Going global: CIAF returns with fresh creativity

Entertainment The Arts

August 31, 2023

In its second year, Charlotte International Arts Festival brings local, national and global artists together in a cultural celebration.

by Michael J. Solender

Earlier this summer, Anuja Jain found herself deep in the throes of an extensive homebuilding project. 

And while it wasn’t her own house the Ballantyne resident and multidisciplinary artist was constructing, her focus and commitment to the project was nonetheless all-consuming. Jain was feverishly creating dozens of birdhouses, some two stories tall, painted with geometric mandala patterns. Jain’s creative outlet is featured in a special art installation, “Birdhouse Forest,” at this month’s Charlotte International Arts Festival (CIAF).

In its second year, CIAF features dozens of local, national and international artists, musicians and performers, along with food from across the globe, at more than 200 attractions (many free) across multiple sites in uptown and Ballantyne from Sept. 15 through Oct. 1. 

Jain is one of nine local artists selected as a 2023 Blumenthal Fellow and awarded grants for their work by Blumenthal Performing Arts (BPA), the festival’s organizer and producer. BPA awarded $85,000 to this year’s fellows as part of its mission for the festival to bring together local and global artists in a cultural celebration. 

Left: Festival of India. Right: Duain Richmond & Dancers, Fela! the Concert

“We launched CIAF with a twofold goal,” says Tom Gabbard, BPA president and CEO. “To bring big, bold and wonderful things to Charlotte, and to showcase our local international artists. We are a far more diverse community than many people realize. The opportunity to celebrate the level of international diversity here in Charlotte is something to look forward to.” 

In this spirit of collaboration, Charlotte’s long-running Festival of India and the Latin American Festival have joined CIAF as partners and will hold their festivals under the CIAF umbrella. New this year, an international bazaar at Founders Hall will showcase multicultural artisans and vendors selling their custom wares to the public.

Large scale installations

“I’m creating a whimsical and colorful kind of magical spot,” Jain says of her colorfully painted birdhouses, collectively arranged in the style of a mandala. “I want people to connect with their inner child in experiencing this artwork. Mandala art is spiritual and symbolic and embodies relaxation and concentration.” Jain, whose works have been featured in Charlotte’s Festival of India and the 100 Tiny Things Project, originally hails from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Greg Urquhart is another local artist selected as a Blumenthal Fellow whose work is featured at CIAF. His large-scale project, “What the Duck,” is a giant 8-by-6-foot resin duck made from nearly 4,000 smaller ducks that are 1.5 inches high. “Thematically, I like the idea of a rubber duck and how it brings people back to a simpler time,” says Urquhart of his playful creation. “As we get older, life gets tricky, and some of these fond memories are more difficult to recall.” 

Left: Gaia at Founders Hall. Right: The festival biergarten

“Inorganica: Flora and Fauna of the Sea,” is the imaginative creation of functional artist Angela Clousher. The 28-foot tunnel of light and sound is an immersive installation representative of living, breathing coral that visitors experience by walking through the work. The tunnel is constructed exclusively from reclaimed materials, all of which have been discarded as trash. “There’s an irony here in that many of the materials used in this project are those that might have ended up in our oceans as part of the massive trash islands that are killing the coral,” Clousher says.

Several of last year’s most popular attractions will return, including a large-scale installation by Moradavaga, a collaborative of Italian and Portuguese architects. They’ll feature Lotty, a giant interactive squid sculpture complete with acoustic properties. Birdmen, the large-scale animated puppets, also returns with new surprises for children and those young at heart.

The festival’s mission has garnered strong community backing. Earlier this year, the Leon Levine Foundation pledged $100,000 to support CIAF. This newest pledge marks the foundation’s largest gift to the nonprofit performing arts organization to date. 

Left: Birdmen, larger-than-life bird puppets. Right: Chicago National Tour

“As the city [Leon Levine] called home continues to grow, TLLF is dedicated to its development as a world-class cultural destination. We’re proud to support [BPA] as they bring the arts to unreached and underserved audiences through the Charlotte International Arts Festival,” says Tom Lawrence, the foundation’s president and CEO.

CIAF’s contribution to Charlotte’s arts ecosystem goes beyond bringing the community a joyful two-week celebration. Each artist is compensated for their work, and their art is expected to be experienced by tens of thousands of people.

“There is a full sector and artistic economy surrounding large-scale installations touring globally,” says Bree Stallings, director of artistic experiences at BPA. “One of the huge benefits of CIAF is a level of exposure and experience to the Charlotte artistic community and the opportunities that come with this.” Stallings notes the informal networks and sharing of ideas, resources and experiences formed by being part of the Fellowship class and the festival are invaluable. “BPA is committed to investing in arts and artists in our community. It’s a win for everybody.”  SP

Charlotte International Arts Festival takes place Sept. 15 through Oct. 1. For schedules and additional information, visit charlotteartsfest.com.

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