Fewer cuts, more culture from ASC

For the first time since the recession took hold, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council isn't having to deal out across-the-board funding cuts to the cultural groups it supports.

The ASC will give $7.6 million to more than 60 cultural organizations during the budget year that starts this month, it announced Monday. Most of the 25 groups that get the bulk of the money will receive the same amount they did last year - a welcome change after two years of squeezes.

"It's a great feeling to be able to keep their gifts stable," ASC President Scott Provancher said Monday. "Now we can start talking about how we can grow that" in the future.

The ASC, which helps raise money for arts groups across Mecklenburg County, is working with about $7.3 million from its annual fund drive last winter - roughly the same amount it raised in its 2010 campaign. The ASC will add money from other sources, such as income from its endowment fund.

Staying level with last year represents a big shift from the past couple of years. The ASC's 2009 campaign, which took place as the recession was at its scariest, fell far short of previous totals. In the wake of that, the ASC had to subject its main beneficiaries to cuts of 25 to 30 percent. Smaller cuts followed in 2010.

In this year's ASC campaign, fundraising showed signs of stabilizing, Provancher said. Individuals and businesses said they had a better grasp of their financial conditions. The ASC got past "logistical hiccups" with businesses such as Wells Fargo and Carolinas Medical Center, which opened up their workplace-giving campaigns to more nonprofits.

For Opera Carolina, receiving nearly $480,000 from the ASC - the same as last year - "is good news," general director James Meena said Monday. When the company was planning its budgets for this year and next year, it figured the best-case scenario for its ASC grants would be a further 5 percent cut each year.

"So receiving flat funding, for us, is like an increase," Meena said.

"That's at least good for one night's sleep," Meena added.

N.C. Dance Theatre's grant also is unchanged, at $686,006, so executive director Doug Singleton is "very pleased," he said Monday. "Not losing ground is like a positive in this (economic) environment," Singleton said.

Only some of the smaller groups received changes in their ASC grants. That's because the ASC re-evaluates its beneficiaries every three years, and this was the year that the smaller ones were studied, Provancher said. Panels working for the ASC studied their finances and programming, then scored them.

As a result, the Davidson Community Players will get a little more money from the ASC than last year. Charlotte Chamber Music will get a little less. Provancher would not comment on the individual decisions.

The ASC's main 25 beneficiaries will receive a total of $7,339,316 for their general operations. The arts fund will give a total of $276,510 to more than 40 other organizations - from the Puerto Rican Cultural Society of Charlotte to the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival to YMCA branches - for exhibitions, festivals, children's programs and other projects.

The Filipino American Community of the Carolinas, for instance, will receive $7,500 to help it showcase Filipino-American history. Three Saturday festivals - the first on Aug. 13 - will spotlight music, history, martial arts and other facets of a culture that dates back to the first immigrants in the 1500s.

"With this (ASC) grant, we can offer top-notch talent and scholarly lectures," said Nini Bautista, a past president of the Filipino American Community of the Carolinas.

The ASC announced the grants Monday at a luncheon for leaders of arts groups and other arts backers. It also gave Cato Excellence in Teaching Awards to Barbara Tobin, band director of Quail Hollow Middle School; Kathy Graser, a science teacher at Mint Hill Middle School; and Steve Oreskovic, a social studies teacher at Randolph Middle School. Each will receive $1,500, funded by a grant from the Cato Corporation.

The ASC gave artist John W. Love Jr. its $25,000 McColl Award, established to honor the Charlotte banker and his wife, Jane McColl. Love will create a multimedia work called "Fecund."

The work, Love said, will look at the driving forces behind creativity.

"Especially when you're talking about creating a work of art ... there's an element of hunger and insatiability" that makes artists fruitful, Love said. "Fecund" will premiere in 2013.

During last winter's campaign, the ASC raised a separate $1 million to bring back arts-education projects that were lost to budget cuts at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The ASC is still studying what projects to fund, Provancher said, and the decisions will be announced later.

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