2021 Candidate Questionnaire – Town of Cornelius
Get ready for Election Day and meet the candidates running for office in Cornelius.
Each candidate running for election in 2021 in the Town of Cornelius was provided a five-question survey to complete and share their position on arts and culture. Below are the verbatim responses we received, grouped by question.
1. Personal Perspective
Can you tell us about a time arts, science, or history helped you connect with your community?
DENIS BILODEAU: As a founding board member for the new Cain Center for the Arts in Cornelius , I have been able to connect with the community on a regular basis. It has been so encouraging to feel the warm reception and appreciation for the arts within our community.
COLIN FURCHT: I was an active member and Board Member of the Young Affiliates of the Mint for over 5 years.
TODD SANSBURY: As an avid history fan, I recently did some research on my local town of Cornelius and it’s origin. After learning some interesting facts and statistics, I began to quiz my friends and neighbors regarding the topics I had discovered. This was a great avenue to connect with my community, while simultaneously generating interest amongst the local inhabitants regarding their town and surrounding areas.
2. Arts & Culture Priorities
ASC’s 2020 Community Priorities Survey, conducted in partnership with UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, gathered input from over 1,900 county residents reflecting a wide range of community voices (racial, ethnic, age, socioeconomic, geography, etc.). The top priority for both North (41%) and South (37%) Mecklenburg residents was support for nonprofit arts, science, and history organizations to ensure sustained, high-quality programs and community outreach. Other top responses include celebrating diverse cultures and neighborhoods and using arts, science, and history programming as a tool to address complex community issues. Further, the Imagine 2025 Cultural Vision Plan included Town Hall visioning sessions that found that North and South Mecklenburg residents rated their desire for activities closer to home at a very high level, 88% and 86% respectively.
Entering Fiscal Year 2022, the City of Charlotte overhauled its approach to cultural funding, divesting from ASC and partnering with Foundation For The Carolinas and Charlotte’s private sector to “restore the health of uptown Charlotte” and provide “cultural and educational opportunities for visitors to Charlotte as well as residents” (Charlotte Business Journal, May 3, 2021). As a result, ASC ended its largest grant making program, Operating Support grants that supported large, mid-sized and small organizations (including Carolina Raptor Center, Davidson Community Players, Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts, and Mint Hill Arts). While the city creates its cultural plan, a commitment has been made by the city to fund those groups for this fiscal year. It is important to understand that ASC will continue to support those organizations, along with new and emerging groups and creative individuals, through other ASC grant programs and capacity building efforts. To learn more about Artist Support Grants, Cultural Vision Grants, Culture Blocks, Emerging Creators and Creative Renewal Fellowships, School Funding Opportunities (currently on hold due to public funding cuts), and Technical Assistance Grants, click here.
ASC’s aim is to serve all residents of Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte and the six suburban towns, by providing free, high quality cultural programming that is diverse, relevant, resident-informed, and available to all. We intentionally center community, start with partnership (create with, not for), and advocate for equitable distribution of government funds. In each of the six towns, ASC cultivates experiences and cultural programs that engage residents, increase access, and foster community.
How will you work to creatively address community issues, celebrate our culturally diverse neighborhoods, and bring cultural activities closer to home? What are your arts and culture priorities for your town, and how do you intend to pursue those priorities if elected? (ex: advocate for increased investment, attend cultural events or Culture Blocks programs, volunteer to sit on a grant review panel, or connect with your town’s appointees to ASC’s Advisory Councils)
DENIS BILODEAU: Along with my work for the Cain Center for the Arts, I am also actively involved with our town’s affordable housing committee. The Cain Center will be a place for all and will help bring a diverse audience together with the arts as a centerpiece. Fully developing an arts “district” in our downtown is a top priority for our town.
COLIN FURCHT: There are several artists in my household, my Fiance and Step Daughter. They are both musicians and one is studying to be a music teacher at UNCG. The arts are an important part of our household and I will do my best to enhance any programs put in front of me. I strongly support the Cain Arts Center here in Cornelius. I believe it will be a great venue to bring the community together in support of the arts overall.
TODD SANSBURY: I have always been a strong supporter and visitor to the Carolina Raptor Center and Davidson Community Players. I will continue to work to support projects that support our local, underserved communities. I support the new Cain Center for the Arts in Cornelius, I volunteer and participate with the men’s fitness group, F3, on a variety of charitable projects, and I spearhead annual company volunteer events at the Metrolina Food Bank. Fortunately, my job with a cancer diagnostic company also allows me to partner with the underserved medical community to ensure both education and appropriate medical care is available to all, regardless of ability to pay.
