By Bernie Petit
The blueprint for creating a sustainable funding model to secure Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural sector has been revealed.
The Cultural Life Task Force – a diverse group representing local philanthropy, non-profits, government and business – has released its final recommendations for funding the arts and culture sector. Over the last 13 months, the citizen task force examined the history and current financial state of the local sector, as well as similar cities across the nation, to offer insight for how to pay for the Charlotte region’s cultural life.
In order to ensure vibrant, accessible arts, science and history programming for future generations in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the task force recommends four key goals:
1) Restructure private sector giving to increase donations directly to cultural organizations. This includes establishing the Arts & Science Council (ASC) as the gateway for new cultural donors and participants who enter the sector through a workplace campaign.
2) 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.
3) Redesign ASC and its mission so that it can be more effective in leading the cultural community’s adaptation to 21st-century trends in philanthropy, demographics and citizen participation.
4) Support ASC cultural partners with administrative, fundraising and managerial resources as they revise, build and improve their programmatic, revenue and governance operations and sustainability.
“The sector-wide transformation begins with stabilization by private donors and government, continues through increased efficiency, engagement and outreach by local cultural groups, and moves toward long-term solutions through a restored public/private funding partnership,” the 174-page report reads.
For decades, the public-private fundraising model of workplace giving campaigns and partnerships with local and state government earned the dollars necessary to support cultural institutions and fund neighborhood projects, education programs for school children and grants to individual artists.
But over the past several years, local arts, science and history nonprofits have endured severe revenue reductions from public and private source, a trend exacerbated by the severity of the downturn in Charlotte resulting from the national financial crisis.
Some groups have since closed their doors, while others cut administrative functions. In many cases, organizations have attempted to do more with less, spending money on programming while trimming staff and fundraising resources.
“That’s a great plan if it’s a temporary plan,” task force co-chair Valecia McDowell, an attorney with Moore & Van Allen, told The Charlotte Observer. “Eventually you get to a place where that begins to cripple the organization, and it begins to crumble under the weight of its own infrastructure.”
Civic, corporate and community leaders formed the task force in May 2013 to examine the history and current financial state of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural sector and to ensure its viability.
Task force members were appointed by the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte Center City Partners, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Foundation For The Carolinas, the Charlotte Chamber and ASC.
“Arts and culture are imperative to our region’s vitality and are a major contributor to the quality of life her in Charlotte,” said task force co-chair Pat Riley, president of Allen Tate Realtors. “The path we’re on will not sustain the cultural sector we need to remain an outstanding place to work and live. This task force has worked diligently to make sure no stone was left unturned and every factor was considered. I am proud of the blueprints we have presented that will, hopefully, spark positive change in Charlotte.”
The report also recommends shifts in ASC’s strategy. Among them:
• Redesign the annual fund drive to a year-round cultural campaign;
• Launch a major data collection, warehousing, analysis, and sharing project;
• Strengthen ties with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to make the city more of a cultural tourism destination; and
• Design and implement a $125 million endowment campaign over the next decade, in collaboration with its cultural partners and the Greater Charlotte Cultural Trust.
“There is nothing in here that scares me,” ASC President Robert Bush told the Observer about the recommendations. “There is much here that makes me think in new ways. We’re up for the task.”