Cultural drive

Business sees payoff in arts investment

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [06.08.04] — Charlotte’s biggest fund drive not tied to higher education is rooted in corporate leaders’ belief that investing in the arts can pay big returns in civic and economic growth, arts and business leaders say.

A public-private effort launched this month to raise $190 million for cultural facilities over five years reflects “the value the new generation of corporate leaders places on continued investment in the cultural life of Charlotte-Mecklenburg to keep it a major corporate center,” says Robert Bush, vice president of planning and interim co-CEO at the Arts & Science Council, which is spearheading the effort.

With $35.5 million already committed, Ken Lewis, Paul Anderson and Ken Thompson, the CEOs of Bank of America, Duke Energy and Wachovia, respectively, announced May 3 they would co-chair an effort to raise another $52.5 million privately if the city contributed $88 million.

The two banks have since said they will contribute $8 million each, and Duke Energy has said it will contribute $2 million, possibly double that based on financial performance, gifts that would bring the total already raised for the private campaign to $20 million.

But the city has thrown a curve to the overall effort, which depends on a city contribution $88 million.

Saying it would not make a contribution this year, the city has named a task force to study the issue and report back in September.

Corporate and arts leaders worked out the fundraising strategy after the January release of a plan mapping the community’s need for cultural facilities over 25 years.

That plan “identified what we deemed to be immediate needs for the cultural arts community that, if not given some support and attention, could result in damaging our cultural arts infrastructure,” says Mark Bernstein, a retired lawyer who co-chaired the planning effort.

While the plan ranked a broad range of needs, and set priorities to be addressed in separate phases, city officials asked the four groups that spearheaded the facilities planning to further rank projects needing immediate attention.

And concerned that failure to develop a strategy for raising money to meet those needs could trigger a “stampede” by individual arts groups for public and private support, Bernstein says, the four organizations – the Arts & Science Council, Foundation for the Carolinas, Center City Partners and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — formed a consortium to push fundraising for the plan.

The consortium identified as high priorities roughly half-a-dozen projects they say need attention over three to five years, and set as lower priorities projects that might be postponed for 10 years or so, Bernstein says

Those needs, he says, include fund drives underway at the Charlotte Symphony and North Carolina Dance Theatre, major changes planned at Discovery Place, finding a new home uptown for the Mint Museum, and housing the huge collection of African-American art donated by Bank of America to the Afro-American Cultural Center.

The consortium combined the tab for projects it ranked as top priorities with other needs that have emerged recently.

Those include finding a home for $20 million in art donated by the Bechtler family, and building a South Tryon Street complex to house a theater and business school.

Likening the fundraising strategy to a jigsaw puzzle that could fall apart if it lost any of its pieces, Bernstein says some cultural groups the strategy aims to fund agreed to postpone some of their own fundraising plans to help support the broader needs of all the groups.

“Cultural facilities and activities of a high caliber are huge attractors for businesses seeking potential relocation,” says John Mackay, president and CEO of Discovery Place. “The business leaders in this town, by this action, are showing their full recognition of this.”

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