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Arts and Entertainment

Gantt Center earns $1 million grant from the Knight Foundation
Gift goes to digital initiatives
Published Wednesday, December 23, 2020 5:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

The Harvey B. Gantt Center earned a $1 million grant from the Knight Foundation for digital initiatives.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is focusing on the digital frontier.

It is one of five cultural organizations to receive part of $2.1 million in grant funding from the Knight Foundation, which is designed to help with the digital push amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gantt Center received $1 million. Other recipients include: JazzArts Charlotte ($250,000) , Levine Museum of the New South ($600,000), Queen City New Play Initiative ($100,000) and Que-OS ($200,000).

“It’s very significant for the organization,” Gantt Center President and CEO David Taylor said. “I personally believe the digital frontier is the new frontier, particularly for arts organizations such as us. In many ways it becomes kind of the great equalizer in terms of our ability to reach and build audiences and deliver our programs and give people an opportunity to connect with us, but also it gives people an opportunity when they are on site to experience enhanced ways of experiencing the work when they are at the Gantt Center.

“Being able to build a digital studio will be really important as part of the experience. We are really excited about and thankful for the grant.”

The Gantt Center made a hard shift to digital during the pandemic, building an active following on its YouTube channel through the livestreamed “Unmasked” series. The center utilized digital media to inform the Black community about the outbreak’s impact on African Americans, who have been hit harder by the disease economically and physically.

The organization adopted a similar approach when civil unrest spread across Charlotte over the summer in response to police brutality and social injustice.  Then the Gantt Center reopened to the public in October with limited capacity. Charlotte native Sophia Matthews Partlow joined the team on Dec. 1 as vice president of communications and technology innovation, where she will be responsible for helping the organization broaden its reach as a community, corporate and educational space.

Knight Foundation funding will be directed toward the Gantt Center’s “Initiative for Equity + Innovation,” a strategy introduced in 2018 to address racial equality through arts activism. It will also allow the organization to add more staff to enhance digital experiences, virtual exhibitions and family programing.

The Gantt Center has 13 full-time employees and has not had to furlough anyone.

“It’s our ability to stay connected with our community,” Taylor said. “Seeking new ways to continue to be of value to our community has been exciting and rewarding as an organization. We get feedback all the time about how much people appreciate the work we are doing, and that is really, really good to hear. Our goal now with this grant is to accelerate that kind of work, which we will be working on over the next three-four years. It allows us to really make a statement about what we have learned through COVID-19. We do not have to abandon the good things that we learned—the good things we learned about reaching our audience that allowed us to tear down the walls of our building and reach out well beyond the walls. We already had a strategy about Gantt beyond the walls, but we have been able to execute that at a high level, for the simple reason of we had no other choice. We were able to accelerate that strategy and take away some best practices and some failures along the way.”

The Gantt Center is closed through Jan. 1 for the holidays, and will return to normal hours on Jan. 2.

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