3. Commitment to Cultural Equity
Community Ties: Understanding What Attaches People to the Place Where They Live, an in-depth study published by the Knight Foundation and Urban Institute in May 2020, reports that a community’s residents’ access to arts and culture not only boosts feelings of satisfaction and lifestyle fit, but also correlates with greater investment of time and resources in that community. This investment metric includes participation in local activities, attending public meetings, owning a home or local business, donating, and volunteering.
Easy access to arts and cultural activities is reported by people in low-income households less frequently (67%) than by those in high-income households (78%). Additionally, only 64% of African American residents and 66% of Hispanic residents report easy access to arts and culture, compared to 74% of white residents and other racial and ethnic groups. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg metropolitan area, arts and cultural activities are perceived as the fourth most difficult quality feature to access in our community, after affordable housing, transit options, and job opportunities.
ASC recognizes that systemic, inequitable access to opportunity has led to generations of unjust outcomes for those who have been historically marginalized in mainstream arts and cultural funding, discourse, leadership and resource allocation. We strongly encourage all who serve or seek to serve our community to read ASC’s inaugural Cultural Equity Report, which reflects the steps – and missteps – we have taken on our journey to becoming a more equitable organization and holding ourselves accountable to the community.
How will you join ASC in actively addressing inequities in access to arts and culture? How do you view ASC’s equity work in alignment with your town’s goals around cultural equity?
DENIS BILODEAU: I am the northern Meck towns’ government rep on the ASC Board. I also took part in crafting ASC’s equity statement. I have been actively advocating for ASC’s equity work and my Board work for the Town and ASC are a perfect match.
COLIN FURCHT: All programs should be available to all residents of our community. Either to participate or to enjoy. Any inequities brought my attention would be addressed immediately. I feel that this is not necessarily a concern in Cornelius but it should be addressed in the areas where it is.
TODD SANSBURY: The Cultural Equity Report opened my eyes to areas of inequity that I was unaware of regarding access to arts and culture. I will join the ASC to support and fund local programs that ensure easier access for all persons in our communities. I served on the board of the Carolina Rapids soccer team and helped spearhead funding for our underprivileged members, including completing applications for funding from the Foundation for the Carolinas. The current work that ASC is engaging in is important to our town goals, which includes a more vibrant city center with access to art, cultural activities, food, and dwellings for all citizens.
4. COVID-19 Impact, Recovery and Renewal
ASC’s 2020 COVID-19 impact survey showed that more than 90 percent of local artists have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and experienced a loss of income. Charlotte-Mecklenburg arts and culture organizations receiving Operating Support through ASC experienced revenue losses between March 2020 and June 2021 totaling $49.7 million. Not only has the financial impact of COVID-19 on the sector restricted capacity to serve residents, it has also deeply impacted the livelihood of Mecklenburg’s creative workforce and the economic future of local creatives and cultural sector employees.
Mecklenburg County’s COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal Task Force’s proposed recommended actions include increasing support for artists and the organizations that support them (expand Culture Blocks funding for artist employment; community arts centers in challenged areas; increase ASC funding for arts equity, inclusion, access; develop strategy for artist housing), prioritizing cultural awareness (expanded diverse worker recruitment, cultural competency training, patient service and cultural survey, culturally based health education modules), and empowering people with information through health-themed neighborhood art. Other recommendations include expanded mental health support and resources for substance abuse treatment and care, both of which are community needs heightened by the pandemic and which ASC supports through cultural programming.
As a town official, how will you consider, utilize, and support the workers of the cultural sector at this critical intersection of health, economy, and community? Which of the Mecklenburg COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal Task Force’s proposed recommendations align with your goals as a civic leader?
DENIS BILODEAU: Increasing support for artists is in line with the goal of creating an arts district in Cornelius. Many opportunities for support of local, diverse individual artists and those workers needed to support the arts will be created.
COLIN FURCHT: COVID impacted our family both physically and financially. I would continue to look at programs to help get the industry back on its feet again. While I do not support mandates, I do support vaccines for those with weak immune systems, the elderly or anyone else who feels it is a good path for them. Reopening music, theatre and the like should be a main concern for all of us.
