Candidates for Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners

Each candidate was provided a questionnaire to complete and share their position on arts and culture. Below are the responses we received. Responses are posted verbatim.

Susan B. Harden

2018 candidate for Board of Commissioners, District 5

Please share a meaningful experience you have had with art (visual, dance, drama, music, media arts), sciences or history and its impact on you.
I participated in the Innovation Institute at the McColl Center.  I was experiencing a creativity block in my teaching (I am a professor at UNC Charlotte in the College of Education). The experience helped me push through my block, took some risks, and created an award winning curriculum.  I actually started calling myself a curriculum artist.

What role, if any, does arts, science and history play in advancing your vision for Mecklenburg County?
Arts, Sciences, and History play a major role in the vitality of Mecklenburg County.

Do you support public funding of arts, science, history, and heritage programs by Mecklenburg County through funding of ASC? Please explain.muj
Absolutely.  The current allocation of $350,000 for Studio 345 should be expanded. I would like to see investments in school visits to ASC affiliated programs restored.

Beginning in 2015, Mecklenburg County provided funding through ASC to support the Culture Blocks program. This unique partnership between ASC, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library provides cultural programming in neighborhoods with low participation in cultural experiences.
Based on the success of the program, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has increased funding each year to expand Culture Blocks to nine geographic areas of the county.
Do you support continuation of the Culture Blocks program and expansion for all residents of Mecklenburg County? Please explain.
Yes

According to the most recent Arts & Economic Impact Study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural community generated $243 million in economic activity during fiscal year 2015. This activity also supports over 7,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.6 million in tax revenue for local and state government.
Please explain your vision for how the arts, science, and history play a significant role in Mecklenburg County’s economic development strategy.
The BOCC should ask county agencies to connect their work in deeper, creative, and innovative ways to the cultural sector.


Bill James

2018 candidate for Board of Commissioners, District 6

Please share a meaningful experience you have had with art (visual, dance, drama, music, media arts), sciences or history and its impact on you.
I have been exposed to art throughout my life. My great-grandmother painted and made intricate quilts. My grandmother sculpted. They both did these things because they wanted to. My wife and I gave our daughters ballet lessons as children to expose them to the arts. I was on the ASC board in the 1990’s. I was in the Vanguard Society and contributed to the Blumenthal (also during the 90’s). One of my daughters took art (drawing) lessons for years. She is now an art (objects) conservator. I am in the process of conserving two very rare Lannuier dining room chairs (circa 1815) handed down from my wife’s family. For me, ‘the arts’ that are publicly funded with tax dollars has a place in society but it has to reflect the society it is in.

What role, if any, does arts, science and history play in advancing your vision for Mecklenburg County?
Mecklenburg County already spends quite a bit on the arts. We fund the ASC and various related groups, we maintain Spirit Square and subsidize various groups renting there. We also fund edcuational arts via CMS’ supplement. We have a capital fund that allocates a portion of bond money to art projects when a building/park/library is built (as part of the construction cost). However, just because a group wants funding doesn’t mean it is feasible for the County to do so all the time. The public has a choice in what it chooses to fund, just as arts leadership has a responsibility to insure that money is spent wisely. 500 years ago artists would have ‘patrons’, wealthy individuals such as the Medici family who sponsored art. Today, when government funds art it requires, like the patrons of old, that the artistic groups follow community rules in exchange for that money. It is the ‘Government Golden rule’ – if you take government (public) money, you take government rules over how that money is spent.

Do you support public funding of arts, science, history, and heritage programs by Mecklenburg County through funding of ASC? Please explain.
I have supported arts funding via the ASC (and other avenues). I wish we had more local ‘history’. The fact is that when you take public money you also take public rules. Often what causes friction between the arts community and the public at-large is a lack of understanding by artists of the limitations on public money. As long as public money is used responsibly and isn’t viewed by the public as offensive or political I think that public funding works. It is up to the ASC to bridge that gap and insure that what is produced with public money meets community standards.

