One tends to get the bug to go into the arts the way one tends to get the flu – from someone already infected.

A select panel from various corners of the Charlotte cultural scene reflected on the phenomenon last week at a gathering hosted by Abbot Downing, a Wells Fargo subsidiary that handles wealth management and is named for the manufacturer of its signature stagecoaches.

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Jim Meena of Opera Carolina says that developing new audiences and new philanthropists are among the most important challenges facing the arts community. He is flanked by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux of the Charlotte Ballet, left, and Tom Gabbard of Blumenthal Performing Arts. Robert Lahser rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

A career in the arts can be rigorous and financially challenging but ultimately self-satisfying for those driven by a love of their work, said John Boyer, president of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, who led the discussion. Often those careers are launched by a mentor who nudges a promising student into the trade.

Patricia McBride, associate artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet, said her path began with her mother, who encouraged – but did not push – her daughter into the field.

“She was happy to let me be what I wanted to be,” said McBride, who started as a ballet student at age 7 in Teaneck, N.J., and went to study in New York as a teenager, leading to a distinguished three-decade career at the New York City Ballet.


James Meena, principal conductor of Opera Carolina

A fellow ballet student was the influential character in the career of McBride’s husband, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who will retire at the end of the 2016-17 season as artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet.

Bonnefoux was skilled in the basics as a teenager, but the dancer only a few years older than he demonstrated a gift for making each move stylishly his own. “He found a way to be free as a bird,” Bonnefoux said, and shared his techniques with his admirer.

Tom Gabbard says the bell rang for him when he heard the Marine Corps Band play at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. He was a fourth-grader learning the French horn and returned from that performance determined to become a high-school band director.

He overshot that runway and now leads one of the most prominent cultural attractions in the Southeast, the Blumenthal Performing Arts.

James Meena, principal conductor of Opera Carolina, noted that today’s universities are turning out accomplished musicians and singers – too many to be absorbed by the business.

“Our business is Darwinian – it challenges people to the point where if they don’t have the total commitment to the art, they won’t survive,” he said.

Meena, who always had a love of music and knew it would be his life, said that young artists must realize that a cultural career demands exceptional struggle and determination. Those who lack the passion won’t succeed.

“If they can live without it,” he said, “then they should live without it.”

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007@WashburnChObs
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