A message from Robert Bush

Categories: Blog

By Robert Bush
ASC President

ASC President Robert Bush
ASC President Robert Bush

Before the end of 2015, I want to take the opportunity to provide an update to you regarding the progress that has been made by the Arts & Science Council (ASC) in implementing the recommendations of the Cultural Vision Plan (CVP) and Cultural Life Task Force (CLTF). Over the past 18 months, the ASC Board and staff have been focused on aligning our organization and goals to the input from the citizens of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress in a number of key areas:

Re-Inventing ASC

A key recommendation of the CLTF was to “Redesign the ASC and its mission from the ground up so that it can be more effective in leading the cultural community’s adaptation to 21st-century trends in philanthropy, demographics and citizen participation. Consider the potential to rebrand or rename the ASC.”

The ASC Board has:

Credit: Mike Wirth
Credit: Mike Wirth
  • Approved a new Mission Statement:
    • “Ensuring access to an excellent, relevant, and sustainable cultural community for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region”
  • Approved a new Strategic Plan and goals:
    • Serve as a resource hub for strategy, standard setting, and capacity building for the cultural community
    • Advocate for the regional cultural community to build community engagement in its cultural life
    • Ensure the financial stability of the cultural sector
  • Established new Measures of Success for annual reporting to the community that center around Community Engagement, Resource Hub, and Financial Stability.
  • Approved a new ASC Governance Model, effective January 1, 2016:
    • Reduced the size of the ASC Board from 40 Directors to 26 Directors
    • Approved new Board Service Policy/Job Description
    • Established 5 Advisory Councils to ensure ongoing counsel and input from community partners and key constituents as well as the public:
      • North/West Advisory Council
      • Central Advisory Council
      • South/East Advisory Council
      • Private Sector Advisory Council
      • Cultural Sector Advisory Council
  • Increased the breadth of our capacity building opportunities for cultural organizations’ professional and volunteer leadership and for individual artists.
  • Established a regular quarterly meeting schedule with representatives of the arts councils in the 16 County region as a first step toward building a regional coalition for arts and culture
  • In partnership with the Charlotte Regional Partnership launched a new regional Arts & Economic Prosperity study for the entire 16 County region – results will be available in Spring 2017
  • With the support of Mecklenburg County, established a new initiative – Culture Blocks. By working with individual artists, cultural programmers, and by leveraging other resources, ASC will introduce new or scale existing cultural infrastructure in the local neighborhood and/or address barriers to participation with major institutions in partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system and Parks & Recreation in 5 specific geographic areas with historically low levels of participation with ASC funded programs but high levels of participation with local county library and park/recreation services.

The Board has also made steps to align ASC’s grant-making programs to the tenants of the CVP and CLTF. This re-alignment also addresses issues currently being studied by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, especially in the areas of building social capital and broadening access to economic opportunity. To date we have:

    • Access for all citizens
    • Responsiveness to our changing community
    • Commitment to financial stability for the sectorCompleted a review of all ASC grant-making programs and the Board has approved adjustments to ASC grant-making programs that ensure:
  • Guiding Principles for changes to ASC’s grant-making programs are:
    Credit: Mike Wirth
    Credit: Mike Wirth
    • Operating Support remains a core component of ASC’s investment strategy
    • Project Support should be more robust and closely aligned with documented community priorities
    • Capacity Building support should be more robust, allowing for substantial investments in innovation and risk taking
    • Support for Creative Individuals should be more robust and celebrate achievement of individuals at all career stages
  • Changes to the Operating Support program include:
    • Expand Operating Support to emerging grassroots organizations to more fully reflect the diversity of region (Geography, Audience, Discipline, Multi-cultural)
    • Recalibrate Operating Support levels to current partners and institute a universal cap on Operating Support awards to more closely ensure sustainability of the program – Any reductions in current Operating Support recipients grants to the new maximum level will take place over a 5 year period
  • Changes to Project Support programs include:
    • Align Project Support with Cultural Vision Plan priorities
    • Increase Capacity Building support to invest more substantially in management and fundraising capabilities of cultural partners
    • Increase support to Creative Individuals at all career stages
    • Transition to the new categories will take place over a 5 year period

These critical changes are outlined in the ASC Path to Culture For All and Evolution of ASC Cultural & Community Investments infographics.

Transforming Private Sector Funding

A key recommendation of the CLTF was to “Restructure Arts & Science Council and private sector giving to increase individual, corporate and foundation donations directly to the Cultural Partners and other nonprofit cultural organizations.”

  • ASC has re-designed its fundraising efforts to become a pipeline for citizens, both in and outside the workplace, to become engaged, passionate, loyal patrons, donors and advocates for the Cultural Partners and the sector as a whole through increased emphasis on community engagement.
    • This effort is most evident in the transition of our annual fundraising kick-off event from a typical luncheon for 300 key volunteers to providing free cultural experiences and access to museums, historic sites and performance across Mecklenburg County. Over 6,600 individuals participated in this 3-day event in September.

  • ASC continues to experience the changes in private sector giving identified by the CLTF, including changes in workplace giving programs and corporate giving being directed to individual cultural groups rather than for distribution by ASC. This has resulted in private sector giving to ASC remaining relatively flat. However, private sector support to the entire sector is growing. Data from our most recent analysis (FY14) of earned and contributed giving to the sector shows:
    • 12% growth in transactions (ticket sales, contributions, etc.) – the first time in 8 years over the baseline established in 2007
    • 59% of all transactions (ticket sales, contributions, etc.) come from outside Mecklenburg County or the Charlotte-Mecklenburg MSA – however, donations are coming primarily from Mecklenburg County residents
    • Number of individual donors increased from 35,311 in 2013 to 50,679 in 2014 – a 44% increase
    • Total individual giving increased from $9,300,000 in 2013 to $14,833,500 in 2014 – a 60% increase
    • Total giving to the sector increased from $29,500,000 in 2013 to $37,149,000 in 2014 – erasing all losses incurred by the sector in the recession

Re-Engaging Government

A key recommendation of the CLTF was to “Engage local and state government to recommit and expand support for the cultural sector to restore the public/private partnership that built and grew the local arts, science and history sector.”

  • For FY16, ASC received increases from:
    • Mecklenburg County – $300,000 to establish the Culture Blocks initiative – this is the first new cultural program funding from the County since 2007 and a 27% increase in funding which includes support of the operation of Spirit Square and Studio 345
    • Mecklenburg Towns – increased their support by 35% from $72,500 to $98,000 through increases from the Towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Matthews
    • Funding for public art projects has also increased from both the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County due to increased capital expenditures
  • ASC and the leadership of the NC Arts Council have raised the issue of developing a more equitable distribution of state funding for art, science and history. A key advancement in the 2015 Legislative Session was moving the Museum of Natural Science, NC Zoo and aquariums from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into a new Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.


You can see from this overview that we have made great strides over the past 18 months in addressing the recommendations and goals of the Cultural Vision Plan and Cultural Life Task Force. These strides are the result of a continued strong public/private partnership that has built our cultural sector over the past 40 years.

ASC still has much work to do to address all of the recommendations of the two important planning efforts. Working together with our public and private donors, ASC is confident that we will achieve these goals, grow cultural opportunities for all of our citizens and lead the sector to a more stable and long term future.

ASC is doing this work because we believe that the arts and culture have important benefits for all of us who call Charlotte-Mecklenburg home – we all benefit because of the quality of life arts, science and history bring to our community. In the coming year, ASC will more energetically embrace its role as a resource hub and enthusiastic advocate for the cultural community. We appreciate your partnership in this endeavor.

I look forward to continuing the journey in 2016.