Charlotte has seized the opportunity to showcase its edgier, more artistically creative side with the inaugural, first annual Charlotte International Arts Festival. Taking place from September 16 to October 2, the explosive Festival is made up of more than 200 mind-bending visual and performing arts attractions, and many presentations are free or cost under $5. With venues in Uptown and Charlotte’s new venue, Ballantyne Backyard, the Festival includes several family-oriented exhibits but also presents numerous attractions more appropriate for adults. 

For decades, the Queen City has been known for NASCAR and proudly representing the Carolinas with its first class Panthers football team. 

The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Mint Museums, the Levine, Gantt and Bechtler museums and culture centers are but a few highly visible venues which consistently provide the Charlotte area with top-quality art. Until now, however, larger numbers of exhibits that highlight the innovative, cutting-edge exploratory arts world have remained primarily underground. 

The Charlotte International Arts Festival, presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, brings to Charlotte a high level of cutting edge artistry that many Carolinians have not yet experienced. The 17-day festival strives to stoke our imaginations as we see the Queen City through new eyes. Many artists from all over the globe present their work, but they’re also joined by plenty of local artists who provide Charlotte the opportunity to experience the Queen City’s homegrown artistic talent. 

Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Mind-boggling performances and exhibits include dancers repelling off office buildings and flying around rooms, interactive murals involving water, and aerial displays performed by artists perched atop swaying polls. Organizers say this festival not only captures more innovative, artistic aspects of Charlotte, but also celebrates diversity through its many varied forms of art.

The Festival exhibits larger than life, fanciful sculptures and also provides interactive presentations featuring labyrinths of tunnels and domes. Festival organizers promise plentiful food trucks, and Uptown’s Levine Avenue Artist Stage includes a Biergarten with Live Music beginning at 11:30 am on Friday, September 16.

At 8:00 pm on September 16, the Festival presents the world premiere of “Blackstar Symphony: The Music of David Bowie” with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and guest artist John Cameron Mitchell from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The performance is also scheduled for Saturday, September 17. Both will be held at Charlotte’s Belk Theater in Uptown. 

“Blackstar,” Bowie’s final album, was released two days before his death in 2016, and the Artistic Director of the Charlotte world premiere, Donny McCaslin, is best known as the saxophonist on Bowie’s “Blackstar” album. Tickets for each of the performances start at $40 and can be purchased through Blumenthal’s CarolinaTix.

Also of particular interest to the Carolinas’ LGBTQ community is the “Drag Queen Story Hour.” Similar presentations have caused unwarranted controversy in parts of North Carolina but continue to be welcome in Charlotte. The spoken word performances will take place at Romare Bearden Park in Uptown September 17-18, 11 a.m. to noon. 

An important attraction, “Drag Queen Story Hour is presented as part of an international organization that promotes diversity in literature through drag. Drag queens and kings read books to children to promote diversity and self-acceptance, but the performances are entertaining for adults as well as kids.  

Other attractions taking place at the Festival’s Romare Bearden Park venue are “H20” which is an interactive mural with water revealing hidden imagery and messages. 

SWAY – Bloom! Photo courtesy of the company.

The spectacular performance “Bloom,” which explores themes of diversity and is 20 minutes in length, features aerial antics by three, highly skilled and colorfully-costumed performers; while “Tablao Flamenco” brings a riveting performance of dynamic flamenco dancing and the high-energy “Mexico Beyond Mariacha” celebrates Mexican culture through its live music.

Among the festival’s other varied venues are Charlotte’s recently-developed Ballantyne Backyard. The Blumenthal reports that it’s excited to expand its reach down to South Charlotte with this new venue, the former 100-acre Ballantyne Golf Club, which regularly hosts cultural events, boasts retail establishments and pop-ups, and recently offered a presentation of the Vincent van Gogh hot air balloon. 

For the festival, attractions at Ballantyne Backyard include the world-renowned “Luminarium: Architects of Air,” a sensory experience of light, color, and sound. The interactive walk-in sculptures have astounded audiences in venues of 43 countries around the globe, including the Guggenheim in Spain and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. 

Local artists, and Blumenthal Performing Arts fellows who are featured at Ballantyne Backyard include Jason Payne and Bunny Gregory. Their team presents “QC Crown Towers” with five illuminated towers illustrating Charlotte’s crown logo. “Mazing Shadows” takes participants on an adventure through a labyrinth constructed out of shadows. “Birdmen” is made up of huge, illuminated animals moving through the area, and “Wanted,” which is inspired by ‘80s comics and videogames, includes two live acrobats tossed around in a journey balanced between real world and fantasy. 

The Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center hosts numerous Festival attractions celebrating diversity to include “Project: Full Out!” which is a fun, Hip Hop dance showcase made up of live musicians. “Project: Full Out!” showcases story-telling, comedy, and an interactive game show for audience participants.”

For foodies and television food show enthusiasts, Tabitha Brown of “It’s CompliPlated” appears at the Belk Theater on October 1 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The $44.50 ticket price includes a copy of her book “Cooking From the Spirit,” which is valued at $30.

Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Finally, the Festival features the spectacular “We Are Hip Hop,” a two-day “festival within a festival” scheduled for September 17 and 18 at the Knight Theater in Uptown. “We Are Hip Hop,” comprised mostly of Charlotte artists, celebrates hip hop culture through visual arts, dancers, DJ Battles, and spoken word poets. The event includes a two-day block party and stunning dance tournaments.

The Charlotte International Arts Festival showcases a much needed aspect of creative arts and performance, which challenges our imagination and stokes artistic innovation going forward. Charlotte’s local government dampened the promotion of diverse artistry when it banned or required licensing of Uptown sidewalk artistic performers. Hopefully, this Festival will create our city’s long-lasting, edgier arts world to complement Charlotte’s first class arts scene and top-notch sports teams.

For more information about the not-to-be-missed Charlotte International Arts Festival, visit

To buy tickets for “Blackstar Symphony” and Tabitha Brown, visit