2021 Candidate Questionnaire – Town of Davidson

Get ready for Election Day and meet the candidates running for office in Davidson. 

Each candidate running for election in 2021 in the Town of Davidson 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.  

 

(From left) Jeff Boyd, Matthew Dellinger, Autumn Rierson Michael, all running for Commissioner, Town of Davidson. 

 

1. Personal Perspective 

Can you tell us about a time arts, science, or history helped you connect with your community? 

JEFF BOYD: A couple of years ago in Davidson, a good friend hosted an art exhibit at her house for her artist sister.  My friend filled her house with her sister’s paintings and invited everyone she knew.  I’ve always liked supporting local artists, so I went and was blown away at her talent.  I bought three large pieces and still proudly display them in my home.  That event was wonderful for community-building and was a much-needed economic boost for the artist.

MATTHEW DELLINGER: I’ve always found musical performances to be invaluable means of fostering connections with neighbors and building community. In the very literal sense, they bring individuals together, but they are inherently shared experiences that transcend any political or other potential divisions, provide an accessible common language through music, and can allow attendees to engage both actively and passively in appreciating and reflecting on those around them. Some of my favorite moments of experiencing community in Davidson include the joy of folks coming together for various concerts during Christmas in Davidson, Christmas Vespers at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, and Concerts on the Green.

RUSSELL KNOX: My mother brought me up appreciating art, music, theater and literature.  I use what I learned as a child to mold me into being a better person as an adult. All of these aspects help in securing a better quality of life for our residents.

AUTUMN RIERSON MICHAEL: Last year when there was much needed national and community wide reckoning around monuments and historic signage, we created a Storytelling Committee to help Davidson tell a more inclusive story of all Davidson’s history. This was a much needed step towards racial and social reconciliation, and demonstrates the power that arts and history have in that regard. 


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 Planincluded 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) 

JEFF BOYD: I regularly seek out cultural activities in the Charlotte area (I went to the Greek Festival in September and will be at the Jewish Council’s Deli Fest in Davidson in October.  Last week I attended a candle-lit Vivaldi concerto in Charlotte and am excited to check out the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit soon).  As Commissioner, I would encourage Davidson residents to explore the cultural offering of the greater Charlotte area and invite others to explore ours.  I would meet with local artists to understand their plans, passions, and challenges and seek ways to support them whether through public or private funding.  I want to see more public art in Davidson as well as more musical and theatrical events. I would advocate for increased investment, attend cultural events and volunteer to sit on a grant review panel.

MATTHEW DELLINGER: I will continue to support the Town of Davidson providing diverse and enriching programming to promote the arts and expanding our citizens’ appreciation and celebration of what helps make our Town unique in so many ways. Having reliable dialogue with our town’s ASC Advisory Council representative and our Town’s Public Art Commission will certainly be valuable towards those goals. 

RUSSELL KNOX: Having already spent 4 years as Mayor, I have lobbied and will continue to lobby for a better, stronger and more robust  arts and science presence in North Mecklenburg. I was and still am shocked at the direction the City of Charlotte took on funding and have had multiple discussions with Mayor Liles about this specifically. 

AUTUMN RIERSON MICHAELOne of our successes in recent years has been the negotiated acquisition of the old Davidson School from CMS and a successful bond referendum to transform it into a town hall and community center. One of my priorities is to maximize this community asset’s potential to be a home for the arts and cultural/community events. The renovation will bring community meeting spaces, including space for arts education and programming, and the renovated auditorium creates exciting opportunities for the performing arts. The emphasis to date has been on funding these improvements, but our attention must now turn to how we fund the programing, and we look forward to ASC being a partner with us.  


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 inauguralCultural 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? 

JEFF BOYD: ASC’s Cultural Equity Report clearly shows the need for all of us in Mecklenburg County to support funding not just for more ALAANA-led cultural organizations but also for access to their  events/performances.   Davidson recently hired a Director of Housing & Equity, showing that our town’s priorities are aligned with ASC’s equity work.  I would seek to expand Davidson’s cultural offering and participation in cultural events in other parts of the region.

MATTHEW DELLINGER: Davidson has a history of supporting the arts and developing initiatives aimed at driving towards improved equity across town. There is undeniably more work to be done, some of which is already progress, and I will look to continue to encourage and support that work as a commissioner. 

