Charlotte arts need rescuing, and a tax for them would do it
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s arts and cultural sector has grown dramatically in recent decades. Today’s cultural offerings reflect our increasingly diverse population and address community priorities such as education and economic mobility.
But behind the curtain, the funding infrastructure that helped drive this growth is in distress. And if we don’t act, the cultural sector will collapse.
To continue to thrive, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural community needs a stable financial footing from a dedicated public funding source. We have asked the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners to work with the Arts & Science Council and other stakeholders to determine the best path forward.
Public support will help ensure our community’s quality of life and prosperity. Dedicated funding will help achieve cultural equity, ensuring rich programming is available across the county.
The current problem is a result of the apparent obsolescence of workplace giving. Spearheaded by ASC since the late 1970s, this model provided vital operating funds that helped sustain the arts, science and cultural institutions that we know and love.
Donors now increasingly prefer to support individual organizations, which often means money flowing to larger organizations with higher visibility over emerging groups and artists. Many corporations have also moved away from workplace giving campaigns for ASC and the United Way.
The 2008 economic downturn was a death blow. Since then, ASC grants have declined 48 percent and continue to drop, seriously affecting the budgets of both small and large organizations.
ASC convened community leaders to confront this problem and find the best path to financially support major and emerging organizations and artists. After nearly a year of intensive work, the group concluded that public investment beyond what these organizations bring in at the box office was warranted.
The study group, which we chaired, recommended seeking a portion of a quarter-penny sales tax increase to support the cultural sector. The new funding, which the ASC board of directors endorsed, would entirely replace money currently raised by ASC, including the annual fund drive and budget allocations by local governments. To secure dedicated funding, Mecklenburg commissioners would put the issue before voters.
With public funding comes a mandate for complete transparency in how the money is spent. The cultural community commits to that.
It will also be an investment in a vital economic engine. Our cultural sector generates $359.4 million in total economic activity annually, supports more than 11,000 jobs and delivers $31.5 million in local and state government revenue. More tickets are sold to cultural events across CharlotteMecklenburg than to all professional sports events combined. Businesses are drawn here partly because employees will enjoy arts, science and history experiences for all ages.
Many cities known for the vibrancy of their cultural offerings, such as Austin, Texas, and Denver, have similar dedicated funding models in place.
The stability and growth that results from this new model will be repaid many times over as it helps to brand Charlotte-Mecklenburg, attract talent, and enrich the lives of all residents for years to come.
Anderson is a Wells Fargo executive. Williams is owner of Neighboring Concepts, a Charlotte based planning and architectural design firm.
Charlotte’s arts sector contributes $31.5 million in tax revenue, backers say.