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Charlotte's First Arts And Culture Officer Eager To Focus On Improving Financial Sustainability, Equity

Earlier this year, the Charlotte City Council decided to scrap how it funded the arts. The City Council voted to break its decades-old tie with the Arts & Science Council and create a new office that would distribute a blend of public and private funding to arts institutions. The city has named Priya Sircar as its first arts and culture officer to lead that effort, and she joins WFAE's guest "All Things Considered" host Sarah Delia.

Priya Sircar is the city of Charlotte's first arts and culture officer.
City of Charlotte
Priya Sircar is the city of Charlotte's first arts and culture officer.

Sarah Delia: Priya, welcome.

Priya Sircar: Hi, thanks for having me.

Delia: So you're coming to this job from the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, where you were in charge of arts investments for eight cities, including Charlotte. How much of that work will inform what you want to accomplish in this role?

Sircar: It'll be really important to informing what I want to accomplish in this role. Fortunately, in my role with Knight Foundation, I had the opportunity over the last few years to visit Charlotte several times and to begin to get to know the city and to get to know its arts and culture community. What I have observed is that Charlotte has a really vibrant arts and culture community, a lot of different artistic disciplines that people are active in. And I think that is all really exciting for the city and a great place to start as we're getting ready to do a citywide community engaged cultural planning process.

Delia: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Charlotte's arts community?

Sircar: It's a bit of a twofold kind of thing, frankly. One challenge is certainly financial sustainability. Over the past year, especially, or frankly, year-and-a-half that the pandemic has been going on, I think, we've seen what used to be a topic of financial sustainability, which I think we know that Charlotte's arts and culture community was experiencing challenges with before the pandemic, and those have only intensified. We've seen discussions of sustainability also relate to resilience because, of course, the pandemic has caused setbacks that then both organizations and individuals are needing to come back from the challenges, financial and other challenges of the pandemic.

So resilience as well as sustainability is one challenge. And I do think equity of participation, of decision-making and of funding is the other side of that coin. We know that there has been a lot of conversation in the Charlotte community about equity and there's been more of an interest and I think rededication by a lot of folks, which is wonderful, to making sure there's a more inclusive and equitable future.

Delia: Well, you're going to be the first person in this newly created office. So that means you're bringing a whole set of a fresh new ideas, fresh eyes to the challenges that we face. What is your vision for this role? I can imagine that it's exciting to be the first person to hold this office, but it's also, you know, it's going to be a challenge, too. So how are you feeling about that?

Sircar: I'm feeling very excited. I'm fortunate to have some familiarity with Charlotte and with the community already, which I think is going to be a good starting place for me. And then because my work over the past many years has been really rooted in community engagement and listening and in facilitating development of policies and strategies and kind of coming up with shared vision and strategy, that is something that I'm really looking forward to doing in this new role.

So I kind of see my role as being a bit of a chief facilitator of coming up with a shared vision and strategy and a way forward in arts and culture. And I see that as involving a lot of listening to perspectives across the community and close collaboration with partners throughout Charlotte. And that includes partners in arts and culture, partners in private sector, public sector, civic organizations. Something that I've really seen in my past work is that arts and culture touches everything and everyone has a role to play.

Delia: Well, both the city and the county are going to be competing for some of the same funds when it comes to arts funding. Have you reached out or spoken to any leaders or folks at the Arts & Science Council, maybe like the president of the ASC, Krista Terrell? And if you haven't, do you hope to have conversations with them?

Sircar: I do hope to have conversations with them. I do know Krista and other leaders in the city, county Arts & Science Council from my past role. And so I really look forward to partnering with them in the work ahead, especially including designing and implementing an inclusive and intentional cultural planning process.

Delia: Priya Sicar is Charlotte's first arts and culture officer. She starts later this month. Priya, thanks so much for joining us.

Sircar: Thanks very much. Has been great to talk with you.

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.