Robert Bush was named president of the Arts & Science Council on Monday, taking the helm of the organization that provides the financial lifeblood of Charlotte’s cultural community in an era of strategic change.
Bush, who has been interim director since the departure of predecessor Scott Provancher last June, will be responsible for acting on the recommendations expected this spring from a task force looking at new ways to raise money for the arts scene.
He also takes the title during the organization’s annual fund-raising drive, which runs through April and is about 55 percent of the way to its $6.9 million goal for unrestricted gifts, up 11 percent from the previous year.
But addressing the long-range trajectory of fund-raising, which a 21-member Cultural Life Task Force is studying, will be Bush’s key responsibility in the year ahead.
Already, Bush said Monday, some of the ideas being discussed by the group are intriguing to the ASC.
“We’re seeing some transformational things,” he said. “We like the opportunities.”
In choosing Bush after a national search, the ASC chose to go with an insider who joined the organization in 2000 and has been senior vice president and chief innovation officer. Bush said he believeshis long-term connections in the community will serve him well.
“I think that’s one of the things that the board saw that I brought to the table,” he said. “I have those relationships.”
About 200 candidates from across the nation applied for the position. A 12-member search committee convened in October, led by Linda Lockman-Brooks, immediate past chair of the ASC board, and was advised by the executive search firm Cameron Carmichael.
“Throughout every stage in the process, Robert consistently rose to the top,” said Lockman-Brooks.
Jim Warren, executive director of the Carolina Raptor Center and a member of the search committee, said the list was winnowed to about a dozen candidates and ultimately five were interviewed. Three names, including Bush’s, were recommended to the ASC’s executive committee, which did follow-up interviews. On Monday, the committee recommended Bush to the ASC board.
Warren said that Bush’s position as interim president wasn’t necessarily beneficial to his candidacy. Often, he said, there is a desire for new blood in leadership positions.
But Warren said Bush impressed the search committee at each stage of the interview process with his understanding of ASC and the cultural sector’s challenges and opportunities, his experience leading cultural institutions and his passion for the ASC and the community.
Improving the cultural ‘story’
Bush, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Appalachian State University, was a classroom teacher in 1981 when he saw a newspaper ad for an executive director position for what is now the United Arts Council of Catawba County.
“I was young and gutsy enough, and maybe there was a little ego there, and I said to myself that I could do that,” Bush said. “And they hired me.”
In 1984, he moved to Charlotte’s Mint Museum as its first director of development and served as project coordinator for the 1988 “Ramesses the Great” exhibition. He went on to become president of the Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne in Indiana and CEO of the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. He returned to Charlotte in 2000 to join the ASC. In his new role, he will be paid $200,000 annually with performance bonus potential of up to $40,000.
Bush said the region’s cultural fabric is complex and requires multiple approaches to bring in the money needed to support it. One thing the sector must do better, he said, is communicate its importance.
“Having a wonderful cultural life is something that everyone here deserves,” he said. “That requires many partners doing great work, but we need to tell that story much better.”