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Charlotte Area

City Council Committee Advances New Arts Advisory Board, Bypassing The ASC

A Charlotte City Council committee Wednesday approved a plan to hire a new Arts and Cultural Commissioner and create an advisory board to determine how city money for the arts is spent. If the full council approves the plan, the city would no longer depend on the Arts & Science Council to determine how arts dollars are spent.

An ad hoc Charlotte City Council arts committee Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to give the city control as to how its arts money is spent — rather than routing the money through the Arts & Science Council.

Under the plan, the city would increase its annual arts contribution from $3.2 million to $4 million. It would hire a new staff member — an arts and culture commissioner — and also create a new arts advisory board that would determine how the money is spent.

Council members said they want to prioritize arts programs that drive economic development and promote inclusion.

“This is really a long-overdue assessment by the city of how we achieve our goals, as opposed to just awarding the same amount of money each year to a partner organization,” said council member Ed Driggs, a member of the arts committee.

Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson said the city can use the arts to attract more visitors.

“We have target industries — financial services being an example, health care being another example — and there’s no reason why we can’t treat (arts) the same,” Dodson said.

The full City Council must approve the plan, with a vote likely coming next month.

The ASC has struggled in recent years due to a decline in workplace giving that was once heavily promoted by the city’s largest companies.

In November 2019, Mecklenburg County voters rejected a proposed quarter-cent sales tax for the arts. Then, the pandemic shut down much of the city’s arts and cultural scene, creating more challenges for the organization.

Earlier this year, ASC president Jeep Bryant retired after less than two years on the job.

As part of the proposal, the city would give the ASC some financial assistance for the upcoming fiscal year, said at-large council member Julie Eiselt, who chairs the committee.

The city’s most recent contribution to the ASC was $3.2 million. The organization’s preliminary total revenue for fiscal year 2020 is $13 million.

It’s unclear how much the city may spend this upcoming year under the transition period. Council members did not address whether they would support financially the ASC’s overhead that covers rent and salaries. The organization spent $3.3 million on salaries in 2019 according to its most recent tax statement.

“We can’t tell the ASC how to run their organization,” said at-large council member Braxton Winston said. “Right now we are saying (the city) has to do a better job of running our organization and our resources.”

He added: “But if we do our work right, it will make sense whether it’s the ASC or individual artists because they have the ability to plug into our plan.”

ASC acting president Krista Terrell said Tuesday, “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 released a statement after Wednesday's vote that said, "At this time, there are still many ideas playing out in the public realm and a host of unknowns about how this proposal may be implemented."

The ASC released a report this week in which it apologized for past policies that it said have 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." Winston said the city has been “complicit” in the ASC’s shortcomings around diversity.

“That is why we have to reevaluate everything that we are doing,” he said.

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