Arts Council retools to build arts’ impact

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The arts serve as an engine for community well-being and growth, says the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro, which aims to function as the piston driving that engine.

Already a big business, the arts can play a more strategic role in fueling the local economy, improving education and attracting visitors, the Arts Council says, and it wants to spur the investment, participation and attention the arts need to fill that role.

Recasting itself to act as lead banker, broker and marketer for the arts, the council is dramatically changing the way it raises and invests arts funding, and considering a campaign to raise significant operating, venture and endowment support for the arts.

The campaign, to last three to five years, could begin within a few years with a goal comparable to those of similar efforts in communities roughly the size of Greensboro
that have raised $20 million to $30 million for the arts.

“Our arts industry in Greensboro has significant needs,” says Jeanie Duncan, president and CEO of the Arts Council.

After eight months of study and planning, including input from nearly 2,000 citizens, the council is retooling itself to spearhead efforts to involve more people and stimulate greater investment in the arts, strengthen the arts community, boost the impact of the arts on the local economy, and make Greensboro a nationally recognized arts hub.

A national study in 2007 found arts and culture in Guilford County generate $30.7 million a year in spending, nearly 1,110 jobs and $2.9 million in state and local tax revenue, totals Duncan says the council wants to triple over the next three years.

The council also wants to increase by half some key metrics for the arts, including increasing to 36 percent from 24 percent the share of local arts audiences who live outside Guilford County.

And it wants to double to nearly 4,000 the number of individuals who make donations to its annual fund drive, which this year is working to raise $1.42 million.

Raising significantly more for the annual drive is part of a larger strategy to generate what the council says will be an “unprecedented increase” in funding of the arts.

That increase will depend on building an arts endowment; creating an “enhancement fund,” akin to a venture-capital fund, to provide resources to grow the arts; and finding alternative revenue streams to support the arts.

An arts endowment totaling $275,000 at the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro generates $11,000 a year in operating support for the council, which has an annual operating budget of $1.4 million.

To generate enough investment income just to cover the council’s overhead, which itself will grow, Duncan says, the endowment would need to total roughly $10 million.

But the endowment likely will need to grow to address other critical arts needs, including public art, state-of-the-art arts venues, and other capital and operating requirements.

The council also is working with Americans for the Arts to identify alternative funding streams that other communities have adopted, such as dedicating to the arts a share of local taxes on hotel and motel rooms, or on rental cars, or a share of public revenue generated by new real-estate development.

A big change the council will make is to shift the way it invests the funds it raises in its annual campaign.

In the past, the council has distributed most of its funds in the form of grants that provide operating support for its affiliate arts agencies.

Now, the council plans to invest in arts groups, artists and schools “whose output is advancing [the council’s] strategic priorities.”

A new strategic plan approved by its board calls for the council to work with public officials, civic and business leaders, educators, residents and the arts community to build understanding and support of the arts and the role they play in creating a thriving community.

Raising awareness of that role is particularly important, Duncan says, because public and private support is critical for the arts themselves to thrive.

“We need to demonstrate, through a powerful case of support for the arts,” she says, “that the arts are a great investment.”

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