Multimedia artist Jason Woodberry. Photo courtesy of Jason Woodberry

Marcus Kiser wonders if a public grant he applied for will be affected by Charlotte City Council’s recent decision to decrease funding to the Arts and Science Council (ASC).

Kiser could be awarded up to $400,000.

City council wants to “diversify funding” by allocating those dollars to “programs based in city-owned facilities” and individual artists according to its Feb. 27 meeting agenda.

Why it matters: In June 2022, City of Charlotte’s Arts and Culture Advisory Board awarded $2.01 million to the Arts and Science Council. The award included $950,000 for operational support and $1.06 million for the organization’s direct-to-artists and arts organizations funding. Last month, Charlotte City Council voted to cut operational support. Staffing, technology and equipment fall under the organization’s operations.

Kiser, a local multimedia designer, has received ASC grants in the past and was not surprised because, he said, art programs are usually the first programs to get defunded.

“So I noticed, that’s the first thing that they cut from, you know, public schools and things like that,” Kiser told QCity Metro. “I don’t think [art] is prioritized anymore, even though I think it’s a big part of the culture.”

The decision to decrease ASC’s funding is part of a larger framework that establishes best practices to improve Charlotte arts. The city’s current endeavors also include establishing the Charlotte Arts and Culture Plan, a ten-year strategy to monitor the sustainability and economic impact of the arts.

A controversial decision

For the last few years, ASC has been allotted anywhere from $900,000-$950,000 in operating support, council member Ed Driggs said at the council’s Feb. 27 meeting.

Driggs’ introduced the new framework as a way to free up dollars that should not be “tied up with the administrative costs of an art organization.”

He also shared that the framework would help prevent other arts unspecified organizations from “going bankrupt.”

ASC President Krista Terrell said she wondered why the decision was made when, according to her knowledge, the Charlotte Arts and Culture Plan remains incomplete.

Terrell mentioned reaching out to Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston and other council members last year to discuss ASC’s progress but has yet to receive a response.

“It’s kind of all over the place. [At one point], they [said] ‘Oh, this is about restoring the health of Uptown Charlotte and organizations and city owned facilities, but then it’s talking about Charlotte-Mecklenburg,” Terrell told QCity Metro.

ASC posted a statement on its website expressing disappointment in the change and saying the decision goes against a significant component of the Arts and Culture Advisory Board to “do no harm.” The board was established in 2021 and is charged with overseeing the Charlotte Arts and Culture Plan.

‘Defunded’ vs. ‘redistributed’

After being questioned about the decision online, Winston shared a statement on Facebook, centering his response on how ASC needed to diversify its funds more.

Winston explained that the council is not being “defunded,” but that the city will redistribute certain funds currently allocated to the organization.

“We don’t want to continue the trend of spending upward of $1 million BEFORE a dollar gets spent on art and artists,” Winston wrote.

He also mentioned that ASC received “two years of status quo operational funding so they could figure out best paths forward.”

QCity Metro contacted several city council members, including Winston and Driggs, but received no response.

Reactions from the art community

Local artists took to social media to voice their reactions; some were unsurprised, and others were disheartened.

Visual artist Chadwick Cartwright says that while he understands funding needs to be diversified, there needs to be a plan for how exactly city council will redistribute those dollars.

Cartwright voiced his frustrations on Instagram through multiple posts. Local creatives commented under one post saying:

“Bro I watched online cuz I couldn’t make it Uptown but this is so sad. This is a genuine relationship that is forcibly being dissolved,” one user said.

“I am stunned at this decision by our city council and would really like to understand how this decision could possibly make good sense for our city and our artists,” said another.

Screenshot of the Instagram post through which local creatives expressed their concerns.

“It’s unfortunate in a lot of ways, but it says a lot about the art community here and how Charlotte views the arts in general,” mixed-media artist Jason Woodberry told QCity Metro.

Woodberry received funding from the organization last year.

Eva Crawford, a locally-known painter and collage maker, said the city’s decision will cause skepticism amongst the creative community.

Crawford received a Cultural Vision Grant, which awards up to $20,000, to support her project “Your Good Neighbors CLT.”

With the financial support, she drew free charcoal portraits of 68 local residents that were featured in an art show. Six thousand dollars from the show’s donations were donated to A Roof Above, Eustress and Nine Eighteen Nine Studio Gallery.

“I don’t doubt that the city has good intentions for local artists,” Crawford told QCity Metro in an emailed statement.

“But perhaps the transition from relying on the ASC to the city government could be more incremental and not such a jolt to all the local artists who have relied on the ASC’s generosity,” Crawford said.

What’s next?

ASC will continue managing the city’s public art programs and will still be able to distribute grants to art organizations.

“ASC’s operations are not 100% reliant on the city of Charlotte for funding,” Terrell said, nodding to some of the organization’s private investors. “We’re doing our best to not cut staff and we are really doing our best to double down on fundraising.”

Daija Peeler covers arts, culture, and faith in Charlotte.

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