Beginning in 2015, Mecklenburg County provided funding through ASC to support the Culture Blocks program. This unique partnership between ASC, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library provides cultural programming in neighborhoods with low participation in cultural experiences.
Based on the success of the program, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has increased funding each year to expand Culture Blocks to nine geographic areas of the county.
Do you support continuation of the Culture Blocks program and expansion for all residents of Mecklenburg County? Please explain.
The Culture Blocks program is just another term for how arts money gets distributed. Allocation of money under the Culture Blocks program is fine as long as there is accountability for the amount provided and a skeptical public believes that the money is being spent wisely. I admit to reservations about how some of this money is spent. Realistically, the real question is whether money should be allocated to one form of art such as the Opera or Theatre (or other traditional ASC items) or fund Culture Blocks. There is a finite amount of money that government can provide and the allocation should be spent on what the community values the most. I do not know if the Culture Blocks program is considered successful yet. I think the determination on that is still out. I would continue funding at existing levels IF the program is determined to be successful. I would not raise taxes to increase funding to the arts. I would not levy an extra sales tax to subsidize the arts (this was mentioned in past years as a proposal). How much money the arts gets is, in part, a function of the overall outlook in the economy. After the 2008 downturn, most areas of the budget were trimmed including the arts and Education.

According to the most recent Arts & Economic Impact Study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural community generated $243 million in economic activity during fiscal year 2015. This activity also supports over 7,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.6 million in tax revenue for local and state government.
Please explain your vision for how the arts, science, and history play a significant role in Mecklenburg County’s economic development strategy.
I do not believe that ‘economic development’ is the correct yardstick to measure how the arts should be funded. Most any significant economic activity will generate jobs and tax revenue. The choice is not between Amazon and the arts; it is really about how much funding should the arts receive relative to other items in the budget.  Many items in the County budget related to welfare funding and there is no ED model for that. We fund welfare because it is the right thing to do to help our neighbors in need. The arts are similar to welfare. Framing arts as an issue based on ‘Economic Development’ runs the risk of equating the arts to just some business opportunity. In 2005, the arts tried to tie themselves to a new Arena and the public voted it down at the ballot box even though ‘Economic Development’ was listed as reason for both. It is fair to point out that the arts businesses produce economic development dollars but I would not measure arts funding using ED.


Patricia (Pat) Cotham

2018 candidate for Board of Commissioners, At-Large

Please share a meaningful experience you have had with art (visual, dance, drama, music, media arts), sciences or history and its impact on you.
I have had so many so I will talk about my first! It was 1958 and I went with my class downtown to hear the city orchestra. I remember the conductor telling the story behind the music. It impacted me.

What role, if any, does arts, science and history play in advancing your vision for Mecklenburg County?
To me the arts are woven into our joy and our pain. Last week I went to the Motown Concert in the West Charlotte Culture Block. Seeing seniors smiling and dancing and singing reduces their stress and surely their blood pressure. Year after year when I go to Studio 345 graduation I see teens who are able to express their thoughts and themselves in poetry, music, dance etc. They will be able to express themselves better in college, at a job, in their families and with their friends because of that program. All of these things holistically affect people resulting in a renewed spirit and hope. With that they can accomplish anything and they will respond better to services the County provides.

Do you support public funding of arts, science, history, and heritage programs by Mecklenburg County through funding of ASC? Please explain.
Yes…but the arts needs to be “on the street” as it has been in recent years. I remember complaining that everything seemed to be uptown and people in struggling neighborhoods were not going to join in. I wanted you to meet them where they were and you exceeded my expectations. I remember years ago going to your first culture block events. So please keep it up and expand it! I will be one of your biggest supporters.

Beginning in 2015, Mecklenburg County provided funding through ASC to support the Culture Blocks program. This unique partnership between ASC, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library provides cultural programming in neighborhoods with low participation in cultural experiences.
Based on the success of the program, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has increased funding each year to expand Culture Blocks to nine geographic areas of the county.
Do you support continuation of the Culture Blocks program and expansion for all residents of Mecklenburg County? Please explain.
I believe I explained in previous question. I have attended many of these events and I love them m!

According to the most recent Arts & Economic Impact Study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural community generated $243 million in economic activity during fiscal year 2015. This activity also supports over 7,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.6 million in tax revenue for local and state government.
Please explain your vision for how the arts, science, and history play a significant role in Mecklenburg County’s economic development strategy.
I was aware of the impact of the Arts on jobs and economic development from my seven years as a trustee on the Blumenthal Board. I don’t think people understand the impact. The business of the arts needs more attention. Let’s work together to educate our community and build a strategy.


