UNC Charlotte College of Arts and Architecture has developed and launched the Mobile Arts and Community Experience (MAX), a transportable performance venue and community assembly space. MAX was unveiled to the public on April 10 on the Levine Avenue for the Arts, housing musical, acrobatic and theatrical performances throughout the weekend.
A number of other departments on campus including the urban design, geography and education programs as well as off-campus organizations have also been involved in creating MAX.
Boxman Studios, a Charlotte-based company that modifies used shipping containers for use as temporary and mobile real estate, partnered in the assembly and production of MAX.
The project was funded by the Knight Foundation, which provided a $350,000 grant in an effort to inform and engage the Charlotte community by promoting the arts, according to Susan Patterson, program director of the foundation’s Charlotte operation.
“Instead of a permanent building, this pop-up public space will go to where the people are and invite them to engage around the arts and community issues,” Patterson said. “Knight believes MAX has the potential to reach residents who don’t normally participate in community problem-solving, and we need all residents to help address our critical problems. We are also providing a stage for less-seen artists and artistic performances that will add vitality to our cultural sector.”
Charlotte’s art scene has historically been concentrated uptown and lacked variety, according to Carlos Cruz, assistant professor of voice and movement in the UNC Charlotte Department of Theatre. Cruz, who attended college and acted in Puerto Rico, developed the idea for MAX as a way to diversify and spread the arts in Charlotte, but also hopes it will serve as a model for other U.S. cities.
“There’s not much going on with arts in Charlotte, and what is out there is not totally representative of the talent in the community The whole idea of the traveling stage is to bring the arts to communities that don’t have art. They have been very popular in Europe and Latin America, but not so much in the United States,” Cruz said. Dean of the School of Arts and Architecture Ken Lambla said he agrees with Cruz that cities in the United States, particularly Charlotte, haven’t done enough to foster the arts at the community level.
“We tend to have a fairly narrow definition of what performing arts are because in Charlotte, they’re either delivered by a major arts organization or you have to drive 20 miles to them,” Lambla said. “What we believe is that the arts in your backyard may be just as good and may be more important to the solidarity and identity of the neighborhood.”
While MAX has only been used as a performance space since it was unveiled, the space will primarily be used as a community gathering place going forward as it was designed as not just a theatre, but also a classroom and design studio. There is not yet an established schedule of where MAX will be traveling, but Lambla said it will be used in local neighborhoods that have existing relationships with UNC Charlotte such as Reid Park.
“It (MAX) has a great active presence as a performance vehicle, but it is important to understand that 60-70 percent of its use will be for the academic engagement of neighborhoods in Charlotte,” Lambla said. “We did not design and make MAX, nor did the Knight Foundation fund MAX, to bring the university to neighborhoods. The concept is to use MAX as a vehicle to work with the community to bring from the community music, theatre, dance, architecture, urban design and community planning.”
MAX’s debut on the UNC Charlotte campus will occur April 21-24 as it hosts three free performances of “The Life of that Little Scoundrel Lazari.”