11 thoughts on “New Arts Model and Role for the Arts and Science Council

  1. Phillip says:

    Amen, John! I’ve been pointing out the limitations of the ASC mode of fundraising and grantgiving since the MayMusic days back in mid-1990’s. As I put it to several highly placed ASC board members in those days, a thriving arts scene is an ecosystem: you’ve got to have your big fish, sure…but you also have to have your mid-sized and small fish, and even some plankton! What makes the New York City arts scene vibrant is not so much the Met or the NY Phil as it is the small galleries, the cutting-edge music groups playing in tiny spaces around the city, ditto experimental theatre. THAT is what brings artists to a community, who in turn create the conditions and the material for the flourishing of larger arts entities.
    It’s logical that a very corporate-oriented city like Charlotte developed an entity like the ASC as a means to centralize and organize arts funding. It’s worked reasonably well for those “big fish,” but as I think your words point out, not nearly so well for the rest of the “arts ecosystem.” I hope that your proposals, coming as they do from someone with strong understanding of both the artistic and business sides of the equation, will be heard by receptive ears.

  2. John Clark says:

    I do have to acknowledge Phillip’s post. A native of Charlotte, he’s a marvelous pianist and appears regularly on the Chamber Music at St. Peter’s free First Tuesday Concerts series (WDAV is a media sponsor). I would say that the Charlotte Symphony is playing at a high level these days, so it’s a perfect time for the CSO to invite Phillip to be a guest soloist on its Classical series. Can’t happen soon enough!

  3. David Tang says:

    John, what a brilliant idea, and what an ideal place to have this discussion. Thank you and congratulations.
    In my humble opinion, before beginning any substantive dialogue about “the arts in Charlotte” (as this blog will hopefully become), I believe that we must define WHAT ART IS.
    Now, before everybody dives into the “subjective nature of art” bunker for cover, let’s consider the ASC.
    If we succumb to the post-modern notion that art is simply and exclusively “in the subjective eye of the beholder,” then the question “Why should we support the arts?” becomes philosophically IMPOSSIBLE to answer.
    Let’s imagine that a friend of mine asks me for money to support YOMKUPO. My first question would probably be, “What is YOMKUPO, and what does it do?” Now, let’s imagine that he replies, “Well, every big city, especially any “world-class” city has YOMKUPO, so we should have some, too;” or “YOMKUPO helps attract people and businesses to come and stay here.”
    As far as I’m concerned, I’d be hard pressed to say, “Ok, let me ante up.” Even if my friend followed up with statistics, graphs and charts that demonstrate that YOMKUPO is good for the world, I’d still probably say, “While I admire what YOMKUPO may DO, you still haven’t explained WHAT IT IS, and truth be told, I can think of many better ways to accomplish what you say YOMKUPO DOES.
    In the end, I firmly believe that if you can’t define it, you can’t sell it OR support it.
    Obviously, our 2000 pound YOMKUPO is “the arts and sciences” and/or “culture.” (Before going any further, let me add that I believe that this YOMKUPO problem is not unique to Charlotte.)
    I believe that everyone should have and be allowed to retain his or her own definition, but I am FIRMLY CONVINCED that the arts in Charlotte will NEVER flourish until we can describe what it is that we’re selling.
    So, I’ll go first: “Art is that which engages the fullest of our mental, emotional and spiritual capacities, as well as our physical capacity to a varying degree.” As a former philosophy student, this is by no means an intellectually rigorous definition and it has MANY caveats and addenda (which I’d be happy to share in another venue), but in a nutshell, “being fully engaged” is my personal definition of art. That is what I, as an artist, am selling. (For those keeping score: YES, I know that this definition leaves room for subjectivity, and yes, that room is there on purpose – if you’d like to have an in-depth dialogue on aesthetics, feel free to give me a call at (704) 232-0605).
    We’ve all made art – in that perfect golf shot or business pitch; in that rousing speech to our Sunday school class or that first slam dunk in our backyard basketball court; when we put together that flawless outfit or that unforgettable dinner party or read the Haftarah at our bar mitzvah. Art is all around us, but it is not easy, because it demands that we be fully engaged.
    If you consider the times in your life when you made art, and remember how it felt to be in that out-of-body state, where time and the rest of your life disappeared and all that mattered was what you were doing, I hope you’d agree that we needn’t SELL it. EVERYBODY wants it; they just don’t think to call it art.
    Why should they? We certainly haven’t.

