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Mecklenburg cuts money for disabled arts program

UMAR artist Danny Kirkland shows his mural of Charlotte outside the Charlotte UMAR Arts Center at 1025 E. 36th Street. The art program is threatened by the loss of county funding.
UMAR artist Danny Kirkland shows his mural of Charlotte outside the Charlotte UMAR Arts Center at 1025 E. 36th Street. The art program is threatened by the loss of county funding. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

An initiative devoted to disabled artists in Charlotte will soon end if the nonprofit UMAR can’t find a way to recoup $216,000 cut from its budget by Mecklenburg County.

The Charlotte Arts Program has been operating since 2008, providing a creative outlet for painters, sculptors, weavers and gardeners who also benefit from sales of their work at increasingly popular public art shows.

UMAR officials say the Mecklenburg County Behavioral Health Division notified them in November that the money is being permanently cut, in part because some of their clients are getting assistance from other federal government programs.

Another factor in the lost funding is last year’s transition from county-run mental health services to a regional approach operated by Cardinal Innovations. Cardinal chose to not to fund the arts program, according to UMAR representatives.

The cut amounts to more than half the program’s current budget. The rest of the budget comes from state and federal government sources, as well as grants and gifts, representatives said.

UMAR created a task force to find a long-term solution while also raising $250,000 to keep the program afloat for now. About 38 artists are enrolled, most of them working out of an arts center in NoDa.

Fundraising was hampered this week when UMAR’s annual luncheon Tuesday had to be postponed because of the winter storm. It has been rescheduled for April 14.

Andy Starzecki, who is head of the task force, says the goal is to make the arts program self-sustaining. Better publicity for the program is essential, he said.

“We’re not living in a dream world. We know this is going to take some salesmanship, in the best sense of the word, to win support for this program,” said Starzecki, whose daughter is enrolled.

“I’m a believer in the program, and it is worth saving. This is not just an art class. It’s a portal to a better life, and the development of a life skill. I’ve seen this program work with my own daughter. It teaches a sense of ownership and pride in accomplishment, which is important to all human life.”

Founded in 1983 by the United Methodist Church, UMAR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community inclusion, independence and growth for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Western North Carolina. It supports more than 400 adults through housing, supported employment and cultural enrichment.

Marilyn Garner, UMAR’s president, said the art program epitomizes UMAR’s mission to help people with disabilities lead a productive life.

“Without the program, these artists face a life of home isolation – exactly what UMAR works to prevent,” she said in a statement.

Price: 704-358-5245

How to help

To donate, visit UMARinfo.com and click on “donate” or mail checks marked UMAR Arts-Charlotte to UMAR Inc., P.O. Box 1558, Huntersville, NC 28070.

To learn more, contact Cameron Hunter, director of development, at 704-659-7624 or CameronH@UMARinfo.com.

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