Jul 24, 2015 - Things to Do

The McColl Center for Art + Innovation: Charlotte history, architecture and modern art all in one place. And, it’s free!



On a cold November night in 1984, the wind whipped against the sturdy stone structure of the abandoned church, as a woman who was homeless crept through the vestibule seeking shelter from the steadily dropping temperatures outside. She built a small fire and added a few chairs to the embers to fight away the chill. Suddenly the flames leapt out of control and within minutes the entire church was ablaze.

And so, the building that was once the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church entered the second phase of its long life, that of a burnt and slowly decaying symbol of early 20th century Charlotte.

The charred frame stood for years as a somber sentinel, a reminder of past urban glory, and anyone living in Charlotte in the mid-80’s and early 90’s remembers seeing the scorched beams and stone facade as they drove past on Tryon Street or raced around the I-277 belt-line.

A Quick History

The A.R.P. Church was originally designed by James M. Michael, a local architect who designed over 50 churches in the Charlotte area, and was built in 1926 by local builders Blythe and Isenhour.

ARP Church Before the 84 fire

Through the 1930’s and 1940’s the church flourished and was a center for community activity within prosperous Fourth Ward. But starting in the 1950’s, due to various factors, the congregation began to dwindle and in 1982 the church was purchased by the Chateau Fourth Ward Corporation.

Charlotte ARP Church after Fire

The tragic fire of 1984 gutted the church, leaving little more than the frame and stone exterior in tact. Then in 1995 Bank of America acquired the church with the intention of creating a community for artists in the heart of Charlotte. The church was redesigned by FMK Architects and rebuilt by Rodgers Builders, and in 1999 the McColl Center for Art + Innovation first opened its doors to the public.

The McColl Center for Art + Innovation

Today the McColl Center for Art + Innovation is focused on fostering a community of creativity within Charlotte. The Center hosts up to nine resident artists, offers workshops, community outreach programs, guided tours, and much more.

The Center maintains the inherent inspirational qualities from the original church design and features over 30,000 square feet of studio and gallery space.

An open and soul-enriching layout encourages connection with your fellow man and the divine, a quality not unlike the A.R.P. Church’s original purpose. In fact you wouldn’t be too hard pressed to draw multiple parallels between the original church’s over arching intents and those of the current McColl Center.

One of the many features that makes the McColl Center for Art + Innovation such a unique cultural gem, are the resident artists who create their work on-site, just steps away from where their art is displayed.

This proximity to the artist, gives the art a context and immediacy that you won’t get from a typical trip to the museum. The artist’s are on location, distilling their experiences and perspectives into tangible and beautiful works.

If you would like to connect with the artists, the McColl Center offers Open Studio Saturday’s. On these special occasions The Center’s artists-in-residence open their studio doors to the public and you have the chance to see them at work, talk to them about their process, and maybe even learn a few things to apply to your everyday life. The next Open Studio Saturday will be August 8th, from noon-4pm.

The McColl Center for Art + Innovation offers so much to the Charlotte community, from the current exhibition, ‘Prison Zoo” by Alumni Artist-in-Residence Alix Lambert, to the Innovation Institute. You’ll have to go to the McColl Center’s website to get a better idea of all of the creative opportunities available right here in Uptown Charlotte. The McColl Center is open to the public on Thursdays from 5-9pm and on Fridays and Saturdays from noon-5pm, and admission is free!

So this Thursday, try a new after work ritual.

Cruise on down to 721 North Tryon Street and experience a piece of Charlotte history, appreciate some classic neo-Gothic architecture and get a taste of what today’s artists are creating, all in one stop.

And because the McColl Center for Art + Innovation is just down the street, you’ll still have time to catch your favorite tribute band at Alive After 5. Who knows you might even enjoy the show more after having your artsy taste buds awakened.

Some photos via the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Landmarks Commission.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Charlotte stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more