Carol Dandridge Charles '84 is committed to promoting
the works of African American and Latino artists at the Community Folk Art Gallery.
Sharing a Passion for the Arts
Carol Dandridge Charles ’84 draws upon years of experience as a dancer, actor, arts administrator, and mother to promote the work of emerging African American and Latino artists at the Community Folk Art Gallery. As interim director, she counsels young artists, hosts gallery openings, conducts children’s workshops, develops educational programs, prepares grant proposals, and hangs exhibitions until all hours of the night. “I love my job because I love the arts,” Charles says. “I believe I was put here on this earth to do God’s work through artistic expression.”|
After earning a bachelor’s degree in drama from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Charles headed back home to New York City to attend New York University’s graduate program in arts administration. She interned as a development assistant with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and, with master’s degree in hand, became the development and marketing assistant for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. “My passion is dance,” Charles says. “A highlight of my life as a performer was dancing in a Syracuse Stage production of Death and the King’s Horsemen.”
In 1988, wedding bells brought Charles back to Central New York, where she built on her fund-raising and communications experience by working as a regional development officer for Syracuse University. She entered the political arena in 1990 as assistant director of communications for then-Syracuse Mayor Tom Young, but returned to SU in 1995 as a development officer for the College of Nursing. Charles got her arts administration career back on track in 1999, accepting the interim director’s post at the Community Folk Art Gallery following the death of Herb Williams, the gallery’s founder and director for 27 years. “This was a difficult time, and I was honored to be asked to succeed Herb,” Charles says. “He dedicated his life to promoting the history and culture of underrepresented populations, and I look forward to carrying on his legacy with energy and enthusiasm.”
The Community Folk Art Gallery is a unique force in the Syracuse community. Established in cooperation with SU’s Department of African American Studies in 1972, the gallery features the work of local African American and Latino artists, and provides a community center where people can enjoy the world of art. The gallery’s mission includes seeking out and counseling talented young artists and assisting them whenever possible in gaining admission to art schools and universities.
Charles believes arts education is an equally important part of her role. At SU she teaches the course Art of the Black World, and last fall brought in Beyond Category, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution celebrating the life of Duke Ellington. Charles also encourages SU students majoring in art or museum studies to intern or volunteer at the gallery. “I would like students from other academic disciplines such as management or architecture to intern at the gallery as well,” she says. “It’s an outstanding learning experience for the students, and we always put their knowledge and expertise to good use.”
From day to day, Charles tries to strike a balance between creativity, administration, and the demands of raising two young daughters. To help keep her creativity flowing, she continues to dance and perform, and attends arts education seminars whenever possible. Last summer, Charles attended the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, which included an exhibition of American art from historically black colleges and universities, and performances by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. “The festival refreshed my spirit and soul,” Charles says. “It was a wonderful way to recharge my creative energy.”
Although affiliated with SU’s Department of African American Studies, the Community Folk Art Gallery functions as a nonprofit organization. Charles acts as the liaison between the University and the gallery’s board of directors. “The gallery is extremely fortunate to be guided by someone of Carol’s talent, energy, and commitment,” says board member Barry L. Wells, vice president for student affairs and dean of student relations at SU. “She has considerable administrative skills and a progressive outlook on arts education and museum management.”
Charles credits her experience as a communications specialist and development officer with helping her know how to bring people together to accomplish goals. “I love starting with an idea and making things happen,” she says. “Open dialogue and a good sense of humor are key.”