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.

Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program Opens April 8

If you have been looking at the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program information page as I have suggested, you may have seen it says the applications will open in early April,

However, there is a new button on that page that takes you to the application portal which informs you things are scheduled to kick off on April 8. You can sign up there to get additional notifications.



If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to register for a DUNS number (or research what your number is), register for SAM.GOV, and check out any webinars your state arts council, state small business administration resource or trade/discipline service organization may be offering.

There are FAQs and Checklists on the Small Business Administration webpage, but you are gonna have questions.

Valuing What Can Be Counted Can Count Against You linked to an article on Australia’s Arts Hub which looks at how the philosophy of “arts as a business” has undermined the arts in that country. The overall theme seemed to be that so much which was perceived as a blessing ended up narrowing the ability to broadly pursue independent creative expression.

Katharine Brisbane writes:

The introduction of the Australian Business Number (ABN) turned artists into ‘small business owners’. No longer objects of patronage, they were free to trade in their own name, and their daily practices became the business activities of budding entrepreneurs.

In the years that followed, artists developed inter-disciplinary practices that merged the interpretive and authorial roles of actors, directors and writers in collaboration. However, as time went on, the adoption of corporate measures such as the key performance indicator (KPI) made funding agencies increasingly more of a hindrance than a help.

Brisbane’s piece summarizes the contents of papers which have come out since 2000. The comments on one of those papers, Art in a Cold Climate: Rethinking the Australia Council by Keith Gallasch contained some interesting insights.

In particular, Sue Beal who was part of Actors’ Equity union and a member of the Australian Council for the Arts’ (OzCo in her letter) Theatre Board back in 1984 expresses regret for some of the decisions she supported having seen the results. Essentially she says that the push to recognize the arts as an industry and OzCo’s desire to consolidate political and economic power under its umbrella placed the major arts organizations in the country in a position to align standards and funding to their benefit.

As an Actors Equity official with the best of intentions, I argued strongly for the recognition of the arts as an industry, believing that this would result in an improvement to artists’ conditions. Well, it did improve the conditions of some, but it also provided the arguments used by the majors in their never-ending demands for increased support from the Theatre Board. It also paved the way for the economic rationalists who soon moved in with their mantra, ‘If it can’t be counted, it has no value’.

Cash flows, attendance projections, sponsorship deals, business plans, burgeoning ‘infrastructure’, marketing consultants, accountants negotiating with accountants-all in the name of ‘best practice’, and often producing bigger deficits-this became the milieu of the majors. Vision, imagination, artistic risk, innovation, experiment, obsession became peripheral. The bottom line was deified. The worst possible skewing one could imagine.

What I found interesting was her belief that there was once an opportunity to shift this power dynamic which Beal had lobbied against and now regrets.

…Pat Galvin, the Secretary of the Department responsible for the arts, suggested to the OzCo that he could take over the funding of the majors and cocoon them in a corner of the department,…. Thus leaving the Council to pursue its real agenda. I shamefacedly confess that I was one of those who argued against this, in hindsight, visionary proposal. The OzCo came up with a thousand reasons why they shouldn’t be handed over. Of these the most honourable-and silly-was the belief that these companies would benefit from a critique of their work from an artistic perspective.

…If the OzCo lost the majors’ huge funding allocation, it would also lose the statutory administrative proportion that came with their funding. Council couldn’t countenance a reduction in staff and believed that it could control the majors. That’s always been nonsense. The Boards of the majors have consistently demonstrated that their political astuteness is infinitely superior to that of the OzCo. They have succeeded where the OzCo has consistently failed: while most of the majors have built direct, confidential and beneficial relations with Canberra, the OzCo has never been able to achieve what should have been its primary goal-decent money for the arts-but instead spent most of its energies trying to survive threats to its own existence.

There is obviously nothing to say that the Arts Council wouldn’t have ended up just as pressed to fend off threats to its own existence had this scheme come to fruition. Government often views arts funding as a zero sum situation so if the major organizations were receiving funding already, it is just as likely the existence of the council would be seen as unnecessary. Beal might instead be arguing that it was a mistake to place the majors within the direct purview of the department secretary because it allowed them to amass so much political influence.

While the arts in the US have fared no better in relation to the NEA, it is always interesting to see how government funding of arts and culture has fared in other countries.

SVOG Program Updates Coming Fast Now

While I am pretty sure people are following the developments of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program pretty closely and are probably getting regular updates from their state and industry service organizations, I figure it doesn’t hurt to put reminders and updates out there myself.

Especially since all the updates I have been getting from service organizations haven’t pointed out some important distinctions between the FAQs the Small Business Administration is putting out on a weekly basis now. (Likewise, assume I am not pointing out the distinctions that are important to you and read through them!)

For example, about a week or two ago they started posting check lists of materials you should be collecting in advance of the opening of the application period which appears to be on track to happen in early April. The latest version of the check list can be found here, but since they are updating between Thursdays-Sundays, if you are reading this after March 18 you are better off going to the main page.

The same goes with the regular FAQ document. The passage of the American Rescue Plan has caused sections of the FAQ to be removed in the March 12 version.

For example, the March 5 version had this question:

6.Can an entity apply for a PPP loan now and decide later on the loan if it did not receive an SVOG? At what stage is a PPP loan considered “received”?

but it is now replaced with:

6.*No longer relevant / deleted per the American Rescue Plan being signed into law.

Though if you scroll down, you will see a couple new points of information have been added to that section which address PPP loans and SVOG funding:

21.*How will receiving a PPP loan affect an eligible entity’s SVOG award?

22.*If a portion of my PPP loan was forgiven, will that affect how much of the loan amount is deducted from my SVOG?

As before, anything that has been updated since the last FAQ has an asterisk. But you should through everything thoroughly in case you missed an update.

Among the latest updates are answers to questions about whether the payout will be lump sum or multiple payments. Answer – it depends on a number of factors. See page 16

Should you use fiscal year 2019 or calendar year 2019? – You can use either, but if you apply for the supplemental funding phase you need to use the same time frame.

There was also a new entry answering questions about whether sponsorships should be counted as earned revenue since donations are not counted as such. The answer is different for commercial and non-profit performing arts entities:

Because it represents payment made in exchange for a service (i.e., recognition or advertising), sponsorship payments (such as naming rights) received by for-profit entities will be considered earned revenue. Like the treatment afforded memberships and fundraising events, sponsorship payments received by non-profits will be considered part earned revenue and part gross revenue. In such cases, the sponsorship payment amount a non-profit receives that represents a fair market value for services in exchange (i.e. promotion, free admission, use of facilities) will be deemed earned revenue and the portion of the sponsorship payment that exceeds that amount will be deemed a contribution and thus gross revenue…

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