New South in focus – ‘Cotton Fields to Skycrapers’

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Closed to the public for a year and a half, the Museum of the New South will reopen Oct. 13 with a new name, new address, new look and new exhibit.

“We have been incredibly active,” says Emily Zimmern, the museum’s executive director.

Based in temporary quarters on Randolph Road loaned by Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, the museum has raised nearly $10 million to buy, gut and revamp the 40,000-square-foot building that has been its home since March 1995.

Now, the finishing touches are being put on the Levine Museum of the New South, renamed for Family Dollar Chairman Leon Levine and his wife, Sandra, a founding board member, who together contributed more than $1.25 million.

The museum, which had occupied the first floor and rented the second floor to tenants, now will fill the entire building, which has moved its entrance from College Street to Seventh Street.

And at a gala Oct. 12 and public opening Oct. 13, the museum will unveil “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers,” a multimedia exhibit that maps the South’s trek from fields to factories to finance.

Planned with nearly $250,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and designed and installed with $1.5 million from the campaign, the 8,000-square-foot exhibit will be the most comprehensive museum interpretation of post-Civil War southern history in the United States, Zimmern says.

It also will reflect a broad range of Southern voices, she says.

“Scholarship and inclusion were two of our founding values,” she says. “We have always been committed to telling the stories of all who have shaped our region’s history and who are molding the region today.”

Three other exhibits will occupy 3,600 square feet on the second floor – photography by Doris Ulmann, pottery from the Catawba Indian Nation near Rock Hill, S.C., and quilts from the Mississippi Delta.

Although closed to the public, the museum has provided community and school programs.

It sent storytellers to 10 Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools last year, for example, and “traveling trunks” of artifacts and historic images to third, fourth and eighth grades in three other schools.

Storytelling is being offered again this year in 10 “A+ schools” with at-risk youngsters. And when it reopens, the museum will be a required field visit for all eighth graders in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

The museum also resumes its distinguished lecture series with a talk and concert Nov. 12 at Spirit Square by writer Clyde Edgerton, and will continue its series of “Southern Conversations in the Neighborhood” with scholars and others.

And next year, coordinated by writers Howard Covington and Marion Ellis, the museum will profile 150 20th Century North Carolinians in a book to be published by the University of North Carolina Press and on a Web site.

The museum also is launching a revamped Web site.

“We’re all excited to be back in business serving the community,” says Zimmern.

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