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Charlotte's New ASC President Talks About Where The Organization Is Headed

Krista Terrell has been named president of the ASC and was lead editor on the Cultural Equity Report.

Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council is working to support more culturally diverse and grassroots organizations. The effort follows its first Cultural Equity Report released in February admitting that organizations of color received small amounts of funding compared to larger organizations, such as the Mint Museum. In that report, ASC issued an apology for that inequity.

Krista Terrell is the organization's new president. She is a Black PR executive who has been with ASC for 19 years. She steps into the role after Charlotte City Council members reduced ASC’s funding from last year’s $3.2 million to $800,000. Arts funding overall was increased but now the Foundation For The Carolinas will distribute the money ASC would normally receive. Terrell says she’s puzzled by the city’s action.

Krista Terrell: I am excited about the opportunity for increased funding for the cultural sector because ASC has been advocating to the city about that for a very long time. But I am not clear on why the need to shift funding to Foundation For The Carolinas, the need to kind of recreate in ASC within the city when we have been a partner with them since the '70s. I have heard of the terms that this is around economic development and then the beginning focused a lot on the five organizations that are in city-owned facilities. But ASC's work is to support the broader cultural sector, including organizations that are in uptown.

Gwendolyn Glenn: You took a very hard look at the history of the organization — what groups had been getting funding, what groups had not, the inequities there? Do you think that some of the things that you guys found in your deep-dive on the organization were things that the city was looking at as well in making that decision?

Terrell: Well, I don't believe that the Equity Report drove the decision for the city. It's unfortunate that the equity report is being used as a weapon against ASC. But I believe that thoughts around this was happening before the Equity Report was published.

Glenn: How do you plan to make up for those funds that you're losing? And I think the last funding was more than $3 million. How do you plan to make up those funds?

Terrell: We're really honing in on fundraising — individual fundraising — to try to make up that gap. So even though the city situation is not over, because the City Council has to vote on the budget proposal in June, so we're really advocating to City Council, advocating also to the county commissioners and also private fundraising.

Glenn: And what was some of the issues that you, as the new president, that you want to tackle as priorities?

Terrell: So the priorities around the Cultural Equity Report is really to invest public and private resources in an equitable way. So that relates to operating support, investing in creative individuals that have been historically underfunded and cultural organizations of all sizes. From large major institutions as well as to midsized and grassroots organizations. Grassroots organizations should have the opportunity to thrive and grow, to become major organizations, as well, because the legacy organizations once began as a small grassroots organizations.

Glenn: And you wrote a blog post in which you talked about how some of those legacy organizations like the Mint Museum, Charlotte Ballet and larger organizations that some push back on that funding of smaller grassroots organizations when your equity report came out.

Terrell: Well, I want to make it clear, Doug Singleton of the Charlotte Ballet is very supportive of this work.

Glenn: Well, you also wrote and let me just read a part of this,
"There is great fear with change and the truth, especially playing out in the public realm. As a Black woman leading a legacy organization, I know I am seen as the manifestation of that fear. They would not have felt as threatened by my white male predecessor."
And then you said, you know, because he told you. Sounds like, though, that's a big wall to climb over. How do you plan to tackle that to change minds?

Terrell: Well, I believe the way to do that is to really build relationships and tell the truth and be authentic in the truth. There's just a lot of deep learning that needs to be done, and that is because of the deep inequities and systemic issues that have been in our country for hundreds of years. So I think the way to do that is to really build relationships, have honest conversations, be authentic. And to tell the truth, it is very hard work. It is needle-moving work, but it is important work that needs to be done.

Glenn: The organization issued an apology after the Equity Report was issued. I guess that was part of the Equity Report — owning up to inequity in funding in terms of groups for people of color and large groups. Any regrets about that apology? Would you have done it differently?

Terrell: I have no regrets about the Equity Report or the apology. It was important for ASC to own up to its truth and to apologize for us being complicit as it relates to our funding. So I have no regrets in the apology as well as the team that contributed to the report, as well.

Glenn: Well, in terms of bringing grassroots organizations and organizations that cater to people of color — how do they get more access? How do they get more funding? What is your plan to bring them more into sharing into the pie that is the funding for ASC?

Terrell: Those experiences would look like more technical assistance to build their capacity so that they can grow their organizations, break down barriers in the grant process. If someone's got it funding for one year to having to do that same application every single year. So those are just a few examples.

Glenn: And the next step for the organization, I understand part of it is you plan to have a lot of listening sessions?

Terrell: Yes, we are planning to have listening sessions on May 11 and May 13. They are called "Beyond the Sound Bites." So this is an opportunity for us to listen from the community, hear their feedback, to dig deeper and to explain the work that ASC has been doing over the past seven to eight years.

Glenn: And do you have any changes in mind in terms of the ASC and how the arts fit into Charlotte as the city grows?

Terrell: I think many people understand that to come uptown, you come uptown for the mountaintop experiences. But it's really important for ASC to align its work with what the residents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg said that they want. And they outlined that in the cultural vision plan, where they said they want the arts and cultural sector to help build community and build bridges across difference. They want relevant, diverse and innovative programing for a changing population, and they want that close to where they live. And they also said they wanted art, science and history to be central to pre-K through 12 education. So, again, it's really important to secure that funding, to respond to the needs of the community and the things that they want to see happen across Mecklenburg County, not just uptown.

Glenn: Anything I didn't ask you that you'd like to add in terms of your thoughts in the direction you want to take the organization.

Terrell: I'm excited about the opportunity to transform ASC to be even more centered on community and rebuild it from the community level instead of the top-down level. We are here to serve the residents of Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte by investing in the amazing, diverse and creative organizations of all sizes and creative individuals that are here. I'm excited about the opportunity to do that through a cultural equity lens and centering community in everything that we do and really lead by listening.

Krista Terrell is president of Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.