Imagine opening an email and discovering the arts organization you run has just been awarded a $3.5 million endowment grant that you never even applied for.
That’s what happened recently at McColl Center when President and CEO Alli Celebron-Brown learned that Windgate Foundation, a private family foundation in Arkansas, had selected the Charlotte non-profit’s nationally recognized artist residency program for the gift.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Ben McCarthy, McColl’s vice president of philanthropy. “Not an application process, whatsoever.”
The center’s relationship with Windgate is not new, however. The Little Rock, Arkansas-based foundation has been supporting McColl Center through traditional annual grant applications for several years, McCarthy said. Those donations have ranged between $100,000 and $125,000, and have supported various programs, including underwriting some artists’ residencies each year.
The new endowment grant will provide ongoing support for McColl, enabling the organization to draw up to 4%, or about $145,000, annually from a fund specifically earmarked for the artist residency program, which brings artists from around the world to Charlotte.
“We’ve always had a residency program, but I think this allows for ... the public and artists to know that commitment is solidified for the next 20 years and beyond,” said Jonell Logan, McColl’s vice president and creative director.
The gift also will help McColl Center take new risks to expand and enhance its current program.
Windgate Foundation’s work
Windgate was established in 1993 and supports educational programs in contemporary craft and visual arts across the United States, including K-12 and higher education institutions. The foundation also supports programs for economically and socially disadvantaged children in Arkansas.
A representative for Windgate declined to be interviewed about the grant in Charlotte, saying the foundation preferred to keep the focus on McColl Center. According to tax records, Windgate’s net assets were valued at more than $651 million at the end of 2020. As reported by the Arkansas Times, Windgate was started by the Hutcheson family with proceeds from the sale of Walmart stock they had received when Sam Walton acquired Hutcheson Shoe Company in 1978.
Windgate’s website lists The Center for Craft in Asheville as one of the organization’s largest grant recipients. The Mint Museum also has received several grants from the organization in the past and recently announced two $1 million dollar gifts from the foundation to expand its Craft and Design collection, focusing on acquisitions of works by living and diverse craft artists.
McColl Center residencies
McColl’s artist residency program has traditionally focused on emerging artists, bringing in cohorts of four to six artists at a time for three-month stays. Logan said it is a competitive and well respected program, drawing artist applicants from across the U.S., as well as some other countries.
During residencies, artists have their own studio spaces, plus 24-hour per day access to communal equipment used in a variety of artistic disciplines, including ceramics, sculpture, woodworking, printmaking, digital media and 3D labs. Artists also receive an honorarium and housing during the residency.
“They don’t have to worry about anything other than their practice while they’re with us,” Logan said.
The organization supports local artists too by offering subsidized studio rentals at McColl and access to the communal equipment. There are now 10 artists participating in the local program, known as The Studios. That program is also supported by Windgate, along with Bank of America, and Chandra and Jimmie Johnson.
But now, thanks to Windgate’s endowment, McColl will have the ability to try some new things with its residencies.
Among them is a program for more established artists that will launch in the next few months, called the Catalyst Residency. It will feature a shorter time-frame for artists who might otherwise not be able to commit to a traditional residency but could come to work on a particular project and collaborate with artists in Charlotte.
“In some ways that helps us bring another level of creativity and experience to the residency program, and that all goes to Charlotte,” Logan said.
Artists learn from one another and their practices evolve, Logan said, and that is something that happens regularly at McColl Center as artists-in-residence bring their ideas, practice and experience with them. “We have local artists who started as painters and are now doing printmaking work downstairs in our print lab or ceramics,” she said.
Another new residency program specifically for parents and educators will begin in summer 2022 with five artists. Logan said a recurring challenge has been that artists who have children or teach are unable to come for residencies during the school year. The parent/educator residency will make it possible for these artists to come to Charlotte.
McColl is exploring other ways to support them, such as having some of the artists’ children attend the organization’s summer camp program. Logan said staff are also thinking about ways to collaborate with other groups in Charlotte to support creatives that come here.
The new grant allows McColl the flexibility to take some risks and “play with” the program.
“We’re able to think about how can we restructure this to really serve the artist, now that we have this really strong financial foundation for that particular program,” Logan said.
This fall, McColl, which also features 5,000 square feet of gallery space for artists to exhibit and sell their work, announced a new rebranding campaign. It shortened its name from McColl Center for Art + Innovation and added a sleek, new black and white logo.
“We’re really excited about the future of McColl Center and the work that we’re doing to put the artists first and be this hub for creativity here in Charlotte,” McCarthy said. “And we have a lot of really exciting programs and events on the horizon, so … stay tuned.”
Where: 721 N. Tryon St.
Gallery hours: Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
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