From Richard “Stick” Williams, president of the Duke Energy Foundation and chair of the 2014 Arts & Science Council fund drive:
There are signs all around us of tectonic shifts affecting our cultural sector.
This month brought news of the loss of one arts group – Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, or CAST. Last year brought news of the Mint Museum scaling back operating hours and The Light Factory suspending operations.
Last week, the Arts & Science Council announced a $900,000 shortfall in its 2014 annual fund drive to support the cultural sector and is making a special public appeal to the community to dig deeper to help the organization reach its $6.9 million goal.
Every shift, every tremor impacts a cultural community that hasn’t felt solid ground underneath its feet for years. Cultural institutions supported by ASC have suffered more than a 40 percent reduction in operating funding since 2009. It’s resulted in cuts to access to cultural events the community has grown to cherish.
When tectonic plates move, the landscape inevitably changes. One way or another, the tremors we’re feeling today will transform our cultural sector. As a community, we must respond in a way that preserves what is important to us in the short term while strengthening the entire sector for the benefit of future generations.
How do we do that?
In the short and long term, individuals, corporations and foundations have to take ownership of a cultural community that means more to Charlotte-Mecklenburg than most realize. The local nonprofit arts and culture industry generates more than $202 million in annual economic activity, supports more than 6,200 fulltime equivalent jobs and generates more than $18 million in local and state government revenues.
In the long term, cultural organizations and institutions must evolve. There are signs of that already happening, with more cultural groups taking their programming out of their buildings and into neighborhoods and organizations focusing more on how they can collaborate to reach larger audiences and enhance the consumer experience. It’s a good start, but cultural organizations, including ASC, must continue evolving to meet the community’s needs.
While this transformation takes place, we must take ownership of our cultural sector if we expect Charlotte to maintain its status as a great city full of the cultural experiences that promote tourism, attract and retain creative, skilled workers and generate jobs.
The cost of ownership includes volunteering, giving to cultural groups financially, advocating for appropriate public sector support, and showing up to support the individual artists and organizations that dedicate themselves to providing great cultural programs and experiences for our community.
We cannot ignore the destabilization of our cultural sector any longer. If we do, the cultural organizations and institutions built over generations will eventually be left in shambles, and our entire region will suffer the consequences.