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Arts Funding Task Force Turns To Government

Carolina PR

As a group of community and cultural leaders works to find an answer to Charlotte's crumbling arts funding system, they're looking to individual donors, corporations and the government.

On Monday, the Cultural Life Task Forceheard from city and county administrators, including the budget director of Mecklenburg County. His message: Don’t expect the county to give more.

The government's hand in arts funding is most evident on Tryon Street. In the last 35 years, some $240 million public dollars have gone into building, renovating and maintaining museums and theaters in Uptown Charlotte. About the same amount of private money has gone into those buildings, too.

The goal all along was an equal partnership between the public and private sectors.

"This worked!" says Arts and Science Council interim-president Robert Bush.

It worked to get the museums and theaters built, yes, but now most of the groups inside them are coming up short of funds to keep themselves operating. And the government's role on that front isn't even close to 50-50.

"Take out all of the facilities and the government is only about $5 million out of $125 million combined budgets of just the major (arts) institutions," says Bush.

The city continues to give about $3 million a year to cultural groups through the Arts and Science Council. Mecklenburg County gives far less. Budget manager Hyong Yi says the county's cultural contribution is primarily through the library and parks systems.

If you're an arts group looking for county money, you better have a really good pitch, says Yi.

"You're competing against mental health, health, poverty, drug rehabilitation, jails, children in schools. . . anybody that has to go up and compete against that, has a very difficult, difficult row to hoe," said Yi to the Cultural Life Task Force meeting Monday.

The task force's recommendations – which are several months away - seem likely to include a call for more public spending on cultural groups themselves, rather than just cultural buildings.

And the task force hasn't even gotten to the really tough discussion – whether raising taxes is part of the solution.  That's still to come.