Jim Puckett

2018 Candidate for Board of Commissioners, District 1

Please share a meaningful experience you have had with art (visual, dance, drama, music, media arts), sciences or history and its impact on you.
Night Watch at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine  New York  featuring a recital with The Great Organ (chaperon for youth mission trip)

What role, if any, does arts, science and history play in advancing your vision for Mecklenburg County?
I was on board of commission when we started policy of 1% of all capital projects incorporationg art.  I have been an advisor to the May 20th Society for years as well as Vice Chair of Rural Hill for over a decade. I was involved with the formation and funding of the Historic Landmarks Commission and am currently working to have the Charters of Freedom located in the county.  Art and History are extremely critical in a growing communtiy and special attention to who can and will fund those activities needs to be monitored.  There are times only the county or city can provide what is needed but we need to remailn vigilant so the taxpayer is there when needed but after we have exhaused opportunities fo the public at large to donate.  This keeps the funding a fluid as possible and maintains our opportunities for aciton when needed.

Do you support public funding of arts, science, history, and heritage programs by Mecklenburg County through funding of ASC? Please explain.
See above

Beginning in 2015, Mecklenburg County provided funding through ASC to support the Culture Blocks program. This unique partnership between ASC, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library provides cultural programming in neighborhoods with low participation in cultural experiences.
Based on the success of the program, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has increased funding each year to expand Culture Blocks to nine geographic areas of the county.
Do you support continuation of the Culture Blocks program and expansion for all residents of Mecklenburg County? Please explain.
I have supported but like all line items in our budget or based on a year by year assestment of need and assets available.

According to the most recent Arts & Economic Impact Study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural community generated $243 million in economic activity during fiscal year 2015. This activity also supports over 7,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.6 million in tax revenue for local and state government.
Please explain your vision for how the arts, science, and history play a significant role in Mecklenburg County’s economic development strategy.
We need to do more in the history arena.  Mecklenburg is maturing into a community with growing privite funds for art ans we need to celebrate those investments and make sure we as a county capture all opportunities to work with the privite sector to supplement our govenmental invesments.  As we grow there is an expectation of greater cultural offerings and we need to maintain our commitment to working those offerings into opportunites to expand our tourism industry and the opportunity for job growth in this sector (as well as job in the “arts” sector.


Susan Rodriguez McDowell

2018 Candidate for Board of Commissioners, District 6

Please share a meaningful experience you have had with art (visual, dance, drama, music, media arts), sciences or history and its impact on you.
My Bachelor’s degree is in Fine Arts.  I studied drawing, painting and photography at UNC Charlotte.  My life continues to be profoundly impacted by art.  Recently I went to a powerful exhibition at the Harvey B. Gantt Center.  There were 3 exhibits which were a perfect blend of bringing the past, the present and the future of the African American story in Charlotte together.  It used photography, media arts, and storytelling. This kind of work has so much to teach us about ourselves, no matter what our background.  I was moved by the story, the visual beauty, and the message of the works.

What role, if any, does arts, science and history play in advancing your vision for Mecklenburg County?
To have a sense of soul, the Charlotte area needs ways for residents to interact across barriers.  Charlotte is powerfully segregated – the arts can play a major role in changing that.  Mecklenburg County is rich with potential because of it’s growingly diverse population.  My vision would be one where diversity is explored, celebrated, nourished and embraced through the arts.  Engagement with art, science and history should be readily available to all no matter their walk in life or zip code – it should not be a series of isolated experiences. It should be valued in our schools on a similar par with sports and academics. It needs to be part of our fabric.

Do you support public funding of arts, science, history, and heritage programs by Mecklenburg County through funding of ASC? Please explain.
Yes. The ASC plays a crucial role in our community and it should be supported.  Bringing together the lessons and richness of our past, along with a clear vision of the present with an eye toward the future is a monumental endeavor.  It must be met with resources equal to the task. Art brings people together, it brings richness to life, it has the power to unite communities and it also provides vision for what the future can be.  This is worth investing in.

