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Charlotte Artists Express Concerns Over City Budget Plan That Restructures Funding

Aisha Dew from speaking at a press conference on April 20.
Jeff Cravotta
Courtesy of Aisha Dew
Aisha Dew is seen speaking at a news conference on April 20.

According to a memo from Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones to City Council members on April 12, Charlotte plans to provide $6 million a year toward local arts and culture groups. That is an increase from the $4 million proposals discussed earlier in the year. A portion of the funding comes from the federal COVID-19 relief.

Additionally, the private sector would match Charlotte's amount, raising the total to $12 million a year.

That would normally be welcome news for everyone in the arts community. But a shift in how the money will be distributed has some Charlotte artists concerned.

Michael Marsicano, president and CEO of the Foundation For the Carolinas, said that the private sector in Charlotte has always generously supported the arts in different ways in the past. However, this time it will be a different approach.

“This particular private sector partnership with the city, born of the financial challenges arts groups are facing as they emerge from the pandemic, is unique and unprecedented,” Marsicano said.

"The goal would be to have all parties work together to develop a vibrant and successful arts and culture ecosystem that works for all parts of our arts community," Jones wrote in the memo.

Under the three-year plan from Jones, even though the funding for the arts would dramatically increase, the funding would be shifting away from the Arts & Science Council.

The ASC has typically received almost $3.2 million for its funding from the city in previous years. In the new plan, ASC President Krista Terrell says the nonprofit will receive roughly $1.3 million.

Krista Terrell speaking at the press conference on April 20.
Jeff Cravotta
Krista Terrell speaks at a news conference on April 20.

"I'm glad that there's increased funding for the cultural sector because ASC has been advocating for that for a very long time. I am glad the private sector is stepping up. I am just concerned about equitable funding," Terrell said.

"ASC is focused on serving the residents of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County with relevant, diverse, innovative arts and cultural experiences," Terrell said. "Our focus is on programs and ideas that move us in a more equitable, sustainable, and creative ecosystem. That is what we are focused on and that's what we need the funding to be able to do."

Terrell was also concerned that there was not a public process to get Jones' recommendation with the ASC, in front of local creatives, organizations and other members of the Charlotte community.

"So, we are being told by the city manager that individual creatives, as well as small groups organizations, will be taken care of within this plan," said City Council member Matt Newton, who represents District 5 "But I think we have always seen that conventionally happen through the ASC."

During the City Council fiscal year 2022 budget adjustments meeting on May 19, Newton said the council should hold off on any additional decisions until speaking with local artists and the ASC.

In response to the arts funding, more than 250 local artists and community members have expressed their concerns and have written a letter of demands. Artists Revisioning The Future, or ART Future, is organized to advocate on behalf of independent artists and small organizations.

Aisha Dew is the organizer for ART Future and wanted more transparency from City Council on how funding will be used.

ART Future
Jeff Cravotta
Received from Aisha Dew
ART Future

"When we organized in April, the first time we heard about this (funding) was in a press release," Dew said. "There wasn't artist engagement that we were aware of, and although there were groups that claimed they were part of the process, I think it is fair to say they were not partners in the process and there was not an opportunity for feedback on the plan."

In response to the comments, Mayor Vi Lyles committed to scheduling small group sessions for City Council members to meet with representatives from ASC, ART Future, Hue House and Charlotte is Creative. Those meetings happened the last week of May.

“During the meetings, we said we wanted to make sure that moving forward that we have a seat at the table, making sure we’re a part of the conversations,” Dew said.

During one of the meetings, Terrell discussed wanting to increase operating support to the ASC from $800,000 to $1 million and increase ASC grant-making from $500,000 to $1.25 million.

“It came across to me that they really believe that (the current arts budget) is the best path forward,” Terrell said.

Terrell said if the funding plan for the arts remains the same, the ASC will continue to move forward — just differently — and will focus on individual fundraising.

"Our work is going to be impacted because there will be less funding," Terrell said. "But we are working hard to secure the funding that is needed for us to do our work."

The vote on the new city budget — arts funding included — is June 14.

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Updated: June 8, 2021 at 5:37 PM EDT
This story was updated to reflect Krista Terrell's title as president — no longer acting president — of the Arts & Science Council.
Dante Miller is a community engagement producer for WFAE and a Report for America (RFA) Corps members. Dante first joined WFAE in 2020 through RFA to work as part of a unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Digital Public Library of America. Her work in that project allowed her to use radio, online stories, Wikipedia entries and events to meet the community's news and information needs.