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Shift in arts funding

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United Arts in Wake County aims to retool grants process.

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Spurred by corporate executives frustrated that oversight of local funding for the arts is split between government and nonprofit agencies, United Arts of Raleigh and Wake County wants to consolidate and reorganize the process for reviewing requests for arts dollars.

United Arts also wants the business community, city and county to increase support for the arts by $2 million over three years.

And it wants to increase awareness and promotion of the arts, and to help develop a study on the arts economic impact.

“We have the increasing pressure of an ever-growing number of arts organizations and people who want funding, including schools, and we have not been able to grow either the public or the private money in any way to keep pace with that,” says Eleanor Jordan, president and CEO of United Arts.

While United Arts and the City of Raleigh Arts Commission still would make their own decisions on spending arts dollars they oversee separately, United Arts wants to centralize the process that leads to those decisions.

Under its plan, which United Arts will be pitching in coming months to business, government, arts and civic leaders, it would coordinate newly constituted volunteer panels that would review funding requests and make recommendations to United Arts and to the arts commission.

The commission would continue to make recommendations to the Raleigh City Council for final approval.

While its annual fundraising in the fiscal year that began July 1 is expected to grow $8,000 to $10,000 from the $540,000 it raised in the fiscal year that ended June 30, she says, fundraising has declined steadily for the past three years because of a tough economy and growing demands on corporate philanthropy.

Raleigh and Wake are home to roughly 85 arts organizations.

The arts commission, which is advised by a single volunteer panel that reviews funding requests, is granting $988,000 to 23 nonprofit arts groups in the current fiscal year with money the city council allocates based on $3.50 per capita it sets aside each year in the city budget.

United Arts, which raises money privately and from the county, local municipalities and the state, is giving $788,000 this year to 26 arts groups and to artists based on advice from five volunteer panels.

United Arts, which funds 18 of the groups that get city funding, wants to boost arts funding overall through an annual 50-cent increase over three years in the city’s per-capita allocation, raising roughly $500,000; a per-capita increase to $1 from 42 cents over three years in county funding, raising another $500,000; and an increase in corporate contributions totaling $1 million over three years.

Working with the arts commission, United Arts also wants both to target some grants to spur arts groups to create programming in downtown Raleigh and in Wake’s 11 municipalities, and also to assess arts facilities and develop a 10-year facilities plan.

And it wants the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce to help plan a study on the arts’ economic impact and to promote the value of the arts.

“I think the arts community needs a stronger message to make its case to the corporate community,” Jordan says.

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