In A Blow To Arts & Science Council, Charlotte Could Give Money Directly To Arts Groups
The city of Charlotte is considering shutting off its annual $3.2 million allocations to the Arts & Science Council.
Instead, the city would distribute the money in another way, possibly on its own.
Under the proposal, the city would increase its allocation to the arts from $3.2 million to $4 million. The money would be targeted to art institutions that operate in city-owned buildings like the Mint Museum, the Blumenthal Performing Arts and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+ Culture.
At-large council member Julie Eiselt, who chairs an ad hoc committee on the arts, said she wants to make sure those city buildings are being most effectively used.
In deciding how the money is spent, the city could look at criteria such as economic development. One question could be whether grant money for a museum is attracting new visitors to the city – not just serving people who live in Charlotte.
Another criteria could be whether the arts institutions are being inclusive.
ASC acting president Krista Terrell said in a statement that, “We know that the city is exploring how to best support the cultural sector. No one else has ASC’s expertise and experience in serving the Charlotte community by investing in creative individuals and small, mid-size and large organizations with a lens of equity and access.”
The ASC this week apologized for past policies that it said excluded people and communities of color from mainstream arts and cultural funding. In its first Cultural Equity Report, the organization details those inequities and outlines changes it has made in an effort to shift from what has been "culture for some" to its goal of "Culture for All."
The ad hoc arts committee is scheduled to discuss the plan Wednesday morning.
“There’s a clear desire to do things differently,” Eiselt said. “The Arts & Science Council talks about supporting the philanthropy of the arts, and we are saying we want to view this through economic development.”
If the plan advances, it would be a significant setback to the ASC, which was established in 1958 and acts as an umbrella organization to fund the arts. Its grants provide money to numerous large organizations, like the Mint Museum and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, to smaller organizations like the Charlotte Art League and the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
The organization has traditionally relied on partnerships with uptown companies that promoted workplace giving campaigns to the ASC. But workplace giving has declined, leaving the ASC struggling financially.
Mecklenburg County and the ASC pushed for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund the arts, but county voters soundly rejected that in November 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic further strained the organization. And last month, ASC president Jeep Bryant announced he is retiring after less than two years on the job.
The ASC generated $13.8 million in revenue in 2019, according to the organization’s tax return.
Eiselt said she wants to lean on the business community to match Charlotte’s planned $4 million donation. That private money would also bypass the ASC, Eiselt said.
“Clearly the old model with the ASC is going to change,” said Republican council member Ed Driggs, a member of the arts committee. “We do want to establish some kind of independence. Instead of providing just a grant (to the ASC) we want to create a tighter link between how our arts money is used and what we are trying to achieve.”
Democratic council member Malcolm Graham, who is also a member of the committee, said he has questions and is concerned whether the plan would hurt the organization.
“What will be the role of the ASC?” he said.
Eiselt said the committee needs to discuss how the money would be distributed if council members ultimately approve a change. She said the ASC could still have an advisory role in how city money is spent.