City plan would add millions of dollars for arts funding but reduce role of Arts & Science Council

The Foundation For The Carolinas would replace the ASC as the administrator of the city's arts funding.

Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones has outlined a plan to significantly increase funding for local arts while eliminating the Arts & Science Council (ASC) as a conduit for distributing those dollars. 

Under his three-year plan, which Jones outlined in a memo made public Tuesday, the city would increase its annual arts funding to $6 million a year from $3.2 million a year. Those tax dollars then would be matched by private-sector donors, for a combined $12 million a year to support local arts institutions.

The combined $36 million in funding over the next three years would be administered by the Foundation For The Carolinas, which also partnered with the city to administer $43 million in federal Covid-relief funding.

If approved by the City Council, the plan would greatly diminish the ASC’s role in administering public and private funds spent in support of local arts. (The ASC still administers some state and county money that supports various arts initiatives in Mecklenburg County.)

The proposed changes would be effective starting with the city’s fiscal 2022 budget, which begins July 1.

Hours after Jones’ memo was released, ASC’s acting president, Krista Terrell, issued a statement reiterating the organization’s commitment to Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s arts sector.

“ASC is committed to its grant making, advocacy and capacity building work for creative individuals and organizations of all sizes through a cultural equity lens,” said Terrell, the second Black executive to lead the ASC. “Our value of centering community in all that we do will allow us to invest in people, programs and ideas that move our community forward.”

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Shortly after Terrell was tapped to lead the ASC, the organization released a report that apologized for decades of discriminatory practices that shunted arts funding away from communities of color in favor of a few “white, Western Eurocentric” organizations.

In recent years, however, the ASC had put in place processes and structures to bring more cultural and racial equity to its funding decisions, the report stated.

It was unclear Tuesday how funding decisions would be made — and which organizations might benefit most — under the city’s new approach.

In his memo, Jones said the city would establish an Arts & Culture Commissioner that would report to the city manager and receive guidance from a Board of Advisors appointed by public and private stakeholders.

“…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,” Jones wrote in the memo.

In instructing Jones to develop a new arts-funding model, some members of City Council had pushed for a more coordinated strategy that would view the city’s arts funding through a prism of economic development. Some suggested, for example, that with proper focus and funding, Charlotte might develop a burgeoning film industry, just as Atlanta has done.

ASC at a crossroads

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In addition to increased funding for major arts institutions, Jones also proposed spending $1 million in support of 171 artists and arts organizations during the initial year of his plan. That figure would double the amount once allocated to the ASC for similar grant-making efforts.

In recent years, the Arts & Science Council has seen its funding dramatically reduced as major corporations and their employees have slashed their levels of voluntary giving through corporate campaigns. And Mecklenburg voters in 2019 rejected a proposal that would have added a quarter-cent sales tax to partially funded the ASC.

In its last two fiscal years, the ASC has reduced its staff from 34 to 14 people. The latest cuts came this week, when the organization notified eight current employees that they would be losing their jobs, according to a source who spoke with QCity Metro.

In his memo, Jones proposed giving $800,000 in unrestricted funds to help support the ASC during the first year of its transition away from city funding.

Correction: The article was updated to correct the number of jobs that were eliminated this week at the Arts & Science Council.

Jonathan Limehouse
Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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