Arts & Science Council apologizes for history of discriminatory grant-making

A 34-page report lays bare the "steps -- and missteps" that ASC has taken to become more equitable.

The Arts and Science Council, famous for the slogan “Culture for All,” apologized Tuesday for what it characterized as historic discrimination against communities of color — especially the region’s Black population.

In a 34-page Cultural Equity Report, ASC outlined how its grant-making practices historically ignored Black communities and their cultural institutions, choosing instead to focus its funding on “white, Western Eurocentric” organizations.

The report listed eight Charlotte institutions that especially benefited: Charlotte Choral Society (Carolina Voices), Charlotte Symphony, Charlotte Nature Museum (now Discovery Place Nature), Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, The Mint Museum, Theatre Charlotte, Oratorio Singers (now part of the Charlotte Symphony) and Opera Carolina.

The report also outlined steps that ASC is taking to correct that historical imbalance.

“Before we can move forward, it is first imperative that we apologize and accept accountability for the role we have played in creating and perpetuating systems and structures that have exacerbated inequities in our cultural community and beyond,” the report stated.

Those discriminatory practices were “upheld over many decades” and resulted in Black and Brown communities “not having access to the same opportunities for growth and development that others in our community have enjoyed,” the report further states.

Why it matters: ASC is one of Charlotte’s most important arts organizations, charged with distributing millions of dollars each year to a range of individuals and cultural institutions. Much of that funding originates from local tax dollars, as well as from local companies and their employees who make annual, voluntary donations.

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According to ASC’s website, the council serves as the “Office of Cultural Resources” for the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and six suburban towns. It reported total revenue of $13.8 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019. More than $8.4 million of that total was paid out in grants to individuals and arts-related groups and institutions.

Steps & Missteps

Krista Terrell, ASC acting president, said Tuesday’s report was intended to reflect the “steps – and missteps” that ASC has taken to become more inclusive, from its grant-making to its staff and to its governing board.

Terrell, who is Black, was named acting president in January, shortly after Jeep Bryant resigned as head of the organization. She will hold the post until an interim president is named.

According to the report, ASC’s largest grants, which go to support the day-to-day operations of some of Charlotte’s biggest cultural icons, generally have bypassed organizations and institutions that reflect the cultures of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, Native American (ALAANA) communities.

Just 3.4% of ASC’s operational grants since 1991 have gone to ALAANA organizations, according to the report. That amounts to $8 million from a total of $235 million.

A notable exception has been the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture and its predecessor, the Afro-American Cultural Center, which had gotten a combined $7 million in operational support from ASC as last year. But that amount was considerably smaller than similar grants given by ASC to other prominent arts institutions, such as Blumenthal Performing Arts ($13.5 million), Charlotte Symphony ($40 million) and the Mint Museum ($41.3 million).

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The report also noted discrepancies in ASC’s funding for individual artists. For example, the council has commission public arts projects by 157 white artists for a total of $16.3 million. That compares with 44 artists of color for $5 million.

National reckoning

The ASC report comes as universities, corporations and cultural institutions nationwide have begun to reckon with histories of racial discrimination. Even Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, who is Black, has apologized for the city’s role in systemic racism.

As Mecklenburg County has grown more culturally diverse — minority groups now make up about 43% of the population — ASC has moved to recalibrate its grant-making process, the report stated.

At least six ALAANA organizations currently are getting operational grants fro ASC, up from only one in the 1980s. They include the Gantt Center, A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, Brand New Sheriff Productions, Carolinas Latin Dance Company, JazzArts Charlotte, On Q Performing Arts and Que-OS.

In addition, the percentage of ASC grants going to ALAANA individuals climbed to 57% last year from 44% in 2016.

One of the council’s latest efforts, called Culture Blocks, funds culturally relevant activities in communities away from the center city. (ASC routinely has purchased advertising services from QCity Metro to promote Culture Blocks and other programs that spotlight Black culture.)

Despite moves to distribute funds more equitably, ASC still has room to improve, Susan Patterson, the council’s board chair, said in a statement. Part of that process, she said, will include annual reports so that the public can better assess how ASC administers its grant dollars.

“We ask for the residents of our community to hold us accountable as well,” she said.

Glenn Burkins
Glenn is founder and publisher of Qcitymetro.com. He's worked at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and Charlotte Observer.

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