Why This Matters: Because the cultural community plays an important role in connecting people and strengthening communities by using arts and culture to create pathways and bridges to opportunity.
By Robert Bush
In conversations at most civic events over the past year there has been a common theme – the report of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force and what is being done to begin addressing its recommendations to provide residents living at or near the poverty level with equitable opportunities to improve their economic outlook.
The Task Force set forth a bold vision for our community: To reorganize our systems and structures, change policies and practices and otherwise, boldly embrace and rally around a vision of Charlotte-Mecklenburg as a community that cares about all our children and youth – regardless of income, race or zip code – and where all our children feel they belong, have big dreams and find the opportunities to achieve those dreams.
It is clear that success in achieving this vision will require hard work by individual citizens, government and the business and non-profit communities.
Before the work of the Opportunity Task Force started, the community similarly set forth a bold, new vision for its cultural life, for ASC and across our entire arts, science and history community.
Residents articulating a new path for ASC is nothing new. Since our founding almost 60 years ago, ASC has consistently responded to the community’s changing needs – raising private financial support for what we now know as the major cultural institutions in 1959; becoming a public/private partnership in the mid 1970’s; building endowments and diversifying our boards and staff in the 1990s; and, adding history to our mission and increasing support for individual artists and cultural tourism in the early 2000’s. Since 2014, we have been about reorganizing our systems, structures, policies and practices to ensure that each of us that call the Charlotte region home have access to a vibrant cultural life.
At ASC, we find direct connections of our work to the recommendations of the Opportunity Task Force and have already responded by:
- Increasing the breadth of our capacity building opportunities for cultural organizations’ professional and volunteer leadership to increase their capacity to address issues of diversity, access, inclusion, and equity.
- Establishing, with the support of Mecklenburg County, the Culture Blocks program. Culture Blocks works with creative individuals and cultural providers to bolster new and existing cultural infrastructure in neighborhoods that address barriers to participation. The program, in partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, is grounded in what we have learned from residents about their cultural hopes and aspirations through extensive dialogue and outreach in these targeted areas. Nearly 12,000 residents participated in Culture Blocks programs provided by 50 cultural organizations and artists in 2017.
- Aligning ASC’s support for arts, science and history education in our schools in order to build social capital and broaden access to economic opportunity by focusing on closing the opportunity gaps in:
- Pre-K readiness, through our NC Wolf Trap and Read with Love programs;
- 3rd grade reading levels, by increasing our funding for art, science and history residencies that focus on literacy; and
- Middle school transitions and high school graduation rate through our Studio 345 and Studio 345 Journeys programs. Over the past four years, 100-percent of Studio 345 students (159) have graduated from high school.
- Increasing our efforts to build social capital through community engagement, which is most evident in two annual events: Culture Feast and Connect with Culture Day, which drew more than 700 and 10,000 participants, respectively, in 2017. We have also established Advisory Councils to ensure ongoing counsel and input from community partners and key constituents as well as the public.
- Expanding our Operating Support to fund not only the groups we have supported – and continue to support – since 1958 but also emerging grassroots organizations to more fully reflect the diversity of region; increasing support for creative individuals at all career stages; and re-inventing our project support to become Cultural Vision Grants that align with the community’s stated goals that the cultural sector build community in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and increase program relevance and innovation that reflects the changing communities in which we live. Our Cultural Vision Grants represent an investment of $308,835, with 42-percent of those grants given to projects led by communities of color and the LGBTQ community.
ASC believes that these steps will expand cultural opportunity and make our dynamic cultural sector stronger and more deeply connected to this community than ever before. With the continued support of our public and private supporters, our vision of A Vibrant Cultural Live For All is within our reach.