By Jimese S. Orange
A unique artist residency program, utilizing a home and converting the garage into a gallery and work space where internationally renowned artists reside, work and create in the heart of a historic African-American neighborhood, is taking off in Charlotte. It’s called the The Roll Up, and the goal of the program is to connect the artist to the community, to create images from the community and use art to start conversations and solutions around gentrification and systemic racism.
The program is the vision of Charlotte-based arts scholar Jessica Gaynelle Moss, who was awarded a $53,700 grant from Knight Foundation to fund the program.
“I founded The Roll Up CLT in 2016, with the goal of activating a national network of artist residencies in vulnerable neighborhoods with a concentrated population of the economically disadvantaged,” Moss said. Moss knew she didn’t want to set up the program in just any neigborhood, so she started where she grew up. “Investing in my own community, watering my seeds in the places they were planted and vesting my interests in the neighborhoods that I came from, and that I call home.”
While living in Camp Greene, Moss felt challenged not to become complacent, so she decided to take action: “The only way that I know how to take action, with all of the tools and the skills that I am equipped with, is through the arts…That’s my channel, that’s my strength.”
Moss’ role as liaison is to assist the artist-in-residence in navigating within the community.
The inaugural artist for the program will be renowned photographer Zun Lee, best known for his critically acclaimed photographic documentary project, “Father Figure.” Last year, his exhibition shed national light on often-overlooked aspects of Black fatherhood , through intimate black-and-white photographs, and graced the walls of the Harvey B. Gantt Center.
“Part of The Roll Up is actually rolling up our sleeves and converting the roll-up garage space into a space where the community can convene,” Zun Lee said. Lee will start his residency on June 1.
“A lot can be done in six months by me being focused. I am a photographer, and I do visual stories by embedding myself in the family or in the neighborhood or community, and this is how I work already… Iit’s an extension of my practice, “ said Lee. “I’m really excited, because Jessica is local. She already has preexisting relationships, and there is a lot that has been done for us to hit the ground running.”
Lee will create a new body of work during his six-month residency, which will end in November. Lee will also be working with the Lorien Academy of the Arts and have the opportunity to teach photography courses to west Charlotte youths. “Teaching is one thing, but I want to engage these kids in more than just pedagogy, so while I’m there living and working, why not also engage these kids in learning by taking them outside of the classroom to explore the neighborhood with me,” Lee said.
He hopes to impress upon the students a way of taking thoughtful images of themselves, their neighborhoods, families and communities.
“I always had this desire to connect with people and figure out what is magical about their lives, so to speak,” he said. “And the camera gave me a tool to do that. The work happens before and after I take the photo. The photo is just evidence of that work. The work is about building that relationship so you can get to the moment of pressing the shutter. You have to get to the point to where you are no longer a stranger…It takes investment and building that trust…The images are a result of that.”
The Roll Up Charlotte Artist Residency Program is located at 3003 Minnesota Road, Charlotte.
Follow @therollupclt on Instagram to see history in the making.