On Monday, the Arts & Science Council celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding as the Charlotte Arts Fund. In that first year, we supported eight local arts and science organizations — all of which still are providing great programming to the community.
ASC was founded in 1958 by leaders from the Chamber of Commerce based on a model invented in Winston-Salem, where The Arts Council was established as the country’s first community arts council 10 years earlier.
Until 1974, the Charlotte Arts Fund (under several other names) continued to grow and support the local cultural community, primarily as a fundraiser. It was then that the Chamber, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County decided that investing in arts and science could be the economic development tool to set Charlotte apart from competitor cities.
The investment was guided by a cultural plan created through citizen input in 1975 and the results changed Charlotte — it not only reinvented the Arts Fund into the ASC we know today but more importantly brought us Spirit Square, Discovery Place, Blumenthal Performing Arts, the Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture), the McColl Center for Art + Innovation and an uptown branch of the Mint Museum.
In 1991, ASC once again reached out to the community to help define its cultural future. Again, residents were bold — calling for increased private and public funding, new efforts to raise endowment funds and a focus on the diversity of the boards and staff of organizations receiving funding. Perhaps the most controversial recommendation was a plan to privatize the Mint Museum — then the only cultural group that was a city department. The community embraced these recommendations and all were achieved by 1996.
ASC didn’t stop listening to and learning from residents. In 1998, history and heritage were added to ASC’s mission, as well as a focus on cultural tourism and expanding funding to community-based programming and support for individual artists.
By 2004, ASC had completed the Cultural Facilities Master Plan that gave us Levine Center for the Arts — home to the Mint Uptown, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Gantt Center and Knight Theater — and a complete renovation of Discovery Place. By 2006, ASC completed cultural plans for the suburban towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville — providing the framework for our continued work across Mecklenburg County.
In 2014, ASC completed the most recent community planning effort, which articulated how residents want the cultural community to serve them. That plan informed recommendations from civic, corporate and community leaders for ASC to reinvent the funding platform for the arts and cultural community. This work is driving ASC’s current efforts, including our focus on building community; supporting innovative and relevant programming for our changing population; and ensuring every child has access to the amazing cultural community we have built.
Yes, ASC is 60 years strong because of the support of our public and private donors and our ability to listen and respond. If there’s a takeaway from our milestone birthday, it’s this: ASC is the only organization that responds to the cultural needs of the community from a macro-level by investing in arts, science and history organizations, artists, and cultural education to ensure an accessible and vibrant cultural life for all.