Sunday, June 20, 2010

Charlotte: The Venice of the Carolinas?

I'm blogging from a conference of the International Urban Fellows of Johns Hopkins University, in Athens (Greece, not Georgia). I'll be updating this and sending more posts as time and internet access allow.

ATHENS – Laugh if you want. I've just had a conversation with an Italian professor from Venice that made me think Charlotte and Venice may have a lot in common.

Without the canals, the seaside locale and the splendid cathedrals.

Pier Luigi Sacco, who grew up in a town in central Italy but who now teaches at the University of Venice, started saying that Venice doesn't respect its historic buildings or its tradition of arts and culture. My response was only slightly more coherent than, "Say what?"

We un-cultural Americans, of course, think of Italy as a land of high culture, where beauty and art are worshipped daily.
Not so in practical Venice, said Sacco. Venice values the arts only if they can be shown to improve economic development, he said. It's a city with a centuries-old history of commerce, which has led to a very practical and mercenary outlook on such things.

Sound familiar? Charlotte is also the kind of place where artists have to justify the arts as an economic engine. (To be fair, that's true of many other American cities.) Our Arts & Science Council does studies of that sort routinely. So do state arts agencies. I know New York City did a similar study not too long ago.

Sacco described how an important art historian in Venice had told a conference of other art historians that the importance of the arts was so that tourists would leave the city with empty pockets. (!) That's putting it a bit nakedly, I guess, but if you listen to our local boosters you'll hear a lot of similar thinking, more politely couched, about Charlotte arts groups.

Now, about those canals ...

(Disclosure note: The Johns Hopkins Urban Fellows Program paid my travel expenses to Athens for the conference.)


Karl said...

Charlotte is also the kind of place where artists have to justify the arts as an economic engine.

Really? How do you explain, then, the requirement that a certain percentage of any government project (the light rail, for example) must be spent on public art? That's how we ended up with big discs by the light rail line, umpty-thousand dollar trash cans on Central, and gigantic sculptures outside fire stations.

You need to do something about those persistent delusions of grandeur you keep suffering from. Charlotte is not anything like Venice. Or Paris. Or Tokyo. Or New York. And guess what? It never will be. Stop trying to make Charlotte something it is not.

Danimal said...

I don't know, Charlotte's looked a lot like Venice lately with all the recent flash floods. Perhaps we coupld plant some gondolas around Doral Apartments off Monroe Road...

As of Venice itself, it's always interesting to see how locals view their own towns as opposed to our tourist perceptions.

consultant said...

Venice is to canals
as Charlotte is to NASCAR
as South Carolina is to Alvin Greene

JAT said...

Karl, I'll go you one better: Winghaven. Proof positive Charlotte has no clue when it come to art or culture. Oh -- the Trolley Barn, another ASC legacy $$$ hog. Why?

Having said that, Mary does have something of a point: Look how quickly we nuked Charlottetown Mall (only the oldest enclosed mall in the SE) just because Pappas and crew were willing to build exactly what city staff wanted built there, ie, the now empty "Design Center" etc.

Maybe we can take cruises down Sugar Creek and pretend we know what we are doing...