Jan 18, 2023 - Culture

Scoop: Blumenthal to build large new space for immersive art and entertainment in Charlotte

van gogh exhibit camp north end charlotte

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

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Millions of dollars worth of projectors and other digital equipment from Charlotte’s popular Immersive Van Gogh exhibit sit in a humidity-controlled storage unit collecting dust. But not for long.

What’s happening: Blumenthal Performing Arts leaders are dreaming up a plan to build the city a new arts center, sprawling across 30,000 or so square feet, that would serve as a space for immersive public events, live performances and arts education.

Why it matters: Immersive Van Gogh drew over 300,000 individuals from across the region to Charlotte and introduced a fresh way to experience art.

  • It drove up business at Camp North End and funneled over $500,000 into the pockets of local artists through its residency program, according to Blumenthal CEO Tom Gabbard.

Now Gabbard wants to create a permanent space to “ride this redefinition of the arts,” he says.

What to expect: The space is inspired by projects around the world like Ideal Barcelona, an innovative digital art center in Spain; London’s Troubadour Theatres, which operates semi-permanent, movable venues; and Theater of the Mind, an immersive theater experience in Denver, Colorado.

immersive art experience barcelona spain charlotte nc
A scene from “Klimt: An Immersive Experience,” one of Ideal Barcelona’s exhibits in its permanent space in 2021. Photo: Xavi Torrent/Getty Images
immersive art experience barcelona spain charlotte nc
Also a part of Ideal Barcelona’s “Klimt” exhibit. Photo: Xavi Torrent/Getty Images
  • Gabbard and his team traveled extensively for inspiration in building a cutting-edge center he believes will set Charlotte apart as a leader in the immersive art space.

The space: Gabbard and his team have been searching for the right building for over a year to no avail. The right property, he tells Axios, will have:

  • 23,500 to 31,500 square feet, including one large room of at least 10,000 square feet with no beams to block a visitor’s view.
  • A central location within the city of Charlotte with easy access to freeways and public transportation.
  • Plus: Parking for 300 vehicles.

Blumenthal leaders are also considering building something from scratch, using Troubadour Theatres as an example. Constructing a semi-permanent, movable venue could help the center reach more of Charlotte, cut costs, expedite the timeline, and build a space exact to their needs, Gabbard says.

Cost: A semi-permanent venue could cost around $3-5 million, Gabbard says. The cost of rehabbing an existing building is more dependent on the space itself, so it’s hard to estimate without a lease secured.

  • One of the biggest expenses with a center like this is the equipment. The Blumenthal already has that, though.
  • “We’re not envisioning this is something that we’ll be reliant on city funding for,” he says. “The cost piece is frankly the least intimidating to us.”

Zoom in: Whichever neighborhood the center lands in, Gabbard wants its programs to have a positive impact on the surrounding area and businesses.

When Immersive Van Gogh opened in 2021, Babe & Butcher, a charcuterie catering company turned restaurant, had only been open a few days. “It was a huge test in many ways,” co-owner Lindsay Anvik tells me.

  • They saw some familiar faces in those early days, but most customers were new and from all across the region, she says.
  • “We heard over and over again from people … that they’d never been to this part of the city. Discovering us, discovering Camp North End and all the other unique businesses here was like unlocking a cool secret for them.”
van gogh exhibit camp north end charlotte
Charlotte’s Immersive Van Gogh exhibit gave local artists in residency an opportunity to show their work, with a sizable payoff. Gabbard says visitors payed over $500,000 for local art during the exhibit’s run. Photo: Emma Way/Axios
  • “Our [foot] traffic and revenue greatly increased,” Anvik adds. “It solidified that our fast casual concept was something that was going to work.”

What’s next: As Gabbard and his team continue searching for the right location, they’re seeking input from residents and local creatives on what they’d want in a space like this. They’re used to activating fast — Immersive Van Gogh took just a few months to pull off.

When I ask Gabbard if he’s worried these immersive art exhibits are just an “Emily In Paris”-fueled fever dream, he replies with, “Just about everything in the arts is a trend.”

  • With an arts and entertainment center like this, he says, “We can go with the public as their curiosity takes them other places.”

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