Neely Verano, managing director of LaCa Projects, welcomed us into her Dilworth home to chat about art,
collecting, and her passion for sharing Latin American art with the Charlotte community. We enjoyed the opportunity to see Neely's own personal collection of art, which has evolved over the years, and are excited for what's in store for LaCa Projects.
Top (BCBGMAXAZRIA) / Skirt (MDS Stripes) / Heels (Zara) / Earrings (J. Crew)
Noteworthy: How did LaCa Projects get started?
Neely: LaCa Projects was founded by Walter Dolhare, a native of Argentina and lifelong collector of Latin American art, and his brother Juan Dolhare, who is an artist and a university art professor in Buenos Aires. They brought me on board shortly before they launched the project in March 2013. After a huge opening event that brought 300 people and 10 artwork sales, we sat together, overwhelmed with the response we received, and envisioned what we wanted LaCa Projects to look like in five years. In addition to exposing people to contemporary Latin American art, and its utmost importance in the global contemporary art movement, we wanted to create cross-cultural dialogue and relevancy for our community. I’ve been at LaCa Projects from the beginning, and started running it when my oldest son was only three months old. Much like motherhood, it has been a labor of love, and an effort that is so important for our community and for our artists. Our founders are visionaries, and it’s been a privilege to lead this organization alongside both of them.
Torse de Femme (1969), Rufino Tamayo, Lithograph on Rives
Noteworthy: Share with us a little about the artist you represent and what type of art someone would expect to see at LaCa.
Neely: I always answer this question first with what you won’t expect to see at LaCa Projects. The perceptions of Latin American art are very different from what Latin American really is. We are trying to change perceptions and misconceptions and not reinforce them. Although Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were masterful artists and did wonders for opening the field of art from Latin America to the world, art in Latin America has progressed tremendously since the almost 100 years when they were active. The art we carry, and the artists we work with, are representative of the current artistic dialogue coming from Latin America. What you will find at LaCa Projects is contemporary art by living artists who are sharing a visual narrative based on any number of subjects or styles — new movements, new approaches, modern-day cultural, political, and/or social issues in their native countries, and so much more. You’ll see from our website that the style from artist to artist is quite different, an intentional strategy designed to share the level of breadth and depth of contemporary Latin American art and what is happening there artistically.
Noteworthy: What is in store for LaCa Projects this year?
Neely: This is a time of monumental change and growth for LaCa Projects. We recently celebrated our four-year anniversary, and along with it, a number of other accomplishments that have brought LaCa Projects to new heights as the largest Latin American-focused contemporary art gallery in the Southeast. Those achievements include a re-branding, a new website, the addition of Cynthia Honores as our new director (she came from Pace Gallery in NYC), participation in two highly-respected art fairs, and the establishment of stronger relationships with art institutions and museums across the country. In addition, through our partnership with Bryce Laguer from Basal Coffee, we close the gallery down in early July to begin construction of the new LaCa Projects cafe, which will be placed in the front interior area of our gallery, as well as our outside alleyway which offers spectacular views of the Charlotte skyline. In addition to giving our clients access to important contemporary art, this effort meets our goals to create an environment where important cross-cultural dialogue occurs, contributing to the cultural fabric of our world-class city and building cultural and artistic relevance. The cafe will offer light fare, wine, and one of the best cups of coffee in Charlotte. In September, we will host both private and public openings of the cafe and our first-ever photography exhibition, In Focus: Contemporary Photography in Mexico, a major project in collaboration with The Mint Museum, The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, The McColl Center, and the Light Factory. We are also very excited about a collaboration with Sicardi Gallery in Houston to bring the first-ever exhibition of work by Argentinean heavy-weight artist Pablo Siquier to Charlotte this October.
Noteworthy: What advice or tips would you give a new collector?
Neely: Educating yourself is critical. You cannot develop your own taste without first understanding what’s out there and what speaks to you. I feel that art has to speak to you on some level, even if it’s purely aesthetics. Art should bring you joy, elicit an emotional response, and/or mirror a value or something important to you. My go-to art publications include Art Forum, Artsy, and Art News. Browse the numerous online auctions, from the big houses all the way to the smaller, boutique auction dealers — this will help you understand the market and whether you’re paying fair prices if you’re considering a purchase; and, support and get involved in the arts at a local level, which provides excellent context for movements and trends that are happening on a national and international level. Buying art you love and want can initially hurt the pocketbook, but it lasts a lifetime.
Don’t Mind My Children (2016), Abigail Ditesheim, Oil on canvas
Noteworthy: How did you begin your own personal collection?
Neely: Our collection began with commissions by my mother-in-law, who is a painter. As our tastes have evolved over time and our buying power increased, we began making purchases that spoke to us in the ways I articulated earlier, and because we have a personal relationship with the artist. Truthfully, a majority of the works in our home are from LaCa Projects, which makes my role as managing director that much more special — I happen to love all of the artists LaCa represents. I also feel it’s my duty to collect primarily what I sell at our gallery, although we do have works in our collection by glass artists, regional potters, and young painters just starting out. I am currently saving up for a furniture piece by Mexican artist Tanya Aguiñiga, who I hope to bring to Charlotte someday.
Pyramid for Ulysses (2014), Cristina Toro, Collage and acrylic on rag paper
Noteworthy: How has the Charlotte art community evolved over the years?
Neely: I’ve lived here close to 16 years, and the transformation I have witnessed is remarkable. You have the addition of two museums (The Bechtler Museum and The Harvey B. Gantt Center), the formation of the Levine Center for the Arts, the growth of the McColl Center, the establishment of new galleries (SOCO Gallery), and the list goes on and on. I believe that the growth of community, in sheer numbers but also in diversity, has contributed to a burgeoning arts scene. There is tremendous value in the arts from an economic standpoint but also for building community, and Charlotte greatly needs that right now. This city is so well-positioned to become a destination for the arts, but we have to keep beating the drum, pushing the envelope, and embarking on innovative projects that will get people’s attention on a national and international level. This is a world-class city; our arts scene must reflect that.
Neely Verano, a native of Michigan, graduated from Michigan State University in 2002 and relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2003. She has served as chief development officers for The McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte, Johnson & Wales University, and The Mint Museum before starting LaCa Projects, a commercial art gallery specializing in Latin American contemporary art, in 2013 with co-founders Walter Dolhare and Juan Dolhare. She currently serves as LaCa Projects’ managing director, and is responsible for all aspects of the business, including sales, marketing, operations, business development, and curatorial affairs. She is active in the Charlotte community, serving in volunteer leadership roles at The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and The McColl Center for Art + Innovation, and is a Leadership Charlotte alumna. As a classically trained vocalist and lifelong patron of the arts, she is a passionate advocate for arts accessibility, collecting, and its power to affect positive change in communities. She resides in Dilworth with her husband and two sons.
Featured image artwork: Live by the Sun and Love by the Moon (2014), Cristina Toro, Acrylic and collage on rag paper