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The dilemma of funding the arts in Charlotte

February 19, 2020 — WBTV On Your Side with Jamie Boll –– “Arts brings community together.” – Lonnie Davis. Arts & Science Council is an integral part of JazzArts Charlotte 10 years of growth. In this conversation with WBTV On Your Side, Jamie Boll, Lonnie Davis and Jeep Bryant discuss what the current funding gap means to the community.   Listen here, or read a rough transcript of the conversation below.

Jamie Boll: Last November, voters in Mecklenburg County were asked to provide a bump in sales tax. It would have provided more than $20 million to arts related programs. As you know voters shot it down. The Arts and Science Council has said if new funding sources aren’t found, there would have to be deep cuts.

Here’s the problem. This chart from ASC last week shows funding sources over the last 20 years or so. Funds from city and county are fairly steady. But the money from fund drive, private donors, corporations took a sizable drop during the recession and didn’t recover. In fact, private giving continues to drop.

That’s why The Arts and Science Council went before County Commissioners asking for help. Right now, city and county taxpayers contribute $5.2 million. ASC is asking for $12 million.

Tariq Bokhari, City Councilman: We heard loud and clear from residents of Charlotte that they are not interested in throwing a bunch of money without a plan.

Boll: We hear if we don’t get these commitments soon, there will be deep cuts as soon as this summer. What would public notice?
Jeep Bryant: We may have to reduce the pool of funds from grants to organizations, individuals, and neighborhood planning by as much as 50%. Organizations that rely on us for operating support will have to look elsewhere for critical funding the Arts and Science Council provides. There is a plan. At the County Commission, we put forward specific initiatives we are seeking the county commission to fund to enable us to invest in organizations in neighborhoods, arts education programs, and also support for artists and creative individuals.

Boll: What would happen if the grant was cut to JazzArts Charlotte?

Lonnie Davis: We would have to make some serious decisions an education organization. Because Arts and Science Council funding does so much for organizations like JazzArts Charlotte. It provides professional development, funds our Jazz in Schools programs and others that allow us to get out into the community to offer accessible programs to all people.

Boll: A lot of times in schools that focus on math and science, to have the arts available to students, how important is that?

Davis: It makes a well-rounded student and a well-rounded adult.

Boll: What is broken about the funding model used in the past?

Bryant: A lot of private money has shifted to specific sponsorships, supporting exhibitions for example. That money is helpful, but is not providing the operating support the organizations need so critically.

What Arts & Science Council does is review applications from organizations, bring in experts from around the country, to help in good judgements to make sure the funds are invested wisely. That’s the infrastructure the ASC has had for many years and that the process we use to support not just the large organizations, but also the small organizations in the community.

JazzArts Charlotte is a great example of a community where when we started working with Lonnie when the organization was quite small. Lonnie has built an audience and the Arts and Science Council has been a partner with her as the organization has grown.

Boll: Tariq talks about accountability and making sure the money is spent wisely. Are there systems in place to make sure, if it is taxpayer money, that every penny is accounted for?
Bryant: Absolutely. In fact, we have City Council and County Commission representation on our Board. The Board and committee are involved in careful review of all the decisions we make. Even for small community grants, we engage community members to join our Board in helping us evaluate those applications.

Boll: One thing you hear is those big community issues, like affordable and housing crime, that needs funding as well. How do you make the argument we should spend money on arts?

Davis: Arts does so much for individuals. It brings the community together. Every major city has a vibrant arts scene.

Bryant: We’re asking for approximately half of 1% of the city budget. That relatively small percentage can go a long way in arts and culture. We have the proven ability to take those investments and really make an impact.

Boll: If you get the $12 million, it’s not the $20 million that the sales tax asked for, but enough to get you through?

Bryant: We also expect increased support from the private sector. Those discussions are under way as well.

What do you think? On Facebook, comment with #OYSTonight or email

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