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Merchant of the Quarter: Wendy Hickey

October 30 @ 8:00 am - November 14 @ 5:00 pm

Fall 2018 Merchant of the Quarter

Wendy Hickey, ArtPop Charlotte

Wendy Hickey has spent the past 20 years working in advertising, mostly selling billboards for several national companies. But she’s also an art lover, and before moving south six years ago, she’d served on the Pocono Arts Council. That’s where she first had the idea to marry her work and her passion.

The council was looking for ways to publicize local artists, and suddenly it clicked.

“You sell billboards,” Hickey told herself, “so give the artists billboards!”

The idea remained on the periphery for a while, but when she arrived in Charlotte, she knew it was time to put her plan into action. She set up a meeting with the Arts and Science Council, and she pitched the plan.

“They said yes in about 40 seconds,” Hickey said.

That’s how ArtPOP was born — the POP stands for Public Outdoor Project — and it’s now one of the best ways for local artists to get their work seen in Charlotte, with Hickey as its first full-time employee. Hickey, who still works for Adams and lives on Pecan Avenue, launched the non-profit in 2014 and since then, the program has worked with nearly 100 different artists from around Charlotte by putting their work on billboards, on street vendor stations and at the Charlotte airport. In fact, many of ArtPOP’s artists are from the neighborhood.

The system is pretty simple. Every autumn, artists from a 12-county region of North Carolina can submit their work to ArtPOP for consideration. (See ArtPopStreetGallery.com for details or enter at CallForEntry.org by Oct. 14.) Then a panel of judges evaluates the art — everything from pottery to photography, modern art to sculpture — and decides what they like best and what might look good on a massive billboard.

“We just look for something that stands out in that rectangular space,” Hickey said, “and you have the ability to take it in in 75 mph.”

Selected artists will see their work on one of 20 billboards for the next year, as well as get time on airport displays, digital billboards and vendor stations around Uptown Charlotte. It’s an incredible amount of exposure, and it can be life-altering for many artists who are creating in their spare time.

“The most basic thing that happens is a renewed sense of confidence,” Hickey said. “I hear over and over again, ‘Being in ArtPOP restored my confidence in my ability as an artist.’ And confidence breeds success.”

Hickey said artists typically see an increased demand for their work and requests for new, original commissions. In some cases, it generates enough revenue they can quit their full-time jobs to focus on their art. This year’s group features four artists from Plaza Midwood – Hilary Siber, Gordon James, Meg Green Malvasi and Stella Yang.

But the billboards also help to connect the greater community to the world of local art. Hickey said ArtPOP’s studies show less than 30 percent of Charlotte residents attend museums or art galleries, and the ArtPOP installations help bring the art to them.

“It makes it accessible in a really approachable way,” Hickey said. “If you’re riding your bike or in your car, that’s a private moment with that art. It doesn’t matter what you know about art or if you’ve studied it. If it pulls at your heart or inspires you, that’s all that matters. We’re making it accessible for everyone regardless of income levels or regardless of race.”

ArtPOP is a non-profit, whose board chair, Lindsay McCleary is also a Plaza Midwood resident. Hickey said the project grows every year. The biggest problem, she said, is keeping up with demand. While ArtPOP has pop-up events throughout the city and has adopted Pecan Avenue in the neighborhood for cleanups, they’re in need of more money, volunteers and board members, and Hickey would love to see more people from the neighborhood get involved.

“When I first moved here I rented an apartment because didn’t know anything at all about Charlotte,” Hickey said. “I’d go into all these different neighborhoods, and every time I came to Plaza Midwood, it felt like home to me. The arts community here is strong and being a part of that and making artists household names and growing the art scene in Charlotte has been tremendous.”

Got a nomination for merchant, neighbor or educator of the quarter? Let us know at info@plazamidwood.org.


October 30 @ 8:00 am
November 14 @ 5:00 pm
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