Thursday, February 27, 2020

Family Friendly Art Adventures

In our family, we talk about doing things because it makes us more interesting people. I think being interesting ranks up there with being kind, being humble and being respectful when it comes to being a good friend, family member and community citizen.

Every outing we take is an opportunity to experience something that makes us more interesting. That’s equally true for both outdoor adventures and cultural excursions. Sometimes the latter can feel a little daunting, especially for families with young kids. But why not start with art? There is tons of art around town and plenty of family-friendly ways to experience it. Here are six fun options:

Stroller Tours
Levine Center for the Arts, which comprises Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and Mint Museum of Uptown, now offers free guided stroller tours at 10:30 a.m. the second Wednesday of each month through May.

This family-friendly, one-hour tour, which rotates museums each month, caters to the needs of small children. Need to peel off for a potty break? No big deal. Worried your toddler might get a little squirmy or noisy? To be expected. Not sure how to talk about the art in kid-friendly terms? Trained docents are equipped with age-appropriate discussion questions. They’ll also offer adult-friendly perspectives on the tour as well.

To take a stroller tour, register with the host museum in any given month, show up with an easily-maneuverable stroller, and check your angst at the door. This art outing was made for your whole family to enjoy.

Uptown Art Walking Tour
Charlotte's got loads of public art adorning parks, walls and corridors all over the city. And there’s an easy way to learn about some of the pieces that make Charlotte such a vibrant place to live. The Arts & Science Council's 45-minute Center City public art walking tour podcast guides visitors from one installation to the next, offering insight on both the art and the artist. The background information on the pieces includes helpful commentary on medium and the artist's inspiration.

Here’s how to take the public art walking tour.

Art Walk on the Rail Trail
There are dozens of bright, quirky and curious displays scattered along the Charlotte Rail Trail, the paved path that borders the Lynx light rail track from SouthEnd to Uptown.
Within a mile stretch of the Rail Trail, you can spot an 8-foot chicken, a giant yellow swing set, magic carpet sidewalk murals, an interactive chalkboard, an enormous seesaw, a bright red oversized exclamation point, a wire dinosaur, a parking-deck-sized comic strip, and a number of splashy wall murals.

The Rail Trail offers a good way for people of all ages to get outside, get moving (walk, ride, scoot or push a stroller), and see something new. And there are lots of food options when you want to take a break. 

Here’s how to take an Art Walk on the Rail Trail.

Mint Museum Uptown Family Room
One of our favorite places to spend a morning is the Lewis Family Gallery at The Mint Museum Uptown. One section of this space is stocked with art supplies and devoted entirely to personal creativity. It’s easy to spend hours making artwork – whether that’s coloring with crayons, doing origami, stringing beads, or constructing a multi-media project.

The family room, which is open during regular museum hours, also includes some educational exhibits, a small toddler foam building block pit, a couple of construction centers, a play kitchen, and plenty of space for other hands-on creative play.

And, the museum also offers curated activities, like ART Pack scavenger hunts, and programs, like Sunday Funday. Check event schedule and learn more about the Lewis Family Gallery at The Mint Museum Uptown.

Take a Mural Walk
These days, facades of buildings across town are adorned with funky, colorful, thought-provoking images. Some pieces are obvious, some more obscure, but all are worth a look. The Plaza Midwood neighborhood has a concentration of murals that make it easy to take a tour that will give you a taste of the eclectic neighborhood and the wall art that makes it so colorful.

Here’s how to take 10-stop mural walk in Plaza Midwood.

Purser Hulsey Park
Here’s a fun combination: Art and fresh air. That’s what you’ll at Purser-Hulsey Park in Matthews. About 15 miles from uptown, it's a relatively short, easy drive to get there. It boasts plentiful parking, a large community garden, a little free library and, most notably, some really fun trails.

But here’s why I recommend you make this your next local hiking destination: The 1.5 mile Painted Rock Trail loop is not only a pleasant, manageable hike for all ages, but it’s lined with clever painted rock trail markers.

Someone with notable artistic talent has painted at least a hundred rocks and placed them along the trail loop. All of them are beautiful, and some are especially witty. Visitors are encouraged to pick them up and leave them in a new spot along the trail as they hike (this is an especially effective motivator for young hikers!). And, park visitors are invited to bring their own painted rocks to add to the mix.

Here’s how to experience Purser-Hulsey Park.

So, go on. Commit to being more interesting. Art is a good place to start and opportunities to find it in Charlotte abound.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Take a 10-Stop City Mural Walk

The first mural I remember in Charlotte was when basketball players Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning were plastered larger than life on the side of the (then) First Union building uptown. It was the early 1990s, we'd just landed our first big-time professional sports team, and the city was abuzz with Hornets mania. All the cool kids were wearing teal and purple.

I remember gaping at the mural, amazed at its detailed enormity, on display for all of uptown see. It's probably been since then that have I been captivated by that kind of public art. Those images of Muggsy, LJ and Zo are long gone, but, in recent years in particular, a new wave of mural art has found home in Charlotte. These days, facades of buildings across town are adorned with funky, colorful, thought-provoking images. Some pieces are obvious, some more obscure, but all are worth a gander.

But where to find them? Charlotte Agenda has one of the best guides I've seen. It is super comprehensive and helpful -- especially the interactive map.

For an afternoon activity, I suggest taking the following 10-stop mural tour through Plaza Midwood. This approximately 1-mile loop will give you a taste of the eclectic neighborhood and the wall art that makes it so colorful.

How to get there: Park on Commonwealth Avenue somewhere between Pecan Ave. and The Plaza -- if you can find a space. Public parking is limited in this area and local establishments are notorious for booting and towing, so be careful. You might consider parking elsewhere and taking a stroll or riding a bike or scooter over.

