Scoop: Blumenthal to build large new space for immersive art and entertainment in Charlotte

Millions of dollars worth of projectors and other digital equipment from Charlotte’s popular Immersive Van Gogh exhibit sit in a humidity-controlled storage unit collecting dust. But not for long.

What’s happening: Blumenthal Performing Arts leaders are dreaming up a plan to build the city a new arts center, sprawling across 30,000 or so square feet, that would serve as a space for immersive public events, live performances and arts education.

Why it matters: Immersive Van Gogh drew over 300,000 individuals from across the region to Charlotte and introduced a fresh way to experience art.

  • It drove up business at Camp North End and funneled over $500,000 into the pockets of local artists through its residency program, according to Blumenthal CEO Tom Gabbard.

Now Gabbard wants to create a permanent space to “ride this redefinition of the arts,” he says.

What to expect: The space is inspired by projects around the world like Ideal Barcelona, ​​an innovative digital art center in Spain; London’s Troubadour Theatres, which operate semi-permanent, movable venues; and Theater of the Mind, an immersive theater experience in Denver, Colorado.

  • Gabbard and his team traveled extensively for inspiration in building a cutting-edge center he believes will set Charlotte apart as a leader in the immersive art space.
immersive art experience barcelona spain charlotte nc

A scene from “Klimt: An Immersive Experience,” one of Ideal Barcelona’s exhibits in its permanent space in 2021. Photo: Xavi Torrent/Getty Images

immersive art experience barcelona spain charlotte nc

Also a part of Ideal Barcelona’s “Klimt” exhibit. Photo: Xavi Torrent/Getty Images

The space: Gabbard and his team have been searching for the right building for over a year to no avail. The right property, he tells Axios, will have:

  • 23,500 to 31,500 square feet, including one large room of at least 10,000 square feet with no beams to block a visitor’s view.
  • A central location within the city of Charlotte with easy access to freeways and public transportation.
  • Plus: Parking for 300 vehicles.

Blumenthal leaders are also considering building something from scratch, using Troubadour Theaters as an example. Constructing a semi-permanent, movable venue could help the center reach more of Charlotte, cut costs, expedite the timeline, and build a space exactly to their needs, Gabbard says.

Cost: A semi-permanent venue could cost around $3-5 million, Gabbard says. The cost of rehabbing an existing building is more dependent on the space itself, so it’s hard to estimate without a lease secured.

  • One of the biggest expenses with a center like this is the equipment. The Blumenthal already has that, though.
  • “We’re not envisioning this is something that we’ll be reliant on city funding for,” he says. “The cost piece is frankly the least intimidating to us.”

Zoom in: Whichever neighborhood the center lands in, Gabbard wants its programs to have a positive impact on the surrounding area and businesses.

When Immersive Van Gogh opened in 2021, Babe & Butcher, a charcuterie catering company turned restaurant, had only been open a few days. “It was a huge test in many ways,” co-owner Lindsay Anvik tells me.

  • They saw some familiar faces in those early days, but most customers were new and from all over the region, she says.
  • “We heard over and over again from people … that they’ve never been to this part of the city. Discovering us, discovering Camp North End and all the other unique businesses here was like unlocking a cool secret for them.”
  • “Our [foot] traffic and revenue greatly increased,” Anvik adds. “It solidified that our fast casual concept was something that was going to work.”
van gogh exhibit camp north end charlotte

Charlotte’s Immersive Van Gogh exhibit gave local artists in residency an opportunity to show their work, with a sizable payoff. Gabbard says visitors paid over $500,000 for local art during the exhibit’s run. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

What’s next: As Gabbard and his team continue searching for the right location, they’re seeking input from residents and local creatives on what they’d want in a space like this. They’re used to activating fast — Immersive Van Gogh took just a few months to pull off.

When I ask Gabbard if he’s worried these immersive art exhibits are just an “Emily In Paris”-fueled fever dream, he replies with, “Just about everything in the arts is a trend.”

  • With an arts and entertainment center like this, he says, “We can go with the public as their curiosity takes them other places.”

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