  4. David Tang says:

    “I’ll be dancin’ with myself… oh, oh, o-oh.”
    Okay, okay, okay…
    Before anyone else raises the inevitable “constructive thoughts,” let’s head some of us off at the pass.
    So, according to the ASC web site, “The Arts & Science Council (ASC) is a non-profit organization that serves and supports Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s cultural community through grant-making, planning, programs and services to ensure a vibrant community enriched with arts, science and history.”
    For those of us who would much prefer to NOT “define culture, arts, science and history” because to do so would be unnecessary, dangerous, elitist or any other name-your-pejorative, I would forward the following:
    You are right. WE shouldn’t. Society defines culture, as it should. As such, let’s consider my belief that if we were to ask EVERY citizen (and I MEAN EVERY CITIZEN, not just “us”) in Charlotte to list the ways that they spend their “leisure and charitable time and money,” both generally and in Charlotte specifically, many endeavors that the ASC support would not appear, or appear FAR down their lists.
    For instance, MY PERSONAL leisure and charitable time and money go to: movies, downloaded music (most of which is “Classical music” performed by NON-CHARLOTTE artists), TV (almost ALL of which does NOT originate from Charlotte), tennis, church, eating out, Carolina Panthers, live local performances (aha! Finally, the ASC appears – I probably attend 2-4 ASC affiliated events a month. How many do YOU attend?). Just on a personal note, I spend less time, annually, engaged with the entirety of ASC’s “offerings” than I spend following the Panthers and NFL football, so the ASC comes in WAY LAST.
    Now, if we ALSO polled every citizen of Charlotte and asked: “How would you support the SCIENCES and HISTORY?” I believe that ASC affiliates would likewise fall far down the list, especially in relationship to oh… say…SCHOOLS and UNIVERSITIES. (Of course, I know that the ASC IS engaging the schools and universities through FABULOUS endeavors like Arts Teach (Go Deborah Cooper and your gang!), but if you polled EVERY citizen in Charlotte, I’ll bet that fewer than 5% of our population knows ANYTHING about Arts Teach, and that revelation, dear friends, is just PLAIN WRONG. Arts Teach should be a household name, here in Charlotte. (By the way, if you don’t know about Arts Teach (www.artsteach.org), it is my PERSONAL opinion that they deserve more like $5Million from the ASC, NOT $1.whatever.)
    In my PERSONAL OPINION, the ASC, and therefore those who receive money from the ASC, are irrelevant in Charlotte (we can discuss the DEGREE to which WE are irrelevant but that’s for another entry); On a personal note, I want to be very clear that I believe that the sum total of my local artistic endeavors to date has been LARGELY IRRELEVANT to the greater Charlotte community. Furthermore, I agree with John Clark that some of the EXCELLENT ASC enterprises are not getting the proper funding.
    To my mind, we are irrelevant IN VERY LARGE PART because we refuse to “define culture, arts, science and history.” (Hence my first addition to this dialogue) We are irrelevant also because we rely too heavily on cultural and organizational traditions and models that are no longer relevant (stay tuned for my PERSONAL OPINION piece about the symphonic orchestra industry).
    How can we change? Well, let’s talk; and let’s do it here. Let’s bring others to this discussion that might not normally be invited – people like Lora Solomon, a healing arts practitioner, whose views certainly have impacted mine.
    Y’all Come!

  5. Mark says:

    Tale of Two Cities?
    I was thinking about some about these issues driving back to Charlotte yesterday in the rain and wind; returning from an electrifying concert at Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. I was wondering how a third tier economy like Cleveland, where there is a huge drain on corporate funds, can continue to sustain a world-class orchestra and a seductive concert venue; and how a vibrant, wealthy “dark suit” town like Charlotte can hardly support an orchestra that plays nine or ten times a year in a venue that is an acoustic nightmare. I am sure the reasons and answers are varied and complex. Cleveland does not have the equivalent of the ASC to my knowledge, yet the blue-collar-rust-belt-town on the northcoast has a rich arts culture. Why can’t it happen here? Priorities, perhaps. I don’t know, but its something more illusive than money.

  6. David Tang says:

    Mark –
    I can think of a few reasons why Cleveland continues to sustain its world class orchestra while the CSO struggles:
    1) The Cleveland Orchestra is one of my hometown’s greatest sources of pride. It is EASILY Cleveland’s single greatest cultural asset (although the Indians, Browns, and the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame are pretty important as well).
    If the CSO was as world-renowned as the Cleveland Orchestra, I’m sure that it too would have a Severance Hall and wider support.
    Why someone in Charlotte doesn’t ante up like Cleveland’s John Severances did…now that IS a matter of priorities.

