Introspection and Funding Equity in NC

Equity in funding decisions has become a hot topic of late.  Last week on the Americans for the Arts blog, Krista Terrell, Acting President for Arts & Science Council of Charlotte/Mecklenburg (ASC), the local arts agency for that North Carolina city and county, made a post discussing how an internal analysis of funding practices revealed just how lopsided distribution of funds had been in the period of 1991-2020. They found that

“…nine institutions each received more in operating support than all ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, Native American) organizations combined.”

Terrell admits that fighting the inertia of status quo to effect change is going to take a lot of effort. She observed that in 1992 ASC fired the majority of its all-white board drawn from a core group of affluent ZIP codes in an attempt to diversify representation only to have the board gradually revert to an all-white membership again.

Likewise, there is institutional resistance to ASC’s desire to implement more equitable funding practices.

One president of a legacy organization told me, “I’m all for changing inequities as it relates to access,” but when I asked their thoughts about changing inequities related to funding, I was met with a long pause. If ASC wants its funding to go further, I was told, it should invest more in legacy organizations with existing infrastructure instead of grassroots organizations.

This is “the lie” at work. Think about what was said through the lens of equity. Equity is about everyone having the resources they need to move along together.

Another legacy organization wrote a Letter to the Editor. Some asked why I did not include the work they are doing and why they could not have been readers of the report and provide feedback. I was accused of not being inclusive.

This is not happening in a vacuum. Earlier this month, I saw a piece in the Charlotte Observer which reported the city of Charlotte was proposing to revamp the way the arts were funded, creating a different funding agency/board. There are indications across a number of news stories that existing funding methods were no longer sustainable.

It is unclear to me whether any of this is in response to ASC’s self study and therefore an attempt to make the process more inclusive or a reaction against that attempt. While the city is promising more money for the arts, the article says artists in Charlotte are skeptical and demanding greater transparency, equity and accountability in arts funding practices.

Meanwhile, the county of Mecklenburg says they have no intention of getting involved in doing the work they feel the Arts & Science Council is doing so well.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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