Millions of dollars’ worth of projectors and other digital equipment from the famous Immersive Van Gogh gallery in Charlotte are housed in a humidity-controlled storage unit to collect dust. But not for long.
what happens: Blumenthal’s leaders for the performing arts dream up a plan to build the city a new center for the arts, spanning 30,000 square feet or so, to serve as a space for immersive public events, live performances, and arts education.
why does it matter: The immersive Van Gogh drew more than 300,000 individuals from across the region to Charlotte and provided a new way to experience art.
- It has spearheaded business at Camp North End and has poured more than $500,000 into the pockets of local artists through its residency programme, according to Tom Gabbard, CEO of Blumenthal.
Now Gabbard wants to create a permanent space to “ride this redefinition of the arts,” as he puts it.
what are you expecting: The space is inspired by projects around the world such as Ideal Barcelona, an innovative digital art hub in Spain; the Troubadour Theaters in London, which operate in semi-permanent and moving venues; and Theater of the Mind, an immersive theater experience in Denver, Colorado.
- Gabbard and his team have traveled widely for inspiration in building a cutting-edge center they believe will distinguish Charlotte as a leader in the field of immersive art.
The space: Gabbard and his team searched for the right building for more than a year, to no avail. He tells Axios that the proper drug would be for him:
- 23,500 to 31,500 square feet, including one large room of at least 10,000 square feet with no beams blocking the visitor’s view.
- Centrally located within the city of Charlotte with easy access to highways and public transportation.
- Plus: parking spaces for 300 vehicles.
Blumenthal’s leaders are also considering building something from scratch, using the Troubadour Theaters as an example. Gabbard says building a semi-permanent moving space could help the center reach more Charlotte residents, cut costs, speed up schedule, and build a space that fits their needs.
cost: Gabbard says a semi-permanent spot could cost about $3-5 million. The cost of rehabilitating an existing building depends more on the space itself, so it is difficult to estimate without securing a lease.
- Equipment is one of the biggest expenses with a hub like this. But Blumenthal already owns it.
- “We don’t envision this as something we’re going to rely on city funding for,” he says. “The cost piece is honestly the least of our fears.”
enlarge: No matter what neighborhood the center is located 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-turned-restaurant catering business, opened its doors just a few days later. “It was a huge test in many ways,” co-owner Lindsey Anvik told me.
- They saw some familiar faces in those early days, but most of the clients were new and from all over the region, she says.
- “We heard over and over again from people… that they had never been to this part of town. Our discovery, the discovery of Camp North End and all the other unique businesses here was like revealing to them a wonderful secret.”
- “our [foot] Traffic and revenue increased dramatically,” adds Anvik. “It reinforced that our fast-casual concept was something that was going to work.”
What’s Next: As Gabbard and his team continue to search for the right location, they’re seeking input from local residents and creatives about what they want in a space like this. They’re used to quick revitalization—the overwhelming Van Gogh took just a few months to pull off.
When I asked Gabbard if he worried these immersive art exhibitions were just an “Emilie in Paris” fever dream, he replied, “Almost everything in the arts is a trend.”
- With an arts and entertainment center like this one, he says, “we can go with the public because their curiosity takes them elsewhere.”