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5 Questions as Charlotte Considers a New Approach to Arts Fundingby Matt Olin on March 16, 2021
NOTE: The editorial below was originally published as a guest editorial in The Charlotte Observer on March 14, 2021.
Charlotte’s creative community is passionately debating a proposition by City Council members to shift the City’s investment in some local arts groups from the Arts & Science Council to a to-be-formed advisory board. It’s a multidimensional notion with spirited proponents and dissenters.
Uncertainty breeds fear, especially for creative organizations, entrepreneurs, businesses and artists who, on their quest toward sustainable financial success, have been exponentially impacted by the pandemic.
Change can be disconcerting, but it isn’t necessarily something to fear, as it can sometimes lead to thoughtful innovative and new opportunities. That said, as Charlotte’s arts funding future is designed, all parties involved have a chance to model one of the chief tenets of creativity: collaboration. It’s important to strive for a 360-degree understanding so we can use our collective experience to shape what’s next. Now’s the time to make sure we’re asking the right questions and speaking the same language.
Our nonprofit, Charlotte Is Creative, operates “outside the system” in order to advocate for a system that takes the full creative community into account. In that spirit, here are the main questions that we’ll be diving into with our partners and colleagues spanning Charlotte’s creative sector – including our city council and the ASC, both of whom we’ve worked with to support local creatives.
1) Are individual creatives – members of Charlotte’s gig economy – being valued and supported as small businesses vital to our economy?
Small, mid-sized and emerging cultural organizations must continue to be championed alongside the larger legacy ones. Individual creatives and artists must be provided conditions under which they can build businesses. We all want homegrown talent to stay here, and more talent to relocate here, inspired by a reputation as a pro-creativity city replete with opportunities. For that, creatives must be recognized and paid fairly.
2) Are decisions being made with a firm commitment to equity throughout the creative sector?
This is a moment to ensure creative communities across Charlotte are in the picture and funded fairly. Guided by the lessons of the past, we must establish true parity in access to resources.
3) Can we develop an expanded vocabulary around the topic so that potential trigger-terms like “economic development” and “ROI” have context?
It’s critical to consider how such concepts (and which metrics) should apply to smaller cultural organizations and individual creatives. Our sector needs limitless room for expression unbound by commodification or censorship. Economic development should benefit the macro and micro economies – large organizations, start-ups and solo creatives.
4) How will the diverse creative community be involved in the evaluation of existing systems or the establishment of new ones?
We must incorporate their perspective and proceed with their real-world needs in mind. Let’s break down silos.
5) How do we strike a balance so that the maximum getable dollars can flow from the business community into the creative community?
This challenge is bigger than municipal dollars. We should leverage Charlotte’s business prowess to create an all-hands-on-deck system that invests in creatives financially as well as with expertise in fundraising, financial literacy and business skills. And, we need to think big around offering creatives affordable workspace so their businesses can thrive.
The ultimate question: How do we establish a Charlotte where creatives across the spectrum can grow their passions into sustainable businesses and careers, leading to generational wealth?
The post-pandemic world is eyeing Charlotte as one of America’s next creative hotbeds. We have an opportunity to create a new collaborative infrastructure for funding, capacity building and advocacy for our creative sector. Let’s co-create a multifaceted system that values and rewards differences and keeps all creatives in focus.
Matt Olin is co-founder of Charlotte Is Creative.
MAIN PHOTO CREDIT: Wiley Stewart