Why This Matters: The work of ASC and the cultural community is vital in helping Charlotte address issues of access, equity, racism and structural exclusion.
By Robert Bush
The recent shooting and death of Keith Lamont Scott and the subsequent protests revealed deep-seated issues of access, equity, racism and structural exclusion that lie beneath Charlotte’s shiny veneer.
These issues are as much a part of Charlotte’s civic fabric as the skyscrapers that dot the city’s skyline. Unraveling these system-level issues requires long-term work by lots of different people and organizations in a multitude of areas.
This is why ASC was among the first to sign the #ThisisOurCharlotte Statement of Commitment, which unites supporters in “the continuous work of building and being a community of justice, equity, fairness, and opportunity for all.”
ASC understands that these issues impact every facet of our city, including the cultural community, and that these problems are not new. Forty-one years ago, the 1975 Cultural Acton Plan called out the cultural community for not doing enough to engage with the African-American community, leading to the creation of the Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture).
Several of the same concerns surfaced during our most recent visioning efforts for the community’s Cultural Vision Plan, which established a vision for Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s 21st century cultural development. During these efforts, three primary questions emerged:
- Are our community’s cultural investment and stewardship policies as far-reaching as they could be, or do they tend to favor the traditional major institutions?
- Given Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s demographic change, with non-whites representing 52 percent of the population, is our current definition of the arts and cultural sector comprehensive, accessible and inclusive?
- Is the cultural sector as intentional as it could be in assisting with important community agendas?
The Cultural Vision Plan provides a framework and a path for ASC and the cultural community to build out long-term responses to these systemic challenges.
Getting to Work
ASC is already doing this work. Some of that work – including an internal realignment, the restructuring of ASC’s Board of Directors and the establishment of Advisory Councils to ensure greater community input – isn’t the stuff that attracts headlines.
Neither are changes to ASC’s grantmaking policies, such as broadening eligibility for operating support grants – a change which took effect this fiscal year and allowed 11 new organizations to receive unrestricted operating support through ASC.
However, these changes illustrate the substantive work that is fundamentally changing how ASC functions and responds to the community. To be clear, ASC is not where it wants or needs to be in its goal of ensuring cultural access and equity throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg. But, it is equipped and prepared to do this work through its longtime involvement in community access, equity and inclusion programs Crossroads Charlotte and Community Building Initiative.
ASC’s work is also providing opportunities for cultural groups, creative individuals and the broader community to shape how the cultural community brings people together, supports relevance and innovation and makes arts, science and history central to education.
Supporting Access and Equity
Here is what ASC is doing to build cultural access and equity in Charlotte-Mecklenburg:
- Culture Blocks, launched in 2015 with funding from Mecklenburg County, is increasing access to cultural programming in parts of the county where residents have not traditionally engaged in or with the larger cultural community by utilizing local libraries, parks and recreation centers.
- Cultural Vision Grants, launched this year, are directly responding to the community’s interest in arts, science, history and heritage programming that builds strong communities and demonstrates innovative, relevant and transformative cultural expression. Forty-five creative individuals and organizations applied for the first round of grants, which will be announced in January.
- The Catalyst for Cultural Equity program is supporting individual leaders and organizations by building awareness, tools, resources and skills required for the sector to become more equitable in its operation and engagement.
- NC Wolf Trap is partnering with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to provide arts-based instruction to help ensure pre-K students are prepared to enter school. Studio 345, an out-of-school time program funded by the county, is using the arts to educate and inspire high school students to stay in school, graduate and pursue goals beyond high school.
- The recently completed Neighborhoods in Creative pARTnership initiative, supported by the City of Charlotte, brought communities together through the public art process that resulted in new public artworks in four Charlotte neighborhoods – Elizabeth, Grove Park, Reid Park and Sedgefield. A fifth community, the Shamrock Drive Corridor, will receive future public art as an extension of this initiative.
ASC isn’t doing this work because it’s a nice thing to do. ASC is doing it because it recognizes there have been gaps in equity and access across the community for a long time and knows that arts and culture can help bring people together, bridge across difference and create visions of a more positive future.
There’s still much to be done and ASC is committed to doing the long, hard work. It also knows it can’t do this alone. Other cultural groups and creative individuals have already embraced this work and should be commended for doing so.
But all of us in the cultural community, working together with other community partners, are obligated to be catalysts for equity. The larger community demands – and needs – us to be.