Working Towards Equity in the Cultural Community

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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.

Children's Theatre of Charlotte performing at Arbor Glen Recreation Center as part of ASC's Culture Blocks program.
Children’s Theatre of Charlotte performing at Arbor Glen Recreation Center as part of ASC’s Culture Blocks program.

By Robert Bush
ASC President

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 President Robert Bush
ASC President Robert Bush

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:

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.

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