By Todd Cohen
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In March 2001, shortly after starting her job as interim director of the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, Deborah Martin-Mintz received a letter from city officials saying the council no longer would receive city funding.
The city’s decision to end its funding, which with county and corporate funds had provided a major source of support for the arts, triggered a concerted effort to persuade state lawmakers to increase the hotel-and-motel occupancy tax to benefit the arts.
Lawmakers agreed to double the tax to six percent over four years, with half the increase allocated to the arts, a move that generated over $800,000 for the arts through the council in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
“If we increase tourism to Cumberland County, then we are increasing that revenue stream,” says Martin-Mintz, now the council’s executive director. “The arts community has a direct return.”
The council works on a variety of fronts to support the arts.
With an annual budget of just over $1.6 million and contributions from 600 members, up from 400 three years ago, the council provides over $600,000 a year in grants to arts groups and in professional fees to individual artists.
It also promotes arts education, including a statewide effort to require credit for two semesters of arts classes to graduate from high school.
The Cumberland County Schools, for example, are considering instituting the requirement for the freshman class that begins high school in the 2008-09 school year, Martin-Mintz says.
The council also works in partnership with arts groups, tourism professionals and the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote tourism.
Boosting both the arts and tourism is an ongoing effort by the council to help arts groups address their facility needs.
After considering development of single facility downtown to house several arts groups, for example, the council now is working to develop a series of facilities to meet the specific needs of individual arts groups, Martin-Mintz says.
“We’ll tackle them one at a time,” she says.
The council, for example, helped to develop and design Festival Park, an outdoor park and amphitheater that will focus on the performing and visual arts and will include a new $15 million facility that will house the Fayetteville Museum of Art.
The council staff also has worked with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra to incorporate into its long-range plan a strategy to develop a downtown facility to replace the performance space it uses just outside downtown.
And the council is considering the renovation of its current building and the purchase of additional space downtown.
That expansion would address the needs of Cape Fear Regional Theater for second-stage performing space, and of various agencies and individuals for additional space.
It also would address the need for exhibition space, classroom space and the development of living quarters for visiting artists.
A “cultural assessment” a consultant prepared for the council last year concluded it lacked adequate facilities.
That need is critical, particularly with the planned relocation to Fort Bragg from Atlanta of FORSCOM, an Army agency, that is expected to add 20,000 to 30,000 newcomers to the region who “have an expectation of a quality of life,” Martin-Mintz says.
The council also works with small arts groups that may not employ any staff, like Cape Fear Studios, a cooperative of visual artists, to provide technical management support and even encourage they hire an full-time executive director to oversee daily operations.
“We work with each of these agencies and help them to identify their strengths and opportunities,” Martin-Mintz says, “and work with them to help remedy some of those weaknesses and threats, and help them realize their goals and make this a better community through the arts.”