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The Heart of Charlotte Arts

Meet three Charlotte artists enhancing the city’s cultural scene
Left to right: Jamie Clifton, (Charlotte Ballet), Andrea Mumm (Charlotte Symphony) and Ivan Depeña (McColl Center for Art + Innovation)
Left to right: Jamie Clifton, (Charlotte Ballet), Andrea Mumm (Charlotte Symphony) and Ivan Depeña (McColl Center for Art + Innovation)

By Leah Hughes

Each time an artist chooses to practice his or her work in Charlotte, the city’s cultural sector expands. Residents benefit from each individual who contributes to the rich arts and culture scene. These artists allow us to take in plays and ballets, experience concerts, and admire creative compositions in museums and alongside city streets. Here we get to know three local artists who make those experiences possible.

Jamie Clifton, principal dancer, Charlotte Ballet 
When Jamie Clifton joined the Charlotte Ballet seven years ago, the company, then called NC Dance Theatre, operated out of a small studio in NoDa.

“We’ve just been growing as an organization every year since I joined,” Clifton says.

Charlotte Ballet now occupies the Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance in Uptown. “Being a part of the growth of Charlotte Ballet and the whole rebranding campaign has been very exciting,” she said.

Clifton, a California native, began taking dance lessons at age 9. She landed her first professional job right out of high school. After stints in New York, New Jersey and Ohio, Clifton tired of the cold weather. She had heard good things about a company in Charlotte and decided to audition here.

One of her most memorable experiences with the Charlotte Ballet was when she danced to the work of a favorite choreographer, Jiří Kylián, while she was three and a half months pregnant with her daughter. Fittingly, Clifton named her daughter Killian as a tribute to the choreographer.

Clifton enjoys taking Killian to Discovery Place, which she considers a fun outing with no age limits. When her best friend came to visit, Clifton took her to see the “Dinosaurs in Motion” exhibit. Another Uptown favorite of Clifton’s is 7th Street Public Market, where she especially enjoys a pick-me-up treat from Not Just Coffee.

“As the company has been growing, so has the city of Charlotte,” she said. “It’s great to watch Uptown transform.”

As she’s gotten to know Charlotte, Clifton has learned that there’s a place here for any kind of artist. She admires the work of the Arts & Science Council to bring cultural opportunities to the community.

“It’s good for the kids to have that access,” Clifton said. “It’s good for any well-rounded human being.”

Ivan Depeña, artist in residence, McColl Center for Art + Innovation
Charlotte’s growth potential in the arts and culture realm is one of the reasons Ivan Depeña chose to relocate here. He is now on his second stint as an artist in residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation.

“One of the reasons I embraced coming here is I liked the energy and enthusiasm surrounding the arts in general,” Depeña said. “I like the idea of not treading on a beaten path and putting energy toward a new development or new phase in the creative environment.”

Depeña is a multidisciplinary artist. He holds a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. But when he rattles off his list of preferred media, it includes sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, video and others. He also considers technology to be a valuable artistic tool.

“It’s all of those things that come together to do the work that I’m producing,” he said. “The idea dictates the medium. Starting from that point, it can vary greatly as far as what tools I use for a project.”

He enjoys working at the McColl Center, both because of the building itself and the gathering place it has become for the arts community. The Gothic revival structure was originally built in 1926 as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. After the church was sold, a 1984 fire left it gutted. The space was renovated, and the McColl Center opened in 1999 with the mission of connecting art and artists with the community.

“It’s a good sort of art hub for the city,” Depeña said. “It really does have a strong anchor in the creative community.”

Depeña and his family have strengthened their ties to Charlotte and now consider themselves Charlotteans. When Depeña first came from Brooklyn, New York, to Charlotte, he enjoyed the city’s climate, amount of space and affordability. Alexander Michael’s Restaurant & Tavern, a Fourth Ward staple and local favorite, has become one of his go-to spots.

He recently purchased a house in the Colonial Village neighborhood. After six months of renovations, he’s happy to finally call it home. “Looking out the window into the trees makes me feel good about our house and the relocation in general,” he said. “I get positive vibes out of the whole experience.”

Andrea Mumm, principal harpist, Charlotte Symphony
For Andrea Mumm, music is a family tradition. Her mother and father, both members of The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, sneaked her into rehearsals when she was a child. They brought her into the back near the harp.

She played the piano and violin first but took up the harp at age 11 or 12. Her mother plays the violin, her father the viola and her brother the cello.

“That was my rebellion, choosing the harp,” Mumm said. “But the sound is just gorgeous. Even beginners sound good on the harp.”

Mumm won the Dr. Billy Graham Principal Harp chair of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra four years ago at age 24. Becoming a principal harpist has been her number one goal since she began playing, and she’s enjoying the experience, even though she has been relegated to driving a minivan to accommodate her bulky instrument.

“The fact that I can go to a job I love every day makes me feel like I duped someone,” she said.

Her favorite performance so far was Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 last November. Mumm said Christopher Warren-Green conducted it in a way that made it feel like a love song, causing her to take a fresh look at a piece she had enjoyed for a long time. Mumm is also excited about the upcoming Symphony Pops show with Boyz II Men.

“I am a giant ’90s R&B and rap fan,” she said. “When I found out we were playing with Boyz II Men, I immediately got my boyfriend tickets.”

Mumm, a city girl who grew up in New Jersey with parents who worked in New York City, lives in Uptown. BB&T Ballpark is only a 10-minute walk from her place, and she spends as many summer afternoons in the stands as she can. The Punch Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte is her favorite place to go after a concert.

“I love the skyscrapers; I love the traffic,” she said. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s home to me.”

This article ran in the February 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings.  

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