by Sam Hieb
Charlotte Observer article on ‘culture at the crossroads’ as Mecklenburg County’s vote for a quarter-cent sales tax hike to benefit the arts approaches:
To hear some arts leaders tell it, cultural groups in Charlotte face a financial crisis — and they’re hoping voters will deliver much-needed aid next month by approving a new sales tax hike.
The referendum on a quarter-cent sales tax increase would provide an annual $50 million boost to arts groups, as well as for education, parks and greenways.
For arts and cultural groups, the cash infusion would amount to $22.5 million a year, funneled through the Arts & Science Council with oversight from elected officials and citizens from the city, county and outlying towns. The council is a funding pass-through agency for local arts organizations.
…The arts sector is at a “crisis point,” ASC board chair Valecia McDowell told the Observer in February, with budgets for even the biggest groups stretched thin and not enough money to go around for emerging organizations.
Jeep Bryant, who took over this summer as ASC president, says he believes boosting arts and culture is a vital social need that deserves help from taxpayers. “This is part and parcel of addressing those critical community challenges,” Bryant said.
However, we also hear from another prominent voice–perhaps the prominent voice in the Charlotte arts scene–Blumenthal Performing Arts Center CEO Tom Gabbard:
In February, the Blumenthal’s Gabbard waded into the fray when he emailed Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio, telling her that to “describe this as the imminent collapse of the cultural sector is total BS.
“The crisis and collapse of the cultural sector that ASC describes is not what most of us see,” Gabbard wrote in the email, which the Observer obtained through a public records request.
But Gabbard has backed off, telling the Observer he nevertheless “worries” about the city’ smaller arts groups, which he says are “undercapitalized.”
Scroll to the bottom of the article and note the salaries of Charlotte’s arts and culture leaders. Gabbard is at the top with a salary of $491,00; lowest is Allison Celebron-Brown’s $142,000 salary as leader of the McColl Center for Arts & Innovation. Something Mecklenburg County should keep in mind when deciding how dedicated they are to the arts.