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Charlotte City Council Backs Plan to Bypass Arts & Science Council

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles backs a plan to no longer send the city’s arts allocation to the Arts & Science Council.
City of Charlotte
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles backs a plan to no longer send the city’s arts allocation to the Arts & Science Council.

The Charlotte City Council Monday backed a plan to no longer send its annual money dedicated to the arts to the Arts & Science Council, a setback for the nonprofit that’s worked in Mecklenburg County since 1958.

Last year, the city of Charlotte’s $3.2 million arts contribution made up about a quarter of the ASC’s $13 million budget.

Faced with losing city support, the ASC asked people over the weekend to lobby council members to stop the plan, saying the city was creating a duplicate board when the ASC is already a “proven, viable option.”

But a majority of council members backed the recommendation from an ad-hoc arts and culture committee created by Mayor Vi Lyles. There wasn’t a formal vote.

The ad-hoc committee recommended increasing the city’s contribution from $3.2 million to $4 million. It also plans to ask the city’s corporate community to match that with another $4 million.

“It’s hard for us to say to the private sector, 'We want you to put in $4 million to somebody’s organization,'” said at-large council member Julie Eiselt, who chaired the committee. “So, what we’re talking about here is the potential to have $8 million for the arts this year.”

Eiselt and other council members have said they want their money to be used, in part, for economic development. They want city funds to help city-owned buildings, like the Mint Museum and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

But council member Greg Phipps asked whether the corporate community would be OK with the city no longer working with the ASC.

“Are they comfortable with the break from ASC?” Phipps asked. “I mean this seems like it came out of the blue.”

Two years ago, the ASC said it was in “crisis” due to a decline in workplace giving. That led to Mecklenburg County commissioners voting to place a referendum on the November 2019 ballot to increase the sales tax by a quarter-cent. That would have raised money for the arts, with the money being routed through the ASC.

Voters rejected that plan.

The city arts committee has recommended the city hire an arts and culture coordinator and create a new advisory board to decide how the money is spent. Council members plan to discuss that more.

Eiselt’s recommendation is that the city continues to send some money to the ASC for the upcoming fiscal year to smooth the transition.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.