The Arts & Science Council made an appeal to Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday for an extra $2.3 million for the coming fiscal year to help boost educational programs – and access to them.
Both are among the priorities included in a Cultural Vision Plan released last year by an ASC cultural life task force.
Commissioners had already approved $300,000 through the county’s community services program, ASC President Robert Bush said.
“So we are asking for a new $2 million specifically for the education and community access recommendations,” Bush said.
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He said ASC saw much of its public money cut during the recession.
The added money would be used to expand the after-school orchestra program through the Community School of the Arts, and out-of-school-time grants. It would also go to teacher development, pairing up to 250 teachers with artists and other cultural partners.
Commissioner Vilma Leake and other commissioners told Bush and task force co-chair Valecia McDowell that they needed to include middle school band, as well as orchestra, because many middle schools dropped band during the recession.
McDowell said the task force has discussed including an out-of-school band program, but mentioned only orchestra because it is already in place.
“We absolutely agree with Commissioner Leake, and have been in active discussions about that,” McDowell said. “Kids in fifth, sixth and seventh grade need to have that opportunity to be engaged in music – so they’re not engaged in something else.”
Before asking for the money, Bush gave commissioners a history lesson on the ASC, created in 1975 to initially serve as “an office of cultural resources” for Mecklenburg and its seven municipalities, including Charlotte.
Since then, the community has invested $1 billion into cultivating culture, according to the 2014 plan. It is one of the country’s first communities to recognize and understand how arts and culture stimulate community and economic development, the report said.
Comprehensive planning during that time, Bush said, guided cultural development.
The most dramatic growth came in the 1990s when the 1991 Cultural Vision Plan urged Mecklenburg’s major cultural institutions to diversify their boards and staffs. History and heritage were added to arts and science, which led to more support and private contributions to the ASC’s annual campaign fund nearly tripled.
Bush said more than 150 organizations offer cultural opportunities, with a primary mission of arts, science, history or heritage. Those organizations draw 4 million “customer experiences” a year. Nearly half are school-aged children and 40 percent come from outside Mecklenburg County.
He added that cultural expression is a life-quality issue. A 2012 survey by UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute stressed that arts, science and history programs are critical to the county’s quality of life.
Last year’s plan, called “Imagine 2025,” makes accessibility a priority. It urged cultural organizations to provide inviting, relevant and affordable opportunities, closer to home.
Bush said the plan urges artists and arts groups to build community bridges and make arts, science and history central to pre-K-12 education, “ensuring that students are critical and creative thinkers.”
He said investing in arts and culture is important to economic development and “educating a 21st-century workforce.”
For years, ASC has held its effective workplace fundraisers, but Bush said the organization is beginning to see that method “losing steam.”
He said ASC is working to restructure its private giving to include a “communitywide engagement.”