Charlotte, N.C. (Dec. 22, 2022) – Since June, the City of Charlotte's Arts and Culture Advisory Board, in partnership with Foundation For The Carolinas and private donors, has awarded roughly $11.5 million to local arts and culture organizations. This money from
Infusion Fund is stabilizing local arts and culture — the sector has suffered funding setbacks in recent years, including the COVID-19 pandemic and decreased workplace giving — as the city plans a more sustainable future for the sector.
We sat down with Sir Will, a photographer, videographer and mixed media artist, and Dammit Wesley, an artist, DJ and "all-around menace" (his words) — they co-own the gallery and studio
BLKMRKTCLT — to talk about how
the Infusion Fund supported their recent Hunnid Dollar Art Fair, and how the fund is helping grow local talent and creative businesses.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Tell us about the
Hunnid Dollar Art Fair, its purpose and why you think it's important.
Dammit Wesley: The Hunnid Dollar Art Fair was born out of what we used to do; it was called the Hunnid Dollar Art Show. Roughly four to five years ago, I saw a need for more accessibility when it comes to artwork. I assumed there were a lot of artists like me that would over-produce throughout the year, and we essentially have these treasure troves of artwork that's just unseen. So, there's no better way to start off the year than to clean house and get rid of a lot of your inventory and create anew.
We used to do them at the People's Market, the old school People's Market. Grew out of that space, started doing them in our own studio, BLKMRKTCLT. And I think last year was our biggest year. We did close to $25,000, if not more, in artist sales.
Sir Will: Basically, we were doing them out of People's Market, then the pandemic hit. And then Camp North End said, "We're going to still do the Mistletoe Market again, would you like to have something inside your space?" We're like, well, let's do a Hunnid Dollar show. So, we did a Hunnid Dollar show in 2020 and it got grown really good. So, we did it again in 2021. We had about 20 artists — sold about 200 pieces of work in about one day. It was a madhouse.
The bear just grew from that — to bring in more artists, bring in more exposure, but also bring in the ability for people to collect from new artists that they might not know at a good price point.
DW: There's definitely a void in Charlotte for a collectors market. Having been able to work so closely with museums and galleries in general, it's obvious that the majority of the fine art sales that happened in the city, those transactions are coming from people that live out of state. There's definitely a void in Charlotte for a collectors market. Having been able to work so closely with museums and galleries in general, it's obvious that the majority of the fine art sales that happened in the city, those transactions are coming from people that live out of state.
Q: What does it take and what kind of support do you need to put on something like the
Hunnid Dollar Art Fair?
Sir Will: Well, one of the first, biggest things we need to put on things like this is financial backing.
We've been putting on this show since 2018 with no money at all, and just making it work. This year, while we did get the Opportunity Fund, we had already planned to put everything together. What the Opportunity Fund did offer was the ability to make what we had expand more, as in adding in the lighting, bringing in people that can actually work. Without the fund, we would not have employees who can run it. I'd be running around like a chicken with their head cut off.
But also in terms of sponsorship support, sponsorship support allows us to keep the fees cut down. As an artist, we get 100% of the sales. The more support we have, the more money the artists get back to them.
Q: The Opportunity Fund was a new tool the city created to fall outside typical grant cycles. What is that grant process like for you as artists, for you as producers of events like the art fair?
DW: For us, an event like this needed to happen now, versus later. Having those types of unrestricted funds that don't come on a very specific time schedule allows people to be a little more creative.
There are just some moments that you can't capture in a bottle like lightning, and I believe that this is one of them. So, shout out to those that were courageous enough to give up money for this fund, and just allow crazy creators like myself and business-minded people like my partner to have the ability, flexibility and agility to make things happen when they need to happen naturally.
SW: A lot of times, when it comes to applying to certain grants, you have to plan years in advance. Some events, you aren't able to plan as early in advance. I can't tell you, a year from now, how much money I'm going to spend on something if I don't know what I can do. That means that I spend the whole year waiting on that money to come in, in hopes that I can give you an event.
And a lot of times when we fight for grants for shows like this, we don't really get them because [grant funders] don't completely understand why they're giving money for the show. But this type of grant funding helps with that, fills in the gaps.
Q: Last question: The Infusion Fund is meant to be a springboard for a new future of arts and culture in the Charlotte area. What do you hope that future looks like?
SW: What I hope arts in Charlotte looks like, especially with funding like this, is more events like this actually happening on a better scale. Yes, while a lot of things like this do happen, a lot of people are doing it with scraps and pennies, or they're not doing it correctly.
When people start seeing more events like this happen, and then they're getting more connected with us or other people that do things on a different type of level, they're able to make the arts and the culture grow.
I see better events, more culture coming to Charlotte in terms of artists. There's a lot of artists in the city and we're really not considered an arts-led city. I can see that happening in the future with funds like this. It makes it actually possible.
Learn more about how
the City of Charlotte is supporting arts and culture.