Arts Oasis in a Sporty Town


The landscape of the uptown district of Charlotte, North Carolina, is dominated by mega-sports domes like the Bank of America Stadium, home to the Carolina Panthers, and the much-ballyhooed Nascar Hall of Fame, a 150,000-square-foot entertainment complex set to open May 11.

But nestled amid these modern-day shrines to sweat and gasoline is a brand-new cultural oasis where high art reigns. Indeed, a 10-minute walk from the stadium to the hall of fame reveals three new museums and one new theater — which, by this fall, will have opened within one year and one block of one another on South Tryon Street. Called the Wells Fargo Cultural Campus, the project, which began in 2005, was the brainchild of Bob Bertges, the director of corporate real estate for Wachovia Corporation.

“At the time, Wachovia was growing very rapidly. We were looking for a global approach,” Mr. Bertges said of both public and private efforts to lure international sophisticates to North Carolina’s biggest city. And despite the recent upheavals in the financial world — including Wachovia’s acquisition by Wells Fargo in 2008 — the plan for the campus has come to fruition.

Perhaps the most eye-catching structure, and the most recent to open, is the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (420 South Tryon Street; 704-353-9200; Designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta, the terra-cotta-tiled building has a playful, sweet-potato-like column supporting a cantilevered gallery containing works by marquee artists like Giacometti, Miró, Degas and Max Ernst.

Louise Hanford, who has homes in both Charlotte and Florida, is a fan. “I was totally impressed,” she said. “It was built in consideration of the art it would accommodate.” As an example, she cited the expansive fourth-floor gallery that includes floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding an atrium in the middle of the space that give framelike views of works from one side of the floor to the other.

The museum has an intimate feel because its entire collection — only 10 percent of which is shown publicly at one time — was amassed by one family. “Our holdings are a reflection of a particular family over 70 years and two generations who formed it while living in Zurich and the U.S.,” said John Boyer, president and chief executive of the museum.

The Bechtler shares an event space with the Knight Theater (No. 430; 704-372-1000;, which opened last fall and is now the permanent home of the North Carolina Dance Theater. Across the street is the Mint Museum Uptown (No. 500; 704-337-2000;, a new annex for Charlotte’s highly revered institution. The 145,000-square-foot structure, scheduled to open in October, will house the Mint’s American and contemporary collections (Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, Ansel Adams), as well as some of its European holdings and all of its craft and design pieces.

Down the block is the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture (No. 551; 704-547-3700; The center provides a permanent home for the renowned Hewitt Collection, which includes works by black artists like Romare Bearden and Ernest Crichlow. It also has three galleries with rotating exhibitions.

As for the campus as a whole, “It’s one-stop shopping from a cultural perspective,” said Mr. Boyer, who seems excited about the prospects of Nascar fans and tailgaters enjoying a little 20th-century modern art, and vice versa. “There is a wonderfully rich complexion here which one can argue is uniquely Charlotte, but in other respects, American.”

— Hilary Howard, The New York Times

Image: Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Firebird” at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, part of the city’s new Wells Fargo Cultural Campus.
(Jeremy Lange for The New York Times)