Creative Crossroads: The short life of Dugg Dugg
Posted on 7 Jul 2009 by James Willamor
photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
This is the fifth in a series titled “Creative Crossroads” — where we take a look at the current state of arts and creativity in the city.
The Dugg Dugg art gallery opened in early April on the night of the first warm spring gallery crawl in NoDa. It would be closed some two and a half months later, a victim of red tape and code enforcement bureaucracy. Yet in its short life, Dugg Dugg showed the Charlotte arts scene something important. It showed us what art could be in the city, and it is a lesson which other galleries and studios should take to heart.
The short life of Dugg Dugg, and its impact on the Charlotte arts scene:
Iris Williamson (left) and Andrea Brown (right), two of the founders of Dugg Dugg. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
Dugg Dugg grew from an idea that several young dreamers had about what contemporary art could be in Charlotte. Stephan Monteserin, a local actor and creative spirit, put a great deal of effort into getting the idea off the ground. “Amongst our friends, we’d spoken for years about this kind of place and after a good amount of talk, we jumped in.”
Stephan Monteserin on opening night. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
After weeks of hard work, the upstairs space of the old mill had become an art space unlike any in the city – one more akin to a gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, rather than NoDa, Charlotte. As CLT Blog contributor Liz Barrett described it,
“In just two weeks, Andrea Brown and Iris Williamson, young twenty-somethings, transformed this neglected warehouse space, overcoming an inch of dust on the ground, rust-covered toilets and gaping holes in the floor that looked into the laundry mat below. The end result was an unpolished, edgy art space crawling with art-lovers and hipsters sipping wine and enjoying art and conversation on Dugg Dugg’s opening night.”
A crowd packs Dugg Dugg on opening night. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
Dugg Dugg opened to a packed house, as artists, art lovers, and various creative types turned out to see something fresh and innovative in NoDa. An old mill, once part of the backbone of the city’s economy, sat vacant for years until the upstairs portion was turned into what Stephan describes as “a gallery space for fine art, film, music, and discussion that would elevate and promote the view of challenging art outside of the cities with art monopolies.” He goes on to say, “Charlotte is not on anyone’s art map, yet contains a wide array of people who crave more opportunity to experience great conceptual art, performances, sculptures, installations, and bigger city traveling shows, as well as visiting artists, and a wider array of artists-in-residence from out of town. All are traditionally difficult to find here.”
Buzz from the opening was mostly grassroots and word of mouth, as the gallery received little, if any, mention in traditional media. Over the following weeks, Dugg Dugg hosted various events, including a performance by local comedy troupe Sharazad Improv.
An audience watches Sharazad Improv perform. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
Chris Crutchfield performs with Sharazad Improv. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
In May, Dugg Dugg was one of several venues to host Southern Holiday – a weekend-long event which included multimedia installations, experimental music, dance performance, and more. The showing included a performance by experimental musician Andrew Weathers, among others.
A multimedia installation that was part of Southern Holiday. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
Shortly after Southern Holiday, a noise complaint resulted in a fire marshal thoroughly inspecting the premises. According to Andrea, “We were making steady progress bringing Dugg Dugg’s original location up to the appropriate codes, but unfortunately our efforts did not meet the time frame necessary that our landlord wished. When the fire marshal inspected the building, he brought up an exuberant amount of renovations necessary for the whole building, and it became overwhelming stress on the landlord which caused him to put his full attention on making those changes. The upstairs portion, which we rented, was last on his list to change, thus we were forced to put our plans on hold in that specific location.”
“It’s just rough,” adds Iris. “We were very do-it-yourself. We just survived on donations and using the space for random things. So to shut down for a couple months to fix everything was impossible for us.” And so the old mill will once again be returned to the supervision of insects and weather, waiting to be either reborn at some point in the future, or to be torn down in the name of progress.
Andrea Brown looks out of a window at 36th Street. photo: James Willamor; view this photo on Flickr
Dugg Dugg showed what was possible in an arts community which appears to have become increasingly focused on pandering to wealthy patrons rather than promoting innovation and experimentation among artists. Much of the established work and galleries is in danger of becoming as stiff and starched as the corporate interests that fund much of the art in this city. Nevertheless, creativity finds cracks in the pavement through which it is sprouting, from Dugg Dugg, to Area 15, to Culture Initiative and others, artists and creative types are making a grassroots push to expand the horizon of contemporary arts. As Liz Barrett said, “NoDa needed this burst of youthful energetic artists to bring it back to its roots.”
“There are a few who promote and push for more in the QC, like the Culture Initiative, the McColl Center, and UNC Charlotte, and commendation I give freely and emphatically,” says Stephan. He continues, noting, “Artistry seems an afterthought here and oft overlooked, but art, as we all know challenges and alters awareness, re-presents our world to us in unique perspectives, and transforms cities from a series of buildings and roads into vibrant and alive spaces. Charlotte will become more than an art appreciating city, but a city known for its art communities and movements as well, if it becomes a priority among artists to push the ceiling higher, and art-lookers to demand a supply.”
“Andrea and I feel like the quality of art made and seen in Charlotte really needs to be amped up. We’re not about art as boutique, or even just for the sake of creative expression. We’re interested in art-making that is about ideas and experimentation,” says Iris. “We learned that Charlotte really needs what we’re doing. It was so beautiful to see community move together towards a common goal. So many people believed in what we were doing, and it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for each individual giving what they had to give.”
“Through the process of finding, cleaning, renovating, and filling a space with a whole load of promise and love, to watching it grow smaller through the rearview mirror, I learned that this is just a first attempt,” says Stephan.
Though Dugg Dugg is now closed, Andrea and Iris still have big ideas for the future of arts in the city. “Charlotte needs to push beyond art as a novelty and gimmick thing,” says Iris. “I feel really strongly about this, and Andrea and I want to continue to do this — somehow, someway.” She goes on to say, “We have some ideas, as far as and art/community/culture magazine, and an online gallery. Andrea and I will probably put on some different events under the Dugg Dugg name. We’ll run some stuff out of the house for a while, and hopefully in the fall we can find a new place for Dugg Dugg.”
When asked about the future of arts in the city, Iris says, “If we can push through these setbacks, we all feel like Charlotte is on the edge of something big – a big movement. I’m excited. But, we’ll see what happens.”
View tour of Dugg Dugg and interview with Iris Williamson and Andrea Brown:
video: Justin Ruckman; view this video on Vimeo
Slideshow from the Southern Holiday showing at Dugg Dugg:
slideshow: James Willamor; view this slideshow on Flickr
Slideshow of the opening of Dugg Dugg and the performance by Sharazad Improv:
slideshow: James Willamor; view this slideshow on Flickr