The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, formerly known as the Afro-American Cultural Center, is located in Charlotte, North Carolina and named for Harvey Gantt, the city's first African-American mayor and the first African-American student at Clemson University.
The 46,500 sq ft, four-story center was designed by Freelon Group Architects at a cost of $18.6 million — and was dedicated in October 2009 as part of what is now the Levine Center for the Arts.
Freelon was named lead architect for the building, and he welcomed the narrow lot as a challenge. The four-story building is a modernist structure and located above tunnels that connect College Street to Stonewall Street. The stairs and escalators up to the lobby are based on Jacob's Ladder in the Book of Genesis. The building's design was inspired by the Myers Street School in the Brooklyn neighborhood. It was Charlotte's only public school for African-Americans from 1886 to 1907. On the East wing wall is "Divergent Threads, Lucid Memories" a work by David Wilson of Apex, which was inspired by quilts which recalls the history of Brooklyn.
On the plaza connecting the center to other area buildings, Intersections by Juan Logan uses Kuba patterns from Democratic Republic of Congo, with chevron and diamond patterns representing connections between different cultures.
Vivian Hewitt was the first African-American librarian hired by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and she taught and served as a librarian at Atlanta University. Her husband John taught English at Morehouse College. John and Vivian Hewitt, though not rich, put together one of the most significant collections of African-American art during their 50 years of marriage, starting in 1949. The art works were gifts made to each other over the years. The works were affordable for them at the time they bought them because white people had not started buying them. This changed as the importance of African-American artists later became clear. The Hewitt Collection was purchased by NationsBank (later Bank of America) in 1998, with the plan being to locate the works in an expanded Afro-American Cultural Center. The collection toured the country, and the 58 works now make up the majority of the Gantt Center's permanent collection. The 20th century African-American artists include Henry Ossawa Tanner, Ann Tanksley, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden.
Shortly before the Gantt Center opened in October 2009, 26 works by 20 artists went to the center. Other works from the collection were scheduled to appear in the gallery devoted to the collection over a two-year period.
In 1974, as an English professor and doctoral student at UNC-Charlotte, Mary Harper proposed an Afro-American cultural center for Charlotte. Working with Dr. Bertha Maxwell-Roddey, director of the University's Black Studies Center, she called her proposal "Vistas Unlimited: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Afro-American Cultural and Service Center". The Center was planned to let African-Americans celebrate their identity and culture. Harper and Maxwell-Roddey started with two festivals in Marshall Park, and after the second festival, the women helped start the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center.
The Afro-American Cultural Center used space in the First Baptist Church known as Spirit Square. Eventually, Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church was selected as the permanent location. The building was declared a historical landmark in 1982.
On December 7, 2007, the Afro-American Cultural Center, which had said earlier in the year that their new facility would be named for Harvey Gantt, revealed the formal name The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture. This was later changed to Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
The Gantt Center was the first part of the Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia) Cultural Campus to be completed. It had four times the space of the Little Rock site.
The dedication ceremonies were held on October 24, 2009. Mayor Pat McCrory, who was about to leave office, told Gantt, "Former mayor to former mayor, you have been a great role model. You are the best of Charlotte, and I am so glad to see your name on this building." Gantt said, "This beautiful, awesome building is far beyond my wildest dreams. I feel good about what this magnificent building represents – how far we have come."
Cover image by Harvey B. Gantt Center. Information courtesy of Wikipedia.