Arts council targets ‘going and giving’

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Strengthening the arts and culture in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and getting more people to support and participate in the local arts community are the focus of a growing number of initiatives at the Arts & Science Council.

“We’re trying to get more and more people involved in and engaged in the cultural sector in some way, shape or form,” says Lee Keesler, the council’s president and CEO.

As it prepares to launch its annual fund drive, which kicks off January 16, the council is gearing up to recruit more donors and raise more money online.

It also plans to launch a web “portal” that will feature a comprehensive arts-and-culture calendar, and mount a media campaign to drive people to the portal.

Chaired by Claude Lilly, dean of the Belk College of Business at UNC-Charlotte, the drive aims to enlist 5,000 new donors and aims to raise more than the $11.4 million raised last year.

“We’d like to continue to raise more and more dollars,” Keesler says.

The drive has raised $500,000 in new support each of the past two years, and last year eclipsed $11 million for the first time.

Funds raised in the drive account for nearly two-thirds of total revenue for the council, which supports cultural groups, community groups and programs, and creative individuals throughout the region.

To help increase the drive’s base of 40,000 donors, nearly all of whom give through the workplace, Keesler says, the council will launch a direct-mail campaign.

Developed in partnership with Wachovia and Tivoli Partners, the direct-mail effort will target 12,000 new donors.

The council also will expand efforts to reach more donors by email, and to encourage more donors outside the workplace to give online.

While giving online totaled only $100,000 last year, or less than 1 percent of the total raised, the Web offers potential for growth, Keesler says.

And, based on an audience-development study last spring that found arts and culture were “severely undermarketed”, Keesler says, the council has worked with communications firm Wray Ward Laseter to develop a strategy to market local the arts and culture more aggressively.

“Historically, we had marketed just the fund drive,” he says. “What we concluded was we were going to need to become more active marketers of the sector and the cultural product in order to drive participation. If our brand historically has been all about giving, we want to shift that to be more about going and giving.”

As part of that strategy, the council in February will launch a cultural web portal designed to serve as a comprehensive arts-and-culture calendar.

Designed by Zero Defect Design, which developed and for the arts communities in Philadelphia and Harlem, the site also will include links to other local arts groups, including, a service of the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

In addition to a focus on increasing awareness, appreciation and participation in the arts and culture, strategic priorities for the council include increasing access to the arts, promoting stability and sustainability for the sector, and supporting programming excellence.

The council, for example, has teamed up with Stanford Group Company in Memphis, Tenn., to sponsor an award that will recognize financial-management excellence among cultural organizations.

And it recently announced $70,000 in grants for individual artists, $48,000 to support cultural activities at independent schools and $20,000 to support cultural projects in the town of Mint Hill.

And in March it will sponsor a “State of the Arts” conference that will focus on arts education throughout North Carolina.

“We’re real focused right now on building appreciation, participation and support for arts and culture in Charlotte-Mecklenburg,” Keesler says.

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