Char­lotte arts need res­cu­ing, and a tax for them would do it

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY STACEY M. AN­DER­SON AND DARREL WIL­LIAMS, SPE­CIAL TO THE OB­SERVER

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.

JOSHUA KOMER The Char­lotte Ob­server

Char­lotte’s arts sec­tor con­trib­utes $31.5 mil­lion in tax rev­enue, back­ers say.

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