“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." -Toni Morrison
This quote has been on Davita Galloway’s mind a lot lately. Davita is the co-owner of Dupp & Swat, a creative studio and event space in Charlotte’s Camp North End. She runs the operation with her brother, Dion, and they aim to support and showcase local artists, especially those of color. The duo also run Crown Keepers, a nonprofit organization committed to sustaining the arts and creative culture in the Queen City.
Throughout the pandemic and the current fight for social justice, Davita and Dion haven’t stopped supporting the local creative community. This is their story.
“Art” and “Davita Galloway” go hand in hand. They always have.
“You can’t separate the person I am from art,” Davita says. “We are the same. I wake up and I art, and I go to sleep and I art. Art is my lifeline. It's something that’s a part of my toolkit because it has saved my life time and time again.”
When she was younger, she and Dion craved a space that would serve as a safe haven for artists — a place where they could gather and express themselves through art with other artists. Instead of waiting for someone else to create that space, they did it themselves. That was the beginning of Dupp & Swat, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year.
2020 was set up to be a great year for the founders and for Dupp & Swat.
“Everything was lovely,” Davita says. “We had an incredible amount of events in our books. Things were moving and it was poppin’.”
Then, COVID-19 hit and brought things to a “screeching halt.”
But rather than slamming the brakes, Dupp & Swat, like many other businesses, found a detour. For artists, pivoting comes naturally.
“As creatives, we don’t have a choice,” Davita says. “This is what we do. We have to adjust based on circumstances.”
Davita’s mission to support local artists in the community continued throughout North Carolina’s stay-at-home order. Through the Crown Keepers programs, Davita and Dion took the initiative to reach out to agencies and private donors to provide any available grants for artists struggling during this time. Davita says whenever an artist is struggling, they can email Crown Keepers about grants, and she will also send over additional resources.
One of the Crown Keepers programs created out of the pandemic was May Day CLT, which supports artists in times of crisis.
“We understand how crisis impacts artists, particularly those of color, in that they aren’t able to book gigs and go about their weekly happenings,” Davita says. “A lot of them don’t have insurance because they don’t make enough money to pay for it. When a gig is cancelled, it can have a big impact on their income. Not having a gig can mean not paying a bill, so we set up May Day Charlotte to address that.”
Crown Keepers also continued to support artists through Charlotte Creatives Matter, which highlights the work of local artists.
Creatives did what they needed to in order to make the most of the pandemic. Experiences that usually took place in person had to transition to virtual mediums. Watch parties, living room concerts, classes and workshops all took place online. While in-person experiences are irreplaceable, digital outlets opened up a wider audience. It’s also been a learning experience for artists, who have had to learn how to efficiently market themselves online, Davita says.
Still, she believes artists are itching to express themselves in a community again.
“It’s great that we’re able to provide these options at this time, but nothing compares to being there in person,” Davita says. “It’s a whole different experience.”
Creatives are already coming together again in a time of crisis: the fight against police brutality and the push for racial equity in the United States.
“People are waking up right now, but this is our life,” Davita says. “This is the life that we live on a daily basis. Now, because of social media, more and more people are able to see and somewhat get a glimpse into what we live on a daily basis.”
And artists are providing that glimpse. On June 9, artists throughout Charlotte came together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon Street between Third and Fourth streets.
“You learn about what’s going on in the world based on expressions from various artists,” Davita says. “You see that through music; you see that through artwork; you see that through murals that are popping up all over the city. Art is definitely at the intersection of social activism, social justice and social good.”
Because Dupp & Swat is committed to supporting artists of color, Davita says she and Dion have been actively making sure these artists know their perspectives are needed. They want artists of color to feel heard, never silenced. If anything, Davita says, their voices are necessary to drive the change that is needed and deserved.
And, as a community, we must do more than like or share a post to show support, she said.
“It’s about providing opportunities for us,” Davita says. “It’s booking us for workshops or classes. It’s allowing our voices to be heard and saying our names. It’s realizing the constructs that are limiting us and utilizing your voice to get rid of those. It’s reaching out to us, not only when there’s a pandemic; it’s making this a part of your lifestyle. This has to be a part of your culture; this has to become really who you are and a part of your purpose.”
Now, as stay-at-home restrictions have begun to lift, Dupp & Swat has started the process of reopening to the creative community. Davita says they will be fully functioning beginning July 1 with safety precautions, including new Dupp & Swat masks.
Reopening will also mean continuing the Crown Keepers Closet program, which allows students to shop an inventory of clothing, accessories, home goods and more at no cost. The program, Davita says, allows a unique opportunity to expose students to Charlotte’s arts culture.
“There are so many cool and capable artists here who just need a platform and that opportunity,” Davita says. “We’ll continue to provide that as much as we can, but we need the entire city to be on board.”
As creatives and storytellers ourselves, we can’t wait to see what the future holds for artists in the city. With people like Davita and Dion bravely leading the community and providing opportunities, we know real change can happen in this Brave New World.