Arts lovers get to choose where their money goes

Feeding birds at a botanical garden. Buying costumes for dancers. Putting antique quilts on display.

Charlotte-area cultural groups are asking for donations for these projects and dozens more through a website that goes online today.

Power2give.org, created by the Arts & Science Council, showcases more than 50 requests from arts groups. The site gives arts lovers their first chance to pick exactly how their money will go to work - rather than just mixing it into a multimillion-dollar campaign.

The site, which has been in the works for more than a year, is part of the ASC's effort to reach beyond its traditional wintertime fund drive.

To some people, ASC president Scott Provancher said, giving money to support the general operations of dozens of cultural groups - as the winter campaign does - is too abstract to be compelling.

The ASC hopes that when power2give spotlights something more tangible, "a donor can connect with it and get excited about it."

Wing Haven, for instance, hopes donors will chip in to fill a bird feeder that gives human guests a close-up view of cardinals, woodpeckers and bluebirds.

For $525, the garden can buy enough mealworms - actually the larvae of a type of beetle - to keep the birds happy for a year.

"We can use 5,000 worms a week without wasting any," garden curator Jeff Drums says. The Wing Haven staff propagates some, but "we couldn't begin to grow them fast enough to serve what the birds really want."

Some of the other requests:

Historic Rosedale, which recently lost two venerable trees to lightning, hopes for $824 to fit out a treasured green ash with protection before it becomes ash.

The Charlotte Museum of History, which has an assortment of fragile 19th-century quilts put away in protective boxes, wants $500 to build a display board that can show them off without harming them.

Dances of India, which helps perpetuate a 2,000-year-old dance style, needs $2,400 to buy authentic costumes crafted from handmade silk by tailors in India who specialize in them.

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art needs $2,000 for an outreach program for residents of the Hope Haven homeless shelter.

A visitor to the site can filter the requests by topic - such as music, visual art, history or science - or search for a specific cultural group. A viewer who's won over by a project can make a donation by credit card. Links to Facebook and Twitter enable donors to tip off their friends.

From each donation, the ASC will take a cut of about 13 cents on the dollar to cover its costs, the power2give site says. The site says that compares favorably to the typical U.S. benchmark of 20 cents.

To help launch power2give, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is sweetening the pot by matching every donation dollar-for-dollar, says Laura Belcher, an ASC vice president. The foundation, established by former owners of the Charlotte Observer and other newspapers, will kick in up to $100,000.

That could help keep the worm bowl at Wing Haven well stocked.

When a new serving of the little creatures goes in, garden curator Drum says, it's always a show.

Some times of the year, the birds come and go at random. But when they're nesting, they obey the proverbial pecking order. The bigger ones go first, and the others wait their turn.