Major Charlotte groups will get thousands less in operating support than anticipated from the Arts & Science Council for fiscal year 2018, the ASC announced today.
The plan had been to cut back incrementally over several years, with organizations doing more to support themselves as the ASC diversifies the groups and efforts it supports.
But the cuts are deeper and faster than expected.
Hardest hit in dollars is the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, which had anticipated getting $768,000 – $5,000 less than it got last year. Instead, it will get about $150,000 less.
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“It wasn’t a total surprise,” said Mary Deissler, who began as the Symphony’s president/CEO about a year ago, already facing the need to wean it from a $2 million-per-year Thrive grant that ends after 2020-21. “It was a little tricky to discover after your fiscal year has started.”
She hopes to work with the ASC to get such news earlier in the future, but says the symphony’s budget was conservative in revenue to begin with, so she feels confident. “I don’t want to give the impression that this will be easy. But we have a terrific team.”
In percentage change from the previous year, Opera Carolina’s reduction is biggest: Projections called for it to get about $415,000 – about $15,000 less than the previous year. It will get about $93,000 less: more than a 20 percent reduction in operating support from the year before.
Why the ASC’s shift? Two main reasons:
1. Giving to the ASC is down overall by several hundred thousand dollars, says ASC President Robert Bush. And of the donations that are coming in, he says, more are “restricted” than in years past. That means donors are specifying where they want their money to go.
That’s one of the trends in philanthropy that led the ASC to a major revamp back in 2015: People who prefer giving to specific groups or efforts rather than using the old model of workplace campaigns, in which money wasn’t earmarked – or not as much was.
So in terms of scaling back ASC operating support to those groups, says Bush, “We’re having to move faster.”
The major groups – those with budgets that top $1 million – were assessed, as usual, by two panels of experts the ASC pulls together. One looks at leadership and programming, the other at financial performance. The ASC took into account those panels’ evaluations as it decided on groups’ funding.
The groups that get ASC operating support are getting more money directly from donors, says Bush: The organizations have reported what amounts to a 9 percent increase in direct donations.
2. Distributing money differently is a major part of the new direction the ASC took in 2015, as it tries to morph itself into what Ryan Deal, ASC vice president for cultural and community investment, calls “a local arts agency for the 21st century.” That means helping more and different organizations, across wider cultural and geographic spaces, some with operating funds, some with money for specific projects. ASC operating money for smaller groups is up, from about $142,000 for 10 groups to about $205,000 to a dozen this coming year. Some of those will get significant increases, too: The Light Factory will get $35,000, rather than $20,000, for example.
To be able to do that, the ASC must tell bigger institutions, as Bush puts it: “You need to control your own future” – which means getting less in ASC operating support.
Two years ago, 13 major groups were getting more than 95 percent of the ASC’s operating grants. This coming year, they’ll get about 91 percent. The ASC plans to shift that further, eventually, Bush says, but if in the meantime “someone else wants to invest in these smaller groups, we’ll name the program after them.” Overall, the ASC plans to give out about $5.6 million in operating money in the coming year, to the prior year’s $6.3 million.
Although donors’ restricted funds can’t go into operating grants, the ASC can use them – and is – for other initiatives. There are lots of those, and they’re getting a bigger chunk of ASC’s attention, from Cultural Vision grants (about $120,000 to 22 groups, such as $10,000 to help Digi-Bridge teach science, tech, engineering, arts and math at Briarwood Academy), to more support for individual artists, to continuing its Culture Blocks (aimed at communities with historically low levels of participation with ASC-funded programs); to money for half a dozen towns in the region trying to ramp up their cultural options.
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Among other operating grant changes:
▪ Charlotte Ballet will get about $581,000 rather than the projected $618,000 – a 7.8 percent reduction rather than the projected 1.9 percent.
▪ Discovery Place will get $750,000, rather than the projected $825,000.
▪ Blumenthal Performing Arts ($150,000) and the Gantt Center ($179,880) will both get the amount they were projected to get. That’s because both were already beneath the cap the ASC aims to use for major groups eventually: either $750,000 or 10 percent of the group’s annual cash revenue, whichever is less.
▪ The Bechtler Museum has a contractual agreement through which it receives a 2 percent increase each year; Deal said that agreement “does not have an end date.”
Among other projects being funded:
Top Cultural Vision grant moneys, in addition to the Digi-Bridge project:
▪ $10,000 to create a “Meet the Artists” interactive at Festival in the Park and Kings Drive Art Walk.
▪ $10,000 to Inspire the Fire’s summer intensive for youth.
▪ Grants ranging from $1,500 (to support a performance, through Charlotte Museum of History) to $8,000 (to support a teen experience through Playing For Others Inc.)
▪ Town Initiative grants of $5,000 each went to the towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Mint Hill, Pineville and to the Matthews Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resource Department and the Huntersville Parks & Recreation Department.