Why This Matters: ASC’s initial investments for FY21 reflect a commitment to equity that extended unrestricted operating support to more diverse organizations and provided them with resources to innovate, capitalize themselves and strengthen their future.
By Bernie Petit
BOOM Charlotte didn’t go off as expected in April.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual experimental and contemporary arts festival had to be postponed indefinitely after eight months of planning. BOOM Echoes, a community-focused art festival and placemaking event in East Charlotte slated to precede the culminating celebration, was cancelled.
“We were one of the first people to have to make that call,” said Manoj Kesavan, founder of Que-OS, the collaborative, multidisciplinary nonprofit that launched BOOM.
As it has for many cultural organizations and events, the pandemic presented a crisis for BOOM Charlotte, Kesavan said.
Many of BOOM’s sponsors are restaurants and breweries, industries also hit especially hard by the COVID crisis. Postponing within weeks of the festival’s scheduled date presented additional challenges.
Helping them weather the storm in the months ahead is an operating support grant from ASC.
ASC’s first round of investments for FY21, announced July 1, totaled $4.3 million. The initial investments provide unrestricted dollars for the general administration, operations and programs of 37 arts, science and history organizations, including first-time recipient Que-OS.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” Kesavan said. “It makes a big difference. Broadening operating support is such a needed thing. I hope it continues to broaden further.”
AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT
Brand New Sherriff (BNS) Productions faced a similar situation, said founder and artistic director Rory Sheriff.
“Our operating support grant will help big time and immediately,” Sheriff said.
The theater company’s last two productions of its 2019-20 season were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. One of the shows was in pre-production, so BNS took an additional financial hit when it refunded advance ticket sales.
Its ASC operating grant is making an immediate impact in practical ways, Sheriff said. While it currently does not look like BNS will be able to perform any of the four shows it planned for FY21 for live audiences, Sheriff has been able to focus on creating new work.
In June, BNS performed a virtual reading of “Speak Easy” – a new play loosely based on the neighborhood bar Sheriff’s mother started in their home in Philadelphia – for the Queen City New Play Initiative, ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship recipient Stacey Rose’s project to give voice to new theater work in Charlotte.
“I’ve never officially workshopped one of my scripts,” Sherriff said. “Now it will be refined and ready for when we are able to perform it onstage.”
SUPPORTING CULTURAL EQUITY
BNS is one of the only Black theater companies operating in Charlotte. That shouldn’t be the case, Sherriff said.
“I know what African-American theater looks like and what it should be and we as a whole in Charlotte aren’t stepping up to the plate,” Sherriff said. “BNS is doing what we can but there should be at least 10 BNS Productions in Charlotte. That should be the base.”
To better support cultural organizations whose primary intentions, practices and mission are by, for and about African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) artists, cultures and communities, ASC amended its grant-making policy this year by instituting an equity supplement as part of operating support awards.
Organizations receiving the supplemental equity funding are A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, Brand New Sheriff Productions, The Carolinas Latin Dance Company, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, JazzArts Charlotte and Que-OS.
Gantt Center Vice President of Institutional Advancement Witnie Martinez said ASC funding supports the organization’s human capital, the most important factor in its ability to plan and execute dynamic programming.
It’s also beneficial as the Gantt navigates COVID-related challenges while educating Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents about the social injustices that Black communities face.
“As the premiere Black cultural institution in the Southeast, the time has never been more important to ensure that the Gantt remains at the forefront of critical community conversations that focus on social injustices and potential solutions for bringing about change,” Martinez said.
In April, Gantt Center launched “Unmasked,” its impactful virtual series focusing on the heightened disparities that Black communities face as a result of COVID-19 and social injustices. The series has reached nearly 15,000 viewers and the Gantt’s YouTube channel has grown from just 21 subscribers to over 1,600.
“Our goal is to move our audiences from awareness to behavioral change, by using our programming as a vehicle to provide resources for individuals to improve their lives and communities,” Martinez said.
The need for diversity in the cultural community is no longer a question but an expectation, Kesavan said.
“I think it should be a question,” he said, “why things aren’t more diverse?”