RUSSELL KNOX: The dialogue around systemic inequities has been a long but less that fruitful conversation. The dynamic shift we are seeing across the nation is finally starting to move the needle, but not near enough. ASC along with CMS, Mecklenburg County and the 7 towns have to work together to bring programming to those that have not had the same opportunities many of us take for granted. As the Mayor, you learn quickly that you have no power, but what you do have is influence. I am willing to use that influence in whatever manner necessary to help increase the footprint of ASC on those that have not had the same opportunities.

AUTUMN RIERSON MICHAEL: Building upon my previous comments around our Storytelling Committee, I feel like this is just the beginning around what could be a much broader initiative that identifies opportunities to use arts in the civic sphere to celebrate the diversity of our community. Among some of the ideas that have been discussed is to use the redevelopment of the old Linden Mill site that sits at the intersection of the College part of town and West Davidson, our traditional African-American neighborhood. This redevelopment project would likely require significant enhancements to surrounding streetscapes, sidewalks and alleyways that could create opportunities for integrating art, signage, and civic spaces. There have also been several programs in Town in the past year that have enhanced our own equity work, including a Town sponsored banner art program after the murder of George Floyd last summer. Those beautiful banners that speak to diversity and equity are still hanging up around Town. We also read the book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson as our town wide Davidson Reads book, which included Davidson College lecturers and community speakers in a guided book club for the entire town. I would hope that we could continue some of that programming in the coming year. ASC’s work around diversity and cultural equity is certainly in line with the work that we have been doing ourselves and we look forward to partnering on any of these initiative in the future.  


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 actionsinclude 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? 

JEFF BOYD: I would support appropriate funding of Culture Blocks for artist employment as well as grants or other assistance to promote greater cultural exchange and events. The County Task Force’s recommendations are comprehensive and admirable.  I would support nearly all of them, conceptually, but ones that are particularly aligned with my goals are those related to affordable housing, mental health initiatives, job creation, rent assistance for those most affected by Covd-19, and closing the digital divide.

MATTHEW DELLINGER: Improving resources and support for mental health and substance abuse issues is a critical need in all communities. I believe Davidson has started some of this important work through increased awareness campaigns and communications–I would support expanding the Town’s support in these and other ways.  

RUSSELL KNOX: Currently in Davidson we are working with both Novant and Atrium to facilitate Covid testing and vaccine clinics to our underserved population. We have been and continue to provide rental assistance and emergency home repairs to those in need. This past year we formalized our Affordable Housing Board and hired our first Equity and Inclusion Director. We support a vibrant farmers market that brings more than 1500 folks from our area to town every Saturday morning. As a sitting member of MTC, I have lobbied for a shuttle service in town and help bring about the Express Bus Service that was put into effect almost 2 years ago.

AUTUMN RIERSON MICHAEL: One example I am proud of is that Davidson has long had non-profit grant funding as part of our annual budget each spring. Several arts organizations have received funding from this program, including our own Davidson Community Players this past year. I would anticipate that the Community Players and potentially other local arts and culture organizations would apply for and receive grant funding through our Town Non-Profit Grant Program.  


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? 

JEFF BOYD: I am proud that Davidson has led with the highest level of cultural funding and am open to supporting an increase of that. 

MATTHEW DELLINGER: I will continue to support the Town of Davidson being a reliable supporter of public funding of arts, science and history programs, as is shown through the Town’s average per capita annual investments of $1.06.  

RUSSELL KNOX: Public funding of the ASC is vitally important today, especially with the shift in funding that recently occurred. If you look at the numbers provided, you will see that in Davidson, we get it. We can always do more, I wish our neighbors got it too.

AUTUMN RIERSON MICHAEL: Fortunately, based on your data above, Davidson already supports ASC’s work through municipal funding at $1.06 level, and I would continue to support that.  


The following candidates up for election in the Town of Davidson did not submit a response: 

Jane Campbell, running for Commissioner, Town of Davidson 

Ryan Fay, running for Commissioner, Town of Davidson 

Tracy Mattison Brandon, running for Commissioner, Town of Davidson 

Tim Neal, running for Commissioner, Town of Davidson 

Dan Ryan, running for Commissioner, Town of Davidson 

 

 

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