NEW: Charlotte moves away from ASC, embraces new arts funding strategy

Walk your way through Charlotte’s art scene
Walk your way through Charlotte’s art scene
Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 1:01 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte is moving away from funding the Arts and Science Council according to a memo from City Manager Marcus Jones sent to councilmembers Tuesday afternoon. The announcement comes after the city’s Arts and Culture Ad Hoc Committee proposed a new framework for contributing money to the arts and supporting local artists.

The plan announced Tuesday would see the city’s annual contribution to the arts increase $6 million annually over three years and would be matched by $6 million in private fundraising to equal $36 million over three years. Previously the city provided $3.2 million in funding to the arts.

The city would place the arts funds with the Foundation for the Carolinas. The new plan would also establish an Arts & Culture Commissioner that would report to the city manager and receive guidance from a Board of Advisors appointed by the public and private stakeholders.

Councilmembers began pushing for a new model of giving to the arts at the beginning of the year in the face of a dramatic drop in workplace giving to the Arts and Science Council. There was also a strong desire from councilmembers to provide a thriving and more inclusive arts scene in the Queen City as a way to attract more companies and young workers.

“This plan would design a long-term, broad strategy to support arts, culture and artists in an equitable and inclusive manner,” Jones wrote in his memo.

The shift away from the ASC also comes after two years of continued trouble for the organization.

In February the organization released a report apologizing for past policies that directed funding away from communities of color, although the organization said it has improved in more equitable giving.

In 2019, Mecklenburg County residents also voted against a quarter-cent sales tax that would have partially funded the ASC.

The city’s new plan would still provide $800,000 of unrestricted funds to the ASC during the transitional year to the new model.

The city’s plan still has to be voted on by the entire city council before becoming official.

Jones’ memo claims that the new approach would continue funding for 37 current organizations and would begin to provide support to an additional 171 artists and art organizations across the community.

“We’re just looking to broaden the use of funding which will be better for everyone in the end. We’re not cutting anyone out,” Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said.

Mecklenburg County commissioners are meeting at 2:30 Tuesday to discuss the county’s funding plans for the ASC. All indications so far are that commissioners will continue to provide support and funding to the organization although it is unclear if those funds will be restricted or not.

Read the entire memo sent from City Manager Marcus Jones to the Arts and Culture Ad Hoc Committee

Members of the Arts and Culture Ad Hoc Committee,

I wanted to follow-up with you regarding the progress made on developing a plan and budget for arts and culture in our community which is aligned with the direction from the ad hoc committee and City Council. I am pleased to share that we will be outlining a plan that would meet and exceed the ad hoc committee’s recommendations including increasing annual resources by providing $36 million in arts and culture funding over a three-year period.

In many ways, I have our council members to thank as they have made a compelling case for the importance and impact of arts in our community which was heard by the private sector. In discussions with the private sector partners, they have agreed to match the city’s $4 million annual commitment based on these funds being placed in a third-party for administration.  I am recommending that this third-party be the Foundation For The Carolinas.  The foundation did an incredible job administering more than $43 million in CARES funds, and I am confident that they will administer these funds in a similar manner.

However, our private sector partners did not end there.  Many believe that $8 million in annual funding will fall short of the true needs of this important sector of our economy.  Therefore, the private sector partners are proposing a $6 million private fundraising effort that is matched by $6 million of public funding over a three-year period for a total of $36 million.  The City can increase its commitment by $2 million to match the $6 million commitment by leveraging funds from the American Recovery Plan Act, which is consistent with how we used CARES funds to support the arts community. This combined commitment would bring this effort’s annual budget to $12 million per year for the first three years – a $4 million annual increase over the initial goal set forth by the committee.

Through this approach, we would continue to provide funding to the 37 organizations, including the 10 “THRIVE” organizations, that receive operational funding from the ASC and restore that funding to FY 2020 or FY 2021 levels – whichever was greater. We would also be able to provide funding to an additional 171 artists and arts organizations across our community.  According to the ASC, these groups were funded through Cultural Vision Grants and Individual Artist Grants.  These grants totaled almost $500,000 in FY 2021.  This plan in the initial year doubles this funding.

I have been working with Arts & Science (ASC) Chair Susan Patterson since early January as we have discussed how to develop and move a sustainable model forward. The ASC plays an important role in the arts and culture ecosystem, and this approach would include restricted and unrestricted funds to the ASC as the organization reassesses its priorities and considers becoming a grantee in the future.  Approximately $800,000 in unrestricted funds to the ASC are recommended during this transitional year.

In addition, this plan would establish an Arts & Culture Commissioner, who would report to the City Manager and receive guidance from a Board of Advisors appointed by public and private sector stakeholders. This group would be reflective of the community. Consistent with the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, 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.

This funding approach and structure would create a three-year time frame in which we would lead the development of a comprehensive arts and culture plan.  This plan would design a long-term, broad strategy to support arts, culture and artists in an equitable and inclusive manner. The Arts Commissioner will work with the advisory board and other entities to lead the cultural study. The benefits of this approach are that in the short-term our arts organizations and artists would have increased funding while simultaneously working collaboratively towards a long-term strategy.

The charge to me from the ad hoc committee was to develop a policy for arts and culture as an economic development strategy for Charlotte and as a strategy for addressing social justice, education, workforce development and equitable access to opportunity. The committee approved several key tenets, which can be categorized in the following four principles:

  1. Commit to $4 million for the arts and culture sector, contingent upon private sector funding that matches or exceeds this amount
  2. Create an arts and culture plan as part of the FY 2022 City budget to ensure continued funding for ASC grant recipients
  3. Establish a third-party Arts & Culture Commissioner
  4. Embark upon a cultural study to enable all parties to work together to develop a Comprehensive Arts and Culture Plan

I believe this initial proposal meets the committee’s charge and I look forward to further discussions with you and your colleagues as we put together the FY 2022 budget and further address the committee’s recommendations. I am prepared to present additional information to the committee.

Marcus D. Jones

City Manager

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