Guilford arts councils focus on impact

Tom Philion
Tom Philion

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 2008, voters rejected a bond referendum that would have generated $50 million to renovate the War Memorial at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

Now, believing that Greensboro and Guilford County need a performing arts center to remain competitive, United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro is developing a partnership with Downtown Greensboro and the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro to promote the development of local assets they believe the community needs to attract businesses and employees.

A key tool in that effort will be a new “Creative Vitality Index” that finds the county outperforms the state and the South in the strength and impact of its creative sector, both nonprofit and for-profit.

“The bottom line is that Guilford County is rich in artistic and creative assets that we can focus on as a niche, as the region and the state economy changes away from manufacturing, textiles and furniture, to an economy based on innovation and creativity,” says Tom Philion, president and CEO of United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro.

Debbie Lumpkins, executive director of High Point Area Arts Council, says the new index is a data-based tool that arts advocates can use in talking to lawmakers and business leaders about the importance of supporting the arts, particularly in the face of “a lot of threats that seem to be targeting the arts.”

Prepared for the two arts councils by the Western States Arts Federation, the Creative Vitality Index study says Guilford County is home to 7,200 “highly creative” jobs in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

In 2008, combined revenues of arts-related organizations in the county totaled nearly $23 million.

The county’s score on the index is 0.95 against a national baseline score of 1.00; 1.515 against a North Carolina baseline score of 1.00; and 1.394 against a southern-states baseline score of 1.00.

Both arts councils plan to tout the study in their annual fund drives, which they are promoting and marketing jointly this year for the first time.

The combined goal for the two drives is $1.7 million, with the Greensboro drive aiming to raise $1.2 million and the High Point drive aiming to raise $500,000.

Chaired by community volunteer Harriette Knox, the Greensboro drive aims to raise more than it did last year, when it fell $240,000 of its $1.4 million goal.

In addition to private contributions, this year’s goal includes $100,000 from the state and $67,000 from Guilford County, and will provide support for nearly 50 organizations and projects.

As part of the campaign, the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greater Greensboro renewed its $75,000 gift from last year and also made a $25,000 challenge gift that United Arts has matched, dollar for dollar, with new and expanded gifts.

The gift was made in recognition of United Arts’ 50th anniversary this year.

The High Point drive, chaired by community volunteer Pam Anderson, wants to raise half its funds from private contributors, and the rest from the state, county and city, and through government grants.

Last year, the county cut $25,000, or one-third of its support for the agency, while private contributions to its annual fund drive fell $34,000 to $166,000.

As a result of those cuts, the arts council scrapped its plans for a capital campaign to raise several million dollars to buy the 38,000-square-foot Enterprise Building on North Main Street in which it was leasing 10,000 square feet.

The group, which last October moved its offices into the lobby of the administration building for the High Point parks and recreation department, was able to avoid any cuts to its community-outreach programs; to its funding to five affiliated arts organizations; to any grants it makes to schools and arts projects; or to its staff.

North Carolina is working to brand itself as a creative state, and the Triad serves as a “creative cluster” for the state, Lumpkins says.

“If we don’t invest in this and sustain our investment in the creative sectors, whether nonprofit or for-profit, then we’re going to lose that edge,” she says.

“This is something that we have, that we own, that can’t be outsourced or shipped overseas for somebody else to do,” she says. “This is something we need to support, and we have to support it at the local level.”

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