TODD SANSBURY: The focus of Healthcare for all rises to the top for me. My entire professional career has been in healthcare, specifically mental health. I was appalled to learn that very few, if any resources, focus on mental health in teenagers. I partnered with federally qualified health clinics to increase education and access to appropriate mental health care. I participated in local fundraising events, and my son worked on an internship on the eastern shore of NC regarding substance abuse and mental health. Every individual, regardless of background, age, or ability to pay, should have access to comprehensive health screening, support, and treatment. As a town official, I will work to ensure this access is highlighted and supported.
5. Per Capita Funding
In 2014 the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Cultural Life Task Force developed research-based recommendations for specific actions to establish long-term support for and healthy growth of our community’s cultural sector. One of these recommendations was that Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville increase their investment in Arts & Science Council to $1.30 per capita. Analysis of municipal funding allocations in Fiscal Year 2018-2022 shows that the six towns’ average per capita annual investment in the work of ASC ranges from $1.06 per resident to five cents per resident (Davidson – $1.06, Matthews – $0.85, Pineville- $0.84, Mint Hill – $0.36, Cornelius – $0.22, Huntersville – $0.05). ASC is committed to serving residents in each corner of the County in a balanced, equitable manner, but receives objectively imbalanced funding support from town to town.
To what extent do you support public funding of arts, science and history programs through town funding to the Arts & Science Council? Will you support a plan to increase municipal funding for ASC’s work to $1 per town resident; why or why not?
DENIS BILODEAU: I have advocated for increased Northern town support of ASC . We have a long way to go to each the $1 per resident goal…however I intend to keep the visibility and viability of ASC in the forfront of my interactions with my fellow town commissioners.
COLIN FURCHT: I would support such a plan as long as there is a clear path to where it goes Frankly, I have not been close enough to the existing programs to know which ones make the biggest impact but it is certainly something I am looking at should I be fortunate enough to be voted to the Commission.
TODD SANSBURY: While I personally support public funding of arts, science, and history programs, I also believe it’s important to foster grass roots level support from local communities. This encourages involvement, active engagement, and ultimately long term support. I believe all voices should be heard and and communities should engage in healthy dialogue. If the aggregate community supported such funding, I would strongly back this support and advocate for reasons why it’s important.
Candidate Dave Gilroy, running for Commissioner, Town of Cornelius, encountered technical issues submitting the Candidate Questionnaire and asked that we include the following personal statement in place of his survey response:
My support for the Arts in Cornelius and our larger community is best exemplified by my long-term support for the Cain Arts Center, since it began as a creative idea 7 years ago. I’m a donor of course, and have supported this non-profit organization’s planning and fundraising efforts throughout the years. Ericka and Bill Cain are legendary Cornelius entrepreneurs, employers, and philanthropists who have been unbelievably generous. Other private sector leaders of this initiative, e.g. Greg Wessling, Pat Bechdol, have inspired all of us to pursue an incredible aspirational vision. These are all great people driving the Cain Arts Center forward.
Our community strongly supported a bond in 2017 including $4M dedicated to “revitalizing the historic Cornelius area (within 1 mile radius of the intersection of Catawba Avenue and Main Street)” – in fact, our town spent 100% of this $4M on the new Cain Arts Center. In addition, our town has spent $300-400K per year for staffing and operating costs for the new project (this is above and beyond costs of operating our traditional Arts Center). I served on the Cornelius Town Board through these years and supported the vision for an amazing, strong, independent, non-profit $25M Cain Arts Center. We are all excited and hopeful that we will have an incredible attraction drawing patrons from all over the region.
Over the years, I probably attended more of our quarterly art exhibits at our old, boutique Arts Center behind the police station than anyone – I used to joke that the feel of those Friday night exhibits, with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and wine tasting (often sponsored by Cornelius Today), was like a little bit of “Manhattan in Cornelius”.
The following candidates up for election in the Town of Cornelius did not submit a response:
Woody Washam, Jr., running for Mayor, Town of Cornelius
Jim Duke, running for Commissioner, Town of Cornelius
Michael (Mike) Miltich, running for Commissioner, Town of Cornelius
Michael Osborne, running for Commissioner, Town of Cornelius
Thurman Ross, Jr., running for Commissioner, Town of Cornelius
Tricia Sisson, running for Commissioner, Town of Cornelius