Beginning in 2015, Mecklenburg County provided funding through ASC to support the Culture Blocks program. This unique partnership between ASC, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library provides cultural programming in neighborhoods with low participation in cultural experiences.
Based on the success of the program, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has increased funding each year to expand Culture Blocks to nine geographic areas of the county.
Do you support continuation of the Culture Blocks program and expansion for all residents of Mecklenburg County? Please explain.
Absolutely.  Access to the arts should be available to all, and accessibly integrated into every corner of the community – this seems to be the idea behind the Culture Blocks program. Neighborhood based investment strengthens both the neighborhoods and the collective whole and enhances our quality of life.  I am glad the County has supported expanding the program and I would support continuing it’s success.

According to the most recent Arts & Economic Impact Study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural community generated $243 million in economic activity during fiscal year 2015. This activity also supports over 7,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.6 million in tax revenue for local and state government.
Please explain your vision for how the arts, science, and history play a significant role in Mecklenburg County’s economic development strategy.
Creativity is a driver for all kinds of progress! The arts need to be a valued part of the fabric of our community.  The arts create soul and that is what is missing in Charlotte.  To me, it feels like cultural events in Charlotte are a “thing to do” for the wealthy, as opposed to an integral part of life that brings people together across divisions.  People are drawn to environments rich with expression and creativity.  I would like to hear the voices of the arts community and find out what they see as their path forward toward more economic development and prosperity.  My vision would include active listening and participation with those voices.  These are the things that enrich our lives and make our county a destination for new residents and economic development.  The numbers above reveal the economic power of the arts – the value is real!


Trevor M. Fuller

2018 Candidate for Board of Commissioners, At-Large

Please share a meaningful experience you have had with art (visual, dance, drama, music, media arts), sciences or history and its impact on you.
I have been a lover of theater since my youth, and have acted in many plays during middle school, high school, and college. These days, my theatrical experience consists of being a theatergoer. I love it. This is not to slight my fascination with history or science, whether it’s at Discovery Place or the Levine Museum of the New South or any of the many other art galleries, science centers, nature museums, or dance theaters I have savored over the years. I know I am alive when I have these experiences.

What role, if any, does arts, science and history play in advancing your vision for Mecklenburg County?
The arts, science and history are all about who we are as a people and how we view the world around us. It is often said that you cannot know where you are going unless you know where you have been. For example, bringing economic opportunity to all our people is not just a “feel good” initiative, it is essential to our collective prosperity. History tells us that. The arts help inspire us and give meaning to this vision. Science helps tell us how to do it.

Do you support public funding of arts, science, history, and heritage programs by Mecklenburg County through funding of ASC? Please explain.
Yes. I have long believed that the quality of life for all Mecklenburg residents is enhanced and defined by our ability to bring the arts to all our people, no matter their socio-economic status or geography. Public funding is one of the most reliable ways to ensure this is the case.

Beginning in 2015, Mecklenburg County provided funding through ASC to support the Culture Blocks program. This unique partnership between ASC, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library provides cultural programming in neighborhoods with low participation in cultural experiences.
Based on the success of the program, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has increased funding each year to expand Culture Blocks to nine geographic areas of the county.
Do you support continuation of the Culture Blocks program and expansion for all residents of Mecklenburg County? Please explain.
Yes. Culture Blocks has proven to be one of the most innovative ways to provide cultural programming to all parts of the county. In fact, Mecklenburg County recently received national recognition for the Culture Blocks program. I fully support the continuation of this initiative.

According to the most recent Arts & Economic Impact Study, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cultural community generated $243 million in economic activity during fiscal year 2015. This activity also supports over 7,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $21.6 million in tax revenue for local and state government.
Please explain your vision for how the arts, science, and history play a significant role in Mecklenburg County’s economic development strategy.
I believe there is a symbiotic relationship between our cultural offerings and our economic development efforts. It seems basic that people choose to live here, in part, because of our quality of life; our quality of life is defined substantially by the cultural vibrancy of our arts, science, and history offerings. Similarly, providing a robust cultural scene requires us to employ many people, which itself contributes to our economic vitality.


The following candidates for Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners did not submit a response:
Ella Scarborough, Democrat, At-Large
Jeremy Brasch, Republican, At-Large
Elaine Powell, Democrat, District 1
Vilma Leake, Democrat, District 2
George Dunlap, Democrat, District 3
Mark Jerrell, Democrat, District 4
Matthew Ridenhour, Republican, District 5

SHARE THIS PAGE: