An Update on ASC’s Evolution from Robert Bush

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By Robert Bush
ASC President

ASC President Robert BushBefore the end of 2016, I want to take the opportunity to provide an update regarding the progress made by the Arts & Science Council (ASC) in implementing the recommendations of the Cultural Vision Plan (CVP) and the Cultural Life Task Force (CLTF). Since my last update in December 2015, the ASC Board and staff have continued the process of re-inventing ASC to better align our organization and goals to the input we received from the citizens of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress in a number of key areas:

Re-Inventing ASC

A key recommendation of the CLTF was to “Redesign the ASC and its mission from the ground up so that it can be more effective in leading the cultural community’s adaptation to 21st-century trends in philanthropy, demographics and citizen participation.”

Over the past year, the ASC Board has:

  • Completed the effort to ‘right-size’ ASC’s governance model by reducing the size of our board from 56 to 26 Directors.
  • Re-organized our Board committee structure into five standing committees aligned with the core areas of our operations:
    • Administration & Operations
    • Community Engagement
    • Governance
    • Programs & Services
    • Strategic Planning
  • Implemented the new Advisory Council system to ensure ongoing counsel and input from community partners and key constituents as well as the public. Elected officials, governmental bodies, corporate and foundation leaders, cultural organizations, schools and institutions of higher education made appointments to the Advisory Councils:
    • North & West Advisory Council
    • Central Advisory Council
    • South & East Advisory Council
    • Private Sector Advisory Council
    • Cultural Sector Advisory Council
  • Convened the Advisory Councils multiple times between May and September. The councils identified and articulated three goals that they felt should be priorities for ASC and the cultural sector at this time. The recommendations were presented to the ASC Board in a joint meeting in October. Key recommendations for ASC include:
    • Communicate ASC’s role more clearly in the regional community.
    • Invest in broadening ASC’s communication vehicles.
    • Promote ASC’s role as chief advocate for arts and culture.
    • Focus on increasing access to cultural experiences for all residents.
    • Stimulate increased funding for the non-profit cultural community.
  • Finalized a new Dashboard to track the “State of the ASC and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Cultural Sector.” We anticipate the new Dashboard will be reported to the community in spring 2017. Key performance outcomes and measures are aligned with the four core elements of ASC’s mission:
    •  Access
      • Cultural experiences reach all communities of Charlotte-Mecklenburg
        • Tracking locations of cultural programs, public art projects and cultural education programming
      • Cultural experiences are accessible to all
        • Public satisfaction with availability of cultural experiences that meet community interests and are close to their neighborhoods, tracking barriers to access
    •  Excellence
      • Cultural experiences are varied
        • Tracking the program types residents would like to see more of and the number of cultural experiences by type and related attendance
      • Cultural experiences reflect the rich diversity of our community
        • Public satisfaction that programming reflects the diversity of our community’s population and offers a variety of experiences
    •  Relevance
      • Cultural experiences reflect innovation and quality
        • Public ranking of quality and innovation of programming
      • Charlotte-Mecklenburg has an external reputation of cultural strength and vibrancy
        • Tracking the annual national ranking of Arts Vibrancy of large U.S. communities, national recognition of public art projects and attendance at Charlotte-Mecklenburg programs by visitors from outside Mecklenburg County
    • Sustainability
      • Financial health is paramount
        • Tracking capitalization of ASC and Operating Partners – At Risk, Vulnerable, Stable, Sustaining
      • Support for the cultural sector is growing
        • Tracking earned, contributed and government revenues to ASC and Operating Partners
      • Capacity of creative individuals and emerging cultural organizations to sustain themselves is growing
        • Tracking FTE jobs in creative sector, contact hours in capacity building programs, and Creative Vitality Index ranking against peer cities
  • Increased the breadth of our capacity building opportunities for cultural organizations’ professional and volunteer leadership and for individual artists by providing over 5,500 contact hours of instruction to volunteer and professional leadership of cultural organizations and creative individuals.
  • Led quarterly meetings with representatives, both board and professional leadership, of the arts councils in the 16-county region working to build a regional coalition for arts and culture.
  • Expanded our partnership with the Charlotte Regional Partnership for a new regional Arts & Economic Impact study for the entire 16-county region in 2017 to include focus on the importance of the creative economy to our economic future with support from Charlotte Center City Partners, City of Charlotte, Creative Mornings Charlotte, CRVA and Mecklenburg County.
  • With the support of Mecklenburg County, expanded ASC’s Culture Blocks program. By working with creative individuals and cultural programmers, and by leveraging other resources, Culture Blocks introduced new and existing cultural infrastructure into neighborhoods to address barriers to participation with arts, science and history organizations in partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation in six specific geographic areas with historically low levels of participation with ASC-funded programs and organizations. These efforts are grounded in what we have learned from residents about their cultural hopes and aspirations through extensive dialogue and outreach in these targeted areas.

The Board has also made steps to align ASC’s education programs to the tenants of the CVP and CLTF. This re-alignment also addresses issues currently being studied by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, especially in the areas of building social capital and broadening access to economic opportunity. To date we have:

  • Completed a review of all ASC education programs and the Board has approved adjustments to ensure that ASC:
    • Focuses on how we can best serve the children and youth of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, not solely CMS.
    • Aligns arts and cultural education offerings with critical community issues.
    • “Delivers within our zone of genius” as part of a united front with other community partners.
      • Prioritizes resources where we can have the most impact.
      • Identifies key achievement moments for children and youth and determine how we can best support these milestones.
      • Clarifies roles and expectations with partners/providers, CMS and other educational entities.
    • Emphasizes advocacy, storytelling and impact reporting.

These efforts will be realized through ASC Education roles as illustrated below:

ASC Education graphic for 2016 update.



Further, ASC’s investment priorities for education will focus on closing the opportunity gap as illustrated below:

ASC Education Investment graphic for 2016 update.


Transforming Private Sector Funding

A key recommendation of the CLTF was to “Restructure Arts & Science Council and private sector giving to increase individual, corporate and foundation donations directly to the Cultural Partners and other nonprofit cultural organizations.”

  • ASC has re-designed its fundraising efforts to become a pipeline for citizens, both inside and outside the workplace, to become engaged, passionate, loyal patrons, donors and advocates for the Cultural Partners and the sector as a whole through increased emphasis on community engagement.
    • This effort is most evident in two annual events:
      • Culture Feast – now in its second year, ASC hosted residents for a family style dinner and diverse cultural experiences on September 9 on Tryon Street between 6th & 7th Attendance grew from 300 in 2015 to over 500 in 2016 and reached 3 million residents with messages about the event.
      • Connect with Culture Day will be held on January 28, providing free cultural experiences and access to museums, historic sites and performance across Mecklenburg County. Over 6,000 individuals participated in this event last year.
    • Additionally, ASC’s Board has approved a new Community Engagement Plan that retools all fundraising operations, from the launch of a new website to the consolidation of data/information systems into one integrated customer relationship management (CRM) system. The new plan:
      • Builds a year-round engagement strategy
      • Strengthens relationships with top six corporations
      • Addresses strong and weak Employee Engagement Campaigns
      • Focuses on lost and prospective companies
      • Pilots regional approaches
      • Increases individual and major donor outreach and cultivation
      • Intensifies advocacy efforts
  • ASC continues to experience the changes in private sector giving identified by the CLTF, including changes in workplace giving programs and corporate giving being directed to individual cultural groups rather than for distribution by ASC. This has resulted in private sector giving to ASC remaining relatively flat. However, private sector support to the entire sector is growing. Data from our most recent analysis (FY15) of earned and contributed giving to the sector shows:
    • Average gifts from individuals increase 7% over 2014 to cultural organizations to an average gift of $689, and 6% over 2014 to ASC to an average gift of $236.
    • Funding to the sector from corporations, foundations and government is up 52% from 2007.
    • Total giving to the sector dropped slightly from $37,149,000 in 2014 to $36,205,150 in 2015 or 2.5% – but still well above the level of $23,000,000 in 2009, erasing all losses incurred by the sector in the recession.

Re-Engaging Government

A key recommendation of the CLTF was to “Engage local and state government to recommit and expand support for the cultural sector to restore the public/private partnership that built and grew the local arts, science and history sector.”

  • For FY17, ASC received increases from:
    • Mecklenburg County – $200,000 to expand the Culture Blocks initiative to a sixth area of the community – this is the second year of increased cultural program funding from the County, which had remained flat or down since 2007, and represents a 31% increase in funding over the past two years. County funding also supports the operation of Spirit Square and Studio 345. Culture Blocks aligns with Mecklenburg County’s mission of “Bringing Mecklenburg County to You” and Studio 345 aligns with the county’s goal of increasing the high school graduation rate.
    • Funding for public art projects has also increased from both the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County due to increased capital expenditures.
  • ASC continues to work with the leadership of the NC Arts Council and Arts NC to propose a complete review of the newly created Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to better serve all residents of N.C. as well as provide a more equitable distribution of funding across the state and explore opportunities for local option dedicated revenue streams to support arts, science and history in all 100 N.C. counties.


I think you can see from this overview that we continue to make strides in addressing the recommendations and goals of the Cultural Vision Plan and Cultural Life Task Force. These successes are the result of a strong public/private partnership that has built our cultural sector over the past 40 years.

ASC and the entire cultural community still have much work to do to address all of the recommendations of the two important planning efforts. Working together with our public and private donors and key partners, ASC is confident that we will achieve these goals, grow cultural opportunities for all of our residents and lead the sector to a more stable and long-term future.

ASC believes that the arts and culture provide important benefits for all of us who call Charlotte-Mecklenburg home – we all benefit because of the quality of life arts, science and history bring to our community, the economic vitality of our community and the creativity and innovation inspired by creative individuals and our cultural institutions. In the coming year, ASC will more energetically embrace its role as a resource hub and enthusiastic advocate for the cultural community. We appreciate your support in this endeavor.

I look forward to continuing the journey in 2017.