Arts cuts not as deep this year

The cuts aren't as severe as last year's, but the main groups that receive money from the Arts & Science Council face another round of reductions in their support.

The ASC will give most of the 26 groups about 4 percent less than last year in their grants for 2010-11, which the ASC announced Tuesday. That's far less drastic than last year's cuts of 25 percent to 30 percent - a result of the recession's blow to ASC fundraising.

The ASC met the $7.3 million goal for its 2010 fund drive - barely - and it will receive nearly $2.9 million from the city of Charlotte. But cash-strapped Mecklenburg County reduced its ASC support from nearly $800,000 last year to $150,000, earmarked mainly for education and diversity programs.

The Mecklenburg cut led to the reductions in grants, ASC president Scott Provancher said Tuesday.

The new cuts came as no shock to the groups. The ASC warned them what the county's pullback might mean, said John Mackay, executive director of Discovery Place. The ASC and its beneficiaries, he said, face the same obstacles from the economy.

"We took a huge hit last year," said Doug Singleton, executive director of N.C. Dance Theatre. "Now we're learning how to live in the new normal. It's challenging, to say the least, to figure out how we're going to do good work in this... new economy."

The 26 groups that get the bulk of the ASC's support range from the Carolina Raptor Center and Community Arts Project - which offers art classes in Cornelius - to the Mint Museum and Charlotte Symphony. Through the grants announced Tuesday, the ASC will give them a total of nearly $7.4 million. But they may receive more, Provancher said.

Since the recommendations for grants were made by the ASC's volunteer panels, the ASC has had "better-than-expected collections on pledges," Provancher said. As a result, it has "several hundred thousand dollars" more than it expected. The ASC's board will decide in September how to use the cash, and it's "very possible" that some will go to the main groups.

Besides the money for the main groups, the grants announced Tuesday include $497,000 for educational programs and $358,000 for cultural projects by more than 50 nonprofits across Mecklenburg. The latter include the Rockin' & Reelin' summer concerts and movies in Pineville; black history programs at the Historic Rosedale Plantation; after-school science classes for children with special needs; a summer musical by NoDa School of Arts; and the Mint Hill Highland Games.

This year's ASC's campaign went down to the wire in meeting its goal of about $7.3 million. That was the same amount brought in by the 2009 campaign, but far below the 2008 drive's $11.2 million. That year-to-year decline of more than 30 percent was the sharpest suffered by any arts campaign in the United States.

The new cuts mean that the financially struggling Charlotte Symphony, which had a $1 million reduction last year, will lose nearly $37,000 more. The further loss is "not a seismic event," executive director Jonathan Martin said, but it certainly makes overcoming the orchestra's nagging deficits a bigger task.

"We've got to find that amount in other ways," Martin said.

Two arts groups are being spared this latest round of cuts:

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art will receive $260,000, an increase of $5,100 over last year. In the agreements with collector Andreas Bechtler that established the new museum, the ASC pledged to give the museum 2 percent more each year "in perpetuity," ASC vice president Krista Terrell said.

Clayworks, a group that promotes ceramic arts, will receive $16,354 compared to last year's $15,000. In the ASC's evaluation process, which uses volunteer panels to study the groups' financial management, artistic quality and other attributes, Clayworks "scored high across the board," Terrell said.

The ASC announced the grants to arts backers Tuesday afternoon at the Booth Playhouse. Late in the presentation, Provancher described a new fundraising strategy the ASC is working on: a website he described as sort of a match.com for the arts. It would connect arts groups that need funding for projects with arts lovers who might make donations.

Earlier Tuesday, N.C. Dance Theatre's Singleton said he's happy for the ASC to come up with new ideas for reviving its fundraising. He cited a comment that he attributed to choreographer Twyla Tharp: The only thing she fears more than change, she said, is no change.

"Let's try some things," Singleton said. "Let's see what we can make work."