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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Charlotte's arts and culture community are at equity crossroads
City and ASC offer competing visions
 
Published Wednesday, March 3, 2021
by Ashley Mahoney

PHOTO | JAZZ ARTS CHARLOTTE
Jazz Arts Charlotte founder Lonnie Davis and Wynton Marsalis, director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, unveil the music education nonprofit's new name March 30, 2019 at the Mint Museum. Jazz Arts Charlotte is one of six organizations led by people of color that receive operational support from the Arts & Science Council.

Charlotte leaders want to leverage arts and culture as an economic engine.


Changing the focus of city arts funding from philanthropic purposes to economic development would result in a funding shift for organizations like the Arts & Science Council. Last week, the city’s ad-hoc committee, formed in January at the request of Mayor Vi Lyles, unanimously approved a plan that would bypass ASC, which received $3.2 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.


“Our money has gone [to ASC] for years, but we have never had a policy of how we want to see it spent and what outcomes we are looking for,” Arts & Culture subcommittee chair and Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said. “The corporate sector has for a long time said, ‘the public sector needs to step up more.’ We are saying, ‘OK, we will if you join us, but we want to do this in a way that reframes the conversation to include economic development.' It is not at the exclusion necessarily of what we do now. It is to broaden the conversation for economic development.”


The city’s cultural sector employs 58,000 people—a number the council committee’s plan aims to increase. Eiselt described the process as “setting the table for a new structure,” while focusing on cultivating a sustainable and equitable arts and culture sphere that stimulates economic growth.


“The council has been asked for years to increase our funding for arts and culture,” she said. “We keep having this discussion that really council members want to know with how it aligns with what we do as a council, and one of the areas is economic development. While for decades really, the conversation around arts and culture has been about arts as philanthropy and responding to what the community wants, we are also saying it could be an economic driver that creates more opportunities and more jobs for artists and attracts more people to our region. That is not really how our current arts funding is structured.”


Funding changes would include a budget recommendation to City Manager Marcus Jones to put $4 million into the fiscal year 2022 budget, which is contingent upon private sector funding matching or exceeding that amount for arts and culture funding.


The budget must be approved in June and funding would be placed in a third-party administrative account. The money would directly fund existing cultural organizations and allocated for organizations currently receiving operational support grants from ASC.


The committee recommends that organizations would receive funding equal to their fiscal year 2020 allocation, and that a comprehensive arts and culture plan would be developed in the future. The recommendation also dictates that a short-term transparent, inclusive and innovative plan must be established to allocate remaining funds.


Jones would be tasked with naming an arts and culture commissioner who would oversee a board of advisors appointed by public and private sector funders that reflects the community, including artists, educators, artistic directors, industry executives, neighborhood leaders and donors.


The advisory board would be responsible for developing a comprehensive plan to determine a grant-making process that aligns with the city’s intention to use the arts for economic development, innovation and accessibility. They would also explore how city assets can be used in a more equitable and inclusive manner. The board would also be tasked with building a 10-year Arts & Culture Plan that would provide incentives for organizations to form new approaches to equitable and inclusive arts and culture.


ASC underwent a leadership change in January when former president Jeep Bryant announced his resignation after two years on the job. Krista Terrell, the vice president of marketing and communications, was named acting president, and her first weeks in the role included the city’s introducing a potential shift in funding.


“We are in dialogue with the city and hope that they engage us in the discussions because we are the ones who have been doing the work,” Terrell said. “It is really important … to understand grant making is not just submitting the proposal and then cutting a check. There is a lot of coaching, counseling—a lot of working that is done between that process with organizations of all sizes, as well as creative individuals in that application process. The question for me is, ‘what is the infrastructure cost for the city of building this idea, when there is already the infrastructure here at ASC?’ We have been doing the work and continue to do the work in an equitable way.”


ASC also released its inaugural Cultural Equity Report last week, a 34-page examination of what it described as an inequitable funding history and the journey toward cultural equity.
The report details that of the 61 organizations ASC has provided operational support grants for during its history, only nine have been African, Latinx, Asian, Arab or Native American organizations. Six currently receive support grants: A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, Brand New Sheriff Productions, Carolinas Latin Dance Company, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, JazzArts Charlotte and Que-OS, representing 16% of all grantees and 7% of ASC’s operating support grant budget. ALAANA organizations have received 3.43% of such funding since 1991, which amounts to $8 million of $235 million allocated.


“The board adopted the cultural equity statement in fiscal year 2019 that would help guide ASC moving forward to be equitable,” Terrell said. “A very important piece of that was that the board said, ‘we need to annually report on our progress as it relates to our journey toward cultural equity.’ This was the first fiscal year to begin that reporting. We started the process [of creating the report] in the summer of 2020 when Jeep Bryant was president. I led the report. For me, as well as the ASC team, it was important to start at the beginning and really tell the story.”


Terrell wanted to start at ASC’s inception to provide historical context about the organization and its work. They also wanted to examine ASC’s steps and missteps in pursuing cultural equity.


“There is a lot of stopping and starting,” Terrell said. “In 1991 with the 1991 plan, ASC kind of fired its board and started anew to have the board be diverse, but over the years in the 1990s, it kind of backtracked and ended up being all white again. That is an example of a start and stop of missteps.”


Eiselt and Terrell are among several local leaders in the Hue House conversation “The Best of Both Worlds” on March 3, a virtual conversation designed to address funding arts and culture through philanthropy and economic development.

For David J. Butler, co-founder of Hue House, a Black-owned creative agency, the structural shift is long overdue.


“It is a necessary change,” said Butler, who has been pushing for this type of conversation for the last seven years. “A lot of the coverage we have seen of it has been kind of shortsighted, because it’s not an issue of economic development versus funding the arts through ASC as much as it is developing new models that can help creatives thrive here.

The traditional arts model is part of that. It’s not the only model or the focal point, as you have to do the leg work of putting things in place to make substantive change through something like using economic development.


“We work with a number of creative entrepreneurs, artists, etc. and that creative industry needs investment just like any other industry to thrive here. It needs resources, it needs pieces of infrastructure. I am excited to see that the city is actually viewing it this way, because it creates opportunity, and it can broaden the scope in how we think about creativity and arts here, which is traditionally only looked one way and excluded a lot of people.”


For information about Hue House:


https://linktr.ee/itshuehouse


To read the ASC report:
www.artsandscience.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ASC_EquityReport_RF.pdf

 

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