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New Hanover Art Gallery
and Parking Deck opening

3/30, 3 p.m. ‘til
Hanover Street at Cape Fear
Community College, downtown

FUELED BY PASSION: Chair of Cape Fear Community College’s Humanities and Fine Arts Department, Frank Carter, stands in the new Hanover Art Gallery, located on the bottom of the Hanover Street parking deck, which are both set to open on the 30th. Photo by David Hardin

The response has been the same from everyone when I mention Cape Fear Community College’s new art space, Hanover Gallery: “In a parking deck? That could actually work!”

It’s true. Our very own community college, ranked sixth largest in the state with enrollment of 9,500 students, is upping the ante when it comes to their Humanities and Fine Arts Department. “Almost 5,000 people are constantly enrolled in an arts, theatre, humanities-type course at our college,” Frank Carter, chair of the department, says. “We have about 40 sections of art every semester.”

Even for students fulfilling requirement classes, the work that comes out must have a place to show. While CFCC has worked with community gallery spaces, such as Projekte, they often had to relegate their works to free spaces on campus, like the library, bulletin boards or cafeteria walls. Theatre students once made due in a small building in a parking lot off Hanover Street, as well as at the Schwartz Center. With the impending construction of the Humanities and Fine Arts Center—which is undergoing a revamp in design right now from over-budgeting—a 1,500-seat performance space will be included among many new arts classrooms. Conveniently, Hanover Art Gallery is located across from it all—at the bottom level of the new CFCC parking deck.

“As part of the city ordinance, in a nutshell, if you’re building a parking deck in the central business district, a portion of the first-floor street level can’t be parking,” David Hardin, CFCC’s public information officer, relays. “It has to include retail- or office-like area.”

Once inside Hanover Art Gallery, it certainly doesn’t feel like a parking deck rests above. Actually, it closely resembles a city, wherein bottom floors of office buildings and hotels often contain retail spaces or restaurants.

The deck itself, located between Hanover and Walnut streets, takes up over 400,000 square feet, with each level measuring larger than a football field. With 2,000 parking spaces available, three elevators and four stairways, along with a hi-tech digital parking-space counter—displayed upon entrance so folks will know whether spaces are open (which will be updated on a Twitter feed, too)—it will certainly alleviate the congestion of downtown traffic during weekdays. During weekends and when the community college is closed, it will be open for public use as well.

The real gem, however, is the 2,470 square-foot pristine gallery space. Awash with white walls and metal, four lighting bays feature state-of-the-art illumination, with fixtures that use photocells to help conserve energy during daylight hours. CFCC’s president, Eric McKeithan, actually came up with the concept.

“He called [the whole department together] one day and invited us to a meeting about the parking deck,” Carter recalls. “Honestly, I couldn’t figure out why. When he said he’d like to present it to the community as a gallery for people to see the work that goes on here—student work—and also to invite traveling organizations through, I couldn’t believe it. It’s rather novel—in the world of art and the world of parking.”

The faculty took to the suggestion immediately. In fact, Carter says calling them excited would be a bit of an understatement. “They were ecstatic to see a president of a college [do this.] In a world where art and music and theatre seem to be put on the back burner—in a world where that is commonplace—to have a president say let’s put it out there where everyone can see it … a man who thinks like that [means] good things for us.”

Hanover Art Gallery will feature all genres of work and a multitude of exhibits, including a faculty show in the fall, a traveling exhibit and a juried student show every spring. Their opening gala, to take place this Friday, will have at least 70 pieces showcased, consisting of 2D and 3D art. Paintings and drawings, metal and sculpture, ceramics and digital art and more will be featured. Eventually, the gallery will hang TVs to showcase video installations.

“When you hear about K-through-3rd-grade kids deprived of art or P.E. or music or whatever, you have to ask, ‘What’s happening?’” Carter says. “If you take the beauty out of the world, then the things that are not currently beautiful will probably become beautiful. That’s a sad thought: when you have to settle for art, rather than to make it a primary focus of what you do in the education business.”

Carter is planning outside events for the new space, calling it a welcomed step in an unusual direction. He is in talks with exhibitors and contributors, including the RJ Reynolds traveling exhibition, folks from UNC Greensboro, as well as the NC School of the Arts.

Also, he is wanting to do an exclusive show featuring artist Minnie Evans, based on connections with a local collector who is willing to donate pieces to the exhibit. Eventually, Carter would like to add a permanent collection of some sort.

“I will never, ever fill it to the point where students can’t get in,” Carter advises. “It’s a student facility first. “He’s even having students run the gallery as part of a gallery assistant program or to help fulfill a work-study course.

“We currently have some students who go to work in galleries across town,” Carter notes, “but now they will be able to work in our own gallery, and learn the proper methods of hanging and lighting.”

Hanover Art Gallery and CFCC’s newest parking deck will open March 30th, with a ribbon cutting taking place at 3 p.m. The exhibit, juried by CFCC faculty and staff, will feature student work throughout the evening. First-through-third-place prizes, along with Best in Show, will be awarded. The gallery plans to be included with future Fourth Friday Gallery Nights, which takes place across downtown Wilmington and is open to the public for free every fourth Friday of the month. “Nobody’s going home until the last person sees the art,” Carter promises.

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