Arts fund broadens its reach as drive begins

The Arts & Science Council launched its annual fund drive Tuesday with two goals in front of it: raising $8.7 million to support arts groups, and changing its own role in Charlotte.

For decades, the ASC's campaign has been a wintertime ritual for cultural groups - and for employees in hundreds of workplaces, who find pledge cards in their mail slots.

The ASC wants to break out of that niche.

It sees itself doing more - from helping support arts-education programs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to working with the county to put cultural events in parks. And it envisions raising the money for these projects anytime during the year.

"So many of the things that have made us successful are changing," ASC president Scott Provancher said. "And we have to change with those."

The ASC will continue with its longtime role of channeling money to more than 20 Mecklenburg County arts groups for their general operations, Provancher said. But by going beyond that, its leaders think it can help the arts become more prominent in the community - and raise more money for the purpose.

Provancher pointed to a new park in the works uptown.

"We're going to have this great Bearden Park," he said. "What role could the ASC play with (Mecklenburg Park and Recreation) around artistic programming - not just for that park, but for other facilities? It's going to require us to build collaborations and more entrepreneurial, short-term funding projects."

For the ASC to expand its scope is "a smart move," said Susan Patterson of the Charlotte office of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has funded projects for the ASC and other cultural groups. The ASC will have more chances to appeal to potential donors "all year long, and in different ways."

New methods

The $8.7 million goal is itself an example of the change.

Last winter, the campaign raised $7.3 million for cultural groups. In its first venture outside that traditional role, the ASC also separately raised an additional $1 million - mainly from a few big donors - to help revive arts-education programs lost to CMS budget-cutting.

This year, the ASC is folding those efforts together. It will count donations for both purposes toward the $8.7 million.

It will also count money from another fundraising setup it launched last fall: power2give.org, a website that lets donors give to any of dozens of short-term projects proposed by Charlotte cultural groups.

Tuesday, power2give hit the $250,000 mark in donations, the ASC's Laura Belcher said. That included a $100,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation.

Another break from the ASC's old ways: It won't hold its traditional late-March event to trumpet the campaign's results. Instead, it will announce the fundraising total in July, after the close of its fiscal year.

All this is an effort to reinvigorate a fund drive that was walloped by the recession. The ASC's fundraising shrank by more than 30 percent in 2009. The campaign hit a plateau at $7.3 million, and last year's arts-education campaign finally enabled it to register an increase.

The Leon Levine Foundation illustrates why the new strategy helped. It only gave modestly to the ASC's general campaign. But when the ASC launched its CMS drive last year, "that fit squarely with what we're trying to accomplish" for the community, said Tom Lawrence, the foundation's executive director.

So the foundation gave $100,000 to the CMS drive. Its board will decide about this year's donation in April, Lawrence said.

Possible competition

The ASC's move toward year-round fundraising raises a question: Could it end up competing with Charlotte's other cultural groups, who also have to raise money year-round?

There will be a transition as everyone learns how to make their cases to potential donors most effectively, said James Meena, Opera Carolina executive director. But the new setup "can be more effective on a long-term basis," he said.

Provancher agreed that the ASC and other groups will face "a period where we're going to learn" how to operate.

"Organizations will have new fundraising roles, and the ASC will, too," Provancher said. "As long as we have our eyes open, we can navigate through it and see growth."