Stop #1: Head east on Commonwealth Ave. away from town. Turn left onto The Plaza. The first mural is at Sushi Guru (1217 The Plaza). Artwork: Sushi by Darion Fleming.

Stop #2: Follow The Plaza toward Central Ave. and take a left. The second mural is at Pizza Peel (1600 Central Ave.) Artwork: Snake by Darion Fleming.

Stop #3: Continue on Central Ave. town. Cross Thomas Ave. The third mural is on the side of Coaltrane's Char Grill (1518 Central Ave.) Artwork: Plaza Midwood Tribute by Matt Hooker, Matt Moore and Tucker Sward.

Stop #4: The fourth mural is on a wall behind the restaurant in the Thomas Ave. Public Lot (1225 Thomas Ave.). Artwork: Drag Queen Tribute by Matt Hooker, Matt Moore and Nick Napoletano.

Stop #5: Retrace your steps to Central Ave. and take a left. Cross Central at Pecan Ave. and follow Pecan to Providence Auto Repair (1315 Pecan Ave.) Artwork: Under the Water by Nick Napoletano (the mural wraps around the entire building).

Stop #6: Swing back to Central Ave. and hang a right, stopping at The Nook (1421 Central Ave.). Artwork: Neptune by Matt Hooker, Matt Moore and Tucker Sward.

Stop #7: Follow Central Ave. to Clement Ave. and take a right to the backside of Midwood Steakhouse (1401 Central Ave.) Artwork: Superheroes.

Stop #8: Re-cross Central Ave. at Clement Ave. and head one block toward town. Stop at Salon 1226 (1226 Central Ave.). Artwork: Womanhood by Garden of Journey. Also take a few minutes to wander around the block and parking lot surrounding Moo & Brew (1300 Central Ave.) There are a number of murals here.

Stop #9: Take Central Ave. back to Pecan Ave. and take a right. Stop at Peculiar Rabbit (1212 Pecan Ave.) Artwork: Vinny the Rabbit by Southern Tiger Collective.

Stop #10: Follow Pecan back to Commonwealth Ave. and take a left at Smooth Monkey (1801 Commonwealth Ave.). Artwork: Smooth Monkey by Ashley Graham.

This should bring you back to where you began, albeit with a better appreciation for Charlotte's mural art scene.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Center City Public Art Walking Tour

Art! It's everywhere. Charlotte's got loads of public art adorning parks, walls and corridors all over the city. And more is constantly being installed, thanks to both public and private commitments and a 2003 ordinance that appropriates one percent of eligible capital improvement project funds for public art. (Check out a list of current and upcoming projects.)  

Want to know more about some of the pieces that make Charlotte a more vibrant place to live? Consider taking a 45-minute walking tour of public art uptown.

It's easy: Download the Arts & Science Council's walking tour podcast, which guides visitors from one installation to the next, offering insight on both the art and the artist. The background information on the pieces includes helpful commentary on medium and the artist's inspiration.

Stops include Ben Long's frescoes in the Bank of America tower, the giant disc at The Square, parking deck art on South Tryon, a wind sculpture in Gateway, a Romare Bearden work at the main library, and water pieces in the government district. Even if you pass these everyday, you'll discover them anew by pausing to learn a little more about how they came to be.

Before you go, I print (or at least downloading to your phone) the tour brochure.

Take your time and go at your pace. Kids will enjoy this, too: Position it as a scavenger hunt and they'll be off to the races.

How to get there:
The public art walking tour begins in the lobby of the Carillon Building at 227 West Trade St. It ends around Spectrum Arena. Parking is available on the street or public lot, but you might consider taking the Lynx light rail into town.

Don't forget to take:

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Clarks Creek Nature Preserve

What to do with unseasonably warm winter days? It feels a shame not to take advantage of the pretty weather, but it can be hard to override our hibernation brains to make spur of the moment outdoor adventure plans. May I suggest a hassle-free, accessible, fool-proof option: Nature preserves.

These oases of undeveloped green space teaming with local plants and animals make for a perfect urban escape. There are 26 nature preserves located throughout Mecklenburg County, which means you probably live close enough to one to make a quick trip on a whim.

We've been to many of our local nature preserves and some of our favorites are Big Rock Nature Preserve, Evergreen Nature Preserve, Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, and RibbonWalk Nature Preserve. Recently we checked out Clarks Creek Nature Preserve and will definitely add it to our rotation.

Located a little more than 20 minutes north of Uptown Charlotte, Clarks Creek Nature Preserve offers several miles of flat, grassy, natural-surface loop trails. (See the trail map.) This terrain is good for all ages and skill levels. I recommend the Bluebird Loop, which is a little over a mile long. It will take you through some wooded areas and you can tack on loops to go by the creek or the pond.

At the parking area is a playground, picnic shelter and porta-potty. Just across the street is Clarks Creek Community Park and I highly recommend a stop there before or after your visit to the nature preserve.

Our weather is so whacky these days, it's hard to know what to expect. But the next time a spring day sneaks up on you in February, keep nature preserves in mind. Clarks Creek is one of many wonderful options we have around here.

How to get there:
Clarks Creek Nature Preserve is located at 5542 Hucks Rd., Charlotte, NC 28269.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trails are only partially shaded.
  • Comfortable shoes: Something supportive for easy terrain.
  • Water: Stay hydrated. You can refill if needed at the Clarks Creek Community Park across the street.
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch: Spread a blanket or enjoy the picnic shelter.
  • Bugspray: Fend off mosquitoes in summer months.