McColl group gives $3 million to symphony, arts

Hugh McColl, left, in a 2014 photo with Scott Provancher, former Arts & Science Council president, who helped organize the Thrive campaign.
Hugh McColl, left, in a 2014 photo with Scott Provancher, former Arts & Science Council president, who helped organize the Thrive campaign. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

A philanthropic group that has quietly been amassing millions to underwrite Charlotte arts groups announced its first round of public grants Thursday, including $2 million to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Among the seven other beneficiaries in Thrive Fund’s $3.1 million in disbursements are the Charlotte Ballet, Opera Carolina and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

With its first public round of grants – it has been supporting the symphony since 2013 – the Thrive Fund becomes a major player in philanthropy for the arts in Charlotte.

It becomes the second most prominent group after the long-established Arts & Sciences Council, which distributed about $14 million last year to organizations in the region.

Many of Thrive’s grants are aimed at programs that help organizations raise their own money. At the Levine Center for the Arts, for example, grants will help the Mint Museum Uptown, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture market their common campus on South Tryon Street.

Launched by McColl

Launched in 2013 by former Bank of America chairman Hugh McColl to support the symphony for a decade, the Thrive fund grew quickly and its mission was broadened to support Charlotte museums and performing groups.

Already, the fund has nearly hit its $40 million goal and is expected to exceed that in the next year.

“I’ve always believed that to have a great city, you need great arts,” McColl said in a statement Thursday. “More importantly, we have great leadership in the business community, and they are the ones to thank.”

Bank of America and Duke Energy have each given $10 million to Thrive and the Leon Levine Foundation added $2.5 million.

“As has so often been the case, it’s a remarkable testament to Mr. McColl’s commitment to this community and his ability to make things happen,” said John Boyer, president of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

“I think the strategic vision of Thrive’s executive committee will be revealed with each passing wave of grant awards,” he said, “but the central objective is to help amplify and help stabilize the long-term sustainability of organizations fortunate enough to be recipients.”

Lifeline to symphony

Thrive’s original beneficiary was the Charlotte Symphony, which has received $2 million a year for the past two years and is earmarked for an additional $2 million this year. With Thrive’s help, the symphony finished its year in the black last year for the first time since 2003.

“They’ve been our life raft,” said symphony president Robert Stickler.

“Without that investment – about 20 percent of our revenue – we would not be here. Thrive has meant everything to us.”

Stickler said all the Thrive money so far has gone to cover operating costs, but hopes over the fund’s 10-year projected payouts that money can go to bolster the symphony’s $5 million endowment, which is only a third of what peer orchestras usually draw on.

Stickler said with two weeks left in the fiscal year, it’s too early to say whether the symphony will have a profitable year. “If we’re not in the black, we’re going to be pretty close,” he said.

Broad impact

“Charlotte’s world-class arts and cultural institutions have been driving forces for our city’s local economy and influential in building our city’s identity,” said Charles Bowman, Bank of America’s Charlotte president. Bowman will serve as chair of the executive committee of the Thrive’s board of investors, which will help determine grant recipients.

Thrive’s executive committee includes Stick Williams of Duke Energy, Tom Lawrence of the Leon Levine Foundation, Former Duke CEO Jim Rogers, Chris Kearney of SPX Corp., Anna Nelson of the C.D. Spangler Foundation, Tom Skains of Piedmont Natural Gas and McColl.

Thrive money is administered by the Foundation for the Carolinas with input from the Arts & Science Council.

Thrive comes on the scene as traditional engines of support for the arts are changing. ASC workplace drives have been faltering in the last decade, and a yearlong community task force recommended last year that the group concentrate more on connecting patrons to organizations they would use and decrease emphasis on the annual fund-raising duty.

ASC objectives this year have included connecting people more directly to groups and activities that would excite them and entice them to donate.

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Thrive grant recipients

$3.15 million in grants were announced to eight arts groups Thursday.

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra: $2 million.

Charlotte Ballet: $369,100 in a three-year grant.

Mint Museum: $275,000 in a two-year grant that includes an award of $250,000 for the benefit of the Levine Center for the Arts.

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture: $215,000 in a two-year grant.

Children’s Theatre of Charlotte: $200,000 in a three-year grant.

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art: $53,380 for the benefit of the Levine Center for the Arts.

Opera Carolina: $25,000.

McColl Center for Art + Innovation: $15,000.