By Bernie Petit
Everything about the 2014 countywide Cultural Vision Plan screams that it’s different from past plans, from the imaginative artworks created by photographer Sean Busher that illustrate the vision to the vision statements at the heart of the new plan.
Past plans “were very prescriptive in page after page after page of recommendations – we do this, do this, change this, stop this, do this differently,” said Arts & Science Council (ASC) President Robert Bush.
“But this time, this one is clearly a document that communicates the vision that was articulated to us here at ASC by the citizens of this community about what they want their cultural community to be.”
And, through a planning process that engaged more than 1,800 corporate and nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and everyday citizens, the community told ASC it wants the cultural sector to:
1) Build community;
2) Increase program relevance and innovation, and;
3) Make arts, science and history central to K-12 education to ensure that Charlotte-Mecklenburg students are critical, creative thinkers.
In order to address the community’s wishes, the plan needed to re-imagine ways the cultural sector could contribute to community vitality – from enhancing our quality of life through access to programming located closer to where we live to supporting a creative and innovative workforce for the 21st century.
It does so by asking the community to “Imagine 2025” through a series of scenarios that describe what could be:
- “Imagine If… Colonies of artists and scientists could love and work in affordable spaces that give them room to rehearse, create, invent and exhibit, welcoming the public to experience it all with them.”
- “Imagine If… Charlotte became the destination for one of the nation’s most popular and acclaimed Fringe Festivals, celebrating challenging and innovative art and introducing the community – and the nation – to what’s next on the horizon.”
- “Imagine If… Science sheds and clubs sprang up across Charlotte-Mecklenburg communities, where materials and equipment would be available for all aspiring Einsteins and Curies to explore and experiment.”
Instead of providing checklists of action items for each scenario, the vision plan instead explains what is needed to make each vision a reality, making it “an invitation for anyone and everyone to help create that future,” Bush said.
“And so, it’s not very prescriptive, it is much more this visionary invitation to the dance.”
However, it’s been said that if you give a dance, you gotta pay the band, and that reality delayed the release of the Cultural Vision Plan (completed in 2012) until a critical piece to support its vision statements could be addressed: how to find a healthy and sustainable funding model for the cultural sector.
“We finished the vision plan and it was like, we don’t have any money to do any of this so how do we put this out as ‘This is what the community wants’ and not be able to act on it?” Bush said.
That led to the formation of the Cultural Life Task Force in 2013 to examine the history and current state of the cultural sector, identify the funding challenges it faces, and establish priorities to ensure a healthy vibrant cultural community. It released its report detailing how to create a sustainable funding model to secure the cultural sector in June 2014.
There is “great alignment between what the citizens said in the vision plan and what the task force did in looking at the funding framework to balance all this out,” Bush said.
The Cultural Vision Plan, he said, is the rich, wonderful things the community wants that ASC now has to align the funding with. Work has already started, with ASC staff and board prioritizing the recommendations of the vision plan and the task force report.
There’s still much left to do, and the vision plan was created in such a manner so that its concepts could be realized in many different ways – and so that they are not just ASC’s responsibility.
“There is this shared responsibility across the entire community,” said Bush, “to listen to what Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents said they want and to try to respond in unique ways.”