The Charlotte Arts & Science Council announced its newest president on Thursday: business and marketing executive R. Jeep Bryant.
A Charlotte native who once sang for the South Mecklenburg High School chorus, Bryant has deep roots in the arts and culture world — but also in growing the profitability of arts organizations.
Bryant will join ASC, one of the largest organizations of its kind in the nation but one that has faced financial struggles in recent years, as a “seasoned leader in the arts and business communities,” said ASC board chair and search committee co-chair Paula Vincent.
He returns to Charlotte from New York City, where he spent the last two years increasing the footprint of the musical theater showcase the Tony Awards as head of marketing and sponsorship for The Broadway League.
Before that, Bryant served as executive vice president for marketing and corporate affairs at BNY Mellon for over a decade, and led corporate communications at both PNC and First Union banks.
His prior work was a key factor in his consideration, Vincent said.
“His expertise in public relations and marketing we believe will be a huge advantage to us,” Vincent said. “He really is embracing change and [is] a change agent in a time teeming with opportunity and change in our community with the arts culture sector.”
A spokesperson for the Arts and Sciences Council would not say what Bryant’s starting salary would be, only that it would be “comparable to recent years.”
In FY16 and 17, former president Robert Bush had total compensation of $219,471 and $251,327, respectively. In FY18, he earned $224,929.
The 60-year-old ASC has undergone severe funding cutbacks since the recession, and has experienced droughts in public and private donations.
In February, the council asked for a referendum on a plan to up funding through a quarter-penny sales tax increase, which would add $20 million to its yearly budget. The plan has not yet been approved by the county’s board of commissioners, but ASC is still hoping for a November vote.
Incoming chair Valecia McDowell told The Observer in February that the organization was at a “crisis point.” She’ll start on July 1, the same day as Bryant, who stressed in the press release announcing his appointment that “the funding challenges will require an energetic commitment and tireless effort from all of us.”
The organization raised $10 million in donations last year, feeding into its $16.2 million budget for 2019 — the remainder of which comes from city, county and state funding. The foundation doles money to local arts and cultural groups.
This won’t be Bryant’s first dip into philanthropic efforts. He headed up the BNY Mellon Foundation, where he used their $20 million budget to sponsor arts and culture programs as well as improve the lives of at-risk youth, and helped to open BNY Mellon’s first Government Affairs office in Washington, D.C.
Locally, Bryant has served on the boards of the theater at Lincoln Center and Charlotte Ballet (as the North Carolina Dance Theatre.) He also put his journalism degree from UNC Chapel Hill to work on the boards of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Broadcasting Authority and The Institute for Public Relations.
Bryant was ASC’s “number 1 choice,” Vincent said, and beat over 100 candidates nationwide for the position.
Last December, Bush gave his successor a few pieces of advice in an interview with The Observer: First, to understand the history of the city while making the arts community more accessible. Second, that the creative individuals in Charlotte are the “foundation of the culture of the city.”
“And the third is,” Bush said, “love this place.”