Street around 8 p.m. on the first Friday of the month and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Who would have guessed lines would be so long for an event like Jazz at the Bechtler – a great opportunity to experience one of Charlotte’s best museums and hear some incredible music.

Here you will find, young professionals, parents who left the kids with a babysitter, older couples, and even some teenagers. So many people from so many different backgrounds are taking advantage of the curricular and extra-curricular activities offered by our most prestigious museums – and for good reason.


In Charlotte’s numerous smaller galleries, the crowd at these kinds of things is considerably younger, and hipper. This is due, in large part, to the artists, who are often young people themselves. Go figure. If you can handle yourself around your average plaid mustachioed 25 year old – you should have no problems here. Most don’t bite.

The atmosphere is not always formal. 

I guarantee whatever you wore to work, unless you work from home in flannel pajama pants, is more than acceptable attire at pretty much 95 percent of Charlotte’s gallery or exhibition openings. A good 40 percent to 50 percent of them might even let the flannel pajama pants fly – you’d be surprised.

Open Studio Saturdays, which are offered time to time by the McColl Center, Charlotte’s most well known artist residency, are a great opportunity to experience the avant-garde stuff without the crowds or formal atmosphere of a more conventional gallery opening. Events like this let the public walk right into the studio where the art-making is happening – talk to the artists, who are not all pretentious nebulous French people or wacky Dali impersonators, and experience first hand the often messy, exciting work that goes into visual arts.


Don’t worry about “not getting the art.”

People have been trying to define art for hundreds and hundreds of years. There have countless debates about its nature; people have lost ears over it. Many people claim to not “get” abstract art and find representational art “boring” but, like I mentioned before, like any other visual media it’s all about the approach.

So, say you’re on a date…

Walk into the gallery and head to the bar – in all likelihood there will be at the very least a cash bar – and grab a drink. Talk with your date or your friend… or if you’re a lonely single person go find another lonely single person and talk to them, don’t be shy. It always helps to have a buddy.

Buddy in tow, walk to the first piece of art you see and after a beat, offer your initial thoughts about it – do you like it? What do you like – the colors, the subject? Does it remind you of something? Ask your buddy for their thoughts… and BOOM! You’re doing it! You’re at a gallery opening and its not weird! You even got a drink out of it! Sooner or later, 20 minutes has gone by and you’ve only stopped at the first piece of artwork.


By the end of the night you’ll walk away talking about it not too dissimilarly to the way you might talk about a movie or television show – “Remember that part? Yeah and that one artist, what was his name the one with the photos of…” Nothing to be intimidated by, nothing to be scared of, very few old people to cramp your style. All the amazing Charlotte art culture to gain – nothing to lose.

Keep an eye out for correspondents like HappeningsCLT here at Axios Charlotte for up-to-date coverage of Charlotte arts that way you too can take advantage of Charlotte’s radically expanding arts scene.

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