  7. John Clark says:

    Initially, I found David Tang’s post about the irrelevancy of the arts and the ASC in Charlotte a challenge to get my mental arms around. I think I get it now. David seems to be saying that because an overwhelming number of citizens in Charlotte-Mecklenburg spend their “leisure and charitable time and money” in activities and events other than those supported by the Arts and Science Council, then those activities and, by association, the ASC are ‘irrelevant.’
    The implication is that unless an activity or an organization’s product consistently draws a large number of people (not sure how many would satisfy David’s criterion), then that activity or organization should….what?….. not exist? I believe that way of thinking moves the conversation about the arts and culture in Charlotte down a side road that may be interesting to think about but leaves very little traction from which to begin meaningful communication and change.
    Pablo Friere worked with peasants in a South American country (cannot remember which one now) to better their lives. The first objective was to increase the literacy rate. Rather than try to find funds and support to build school buildings, he organized teachers to go to the workers in the sugar cane fields and teach them there.
    The world and work of art makers (actors/actresses, dancers, musicians, writers, painters and poets, etc.) and the organizations to which many are attached here in Charlotte are not irrelevant. There are many, many people here who do art and thousands more who benefit from their creativity. Could the environment be better? Yes, indeed. But the place to begin any vision work around positive change is not one from scratch.
    I would urge that we keep the conversation focused on the here and now and take one step at a time.

  8. Mark says:

    In reference to Mr. Tang’s comments, there are no doubt people in the greater Charlotte area that can ante up like John Severance did for Cleveland long, long ago or what Norma Lehrer did just recently.
    These folks invested in an organization with a clear vision and purpose. Once upon a time the Cleveland was a regional band of part-time players but under dynamic leadership they became one of the top ensembles in the world.
    I think the money will flow if perhaps the arts organizations could articulate where they hope to be in five, ten, or twenty years. If the CSO in particular is just out to survive, then I don’t think any John Severance types will ante up! I’m no John Severance, but I support the CSO with gifts and attendance, still, I’d like to know what are the dreams and aspirations for the CSO. Money comes to “winning” institutions.
    This has been a good dialogue.

  9. David Tang says:

    Focusing on the Here and Now
    Fabulous! I love this dialogue; even it only remains the three of us!
    Let’s begin with the following from John’s last post: “The implication is that unless an activity or an organization’s product consistently draws a large number of people (not sure how many would satisfy David’s criterion), then that activity or organization should… what, not exist?”
    Well, uh…yeah.
    Or put another way: if we can’t raise enough support on our own to make the art that we want to make, maybe we should try making something else, maybe something as artistically fulfilling, but something…well, at least a little different.
    By the way, there’s my criterion: we need to make art that flips the equation on its head – art that generates enough private support (aka John Severance and Norma Lehrer – by the way Mark, what did Norma Lehrer give recently and to whom?) so that we don’t have to ask for money from the ASC, but instead FUND the ASC. In turn, the ASC would fund arts programs in every school throughout Char-Meck. The ASC could also find, support and nurture the next generation of Charlotte artists. Now, how’s that for positive vision?
    To my mind, accepting, understanding and conquering our irrelevance is not some side road to be ignored and avoided.
    In my humble opinion, it is THE ROAD to making art that TRULY matters, art that touches MILLIONS, not just thousands. It is the road that will help all Charlotte artists and organizations develop what Mark so poignantly describes as “clear vision and purpose,” especially in relationship to Charlotte at the turn of the 21s century. It is what will help us turn the discussion from the ASC and focus it on what kind of art Charlotte might possibly produce.
    So let’s talk vision: my next post will present a possible scenario for the arts in 2015. Yes the exercise is based on CROSSROAD CHARLOTTE’s 2015 Scenarios (if you’ve no idea what Crossroads Charlotte is, hop over to http://www.crossroadscharlotte.org/).
    Until then, keep on fighting the good fight.

  10. Mark says:

    Again, to reply to Mr. Tang’s inquiry. This probably isn’t relevant to folks around here but Norma Lerner gave $5 million to The Cleveland Orchestra. She’s a trustee of the Musical Arts Association.

  11. David Tang says:

    Mark –
    Actually, the information you provided about Ms. Lerner’s gift is VERY a propos to this discussion.
    The $5M private donation by Ms. Lerner helped the Cleveland Orchestra reduce increasing deficits that the orchestra has been accruing over the recent years.
    Were someone from Charlotte to “ante up” the equivalent to the Charlotte Symphony, they would have to donate something like $500K (one tenth of Ms. Lerner’s gift).
    As far as I know, no one has given the CSO anything like $500k, nor do I imagine that they will.
    The reason that the CSO has no Norma Lerner is that it, unlike the Cleveland Orchestra, suffers from a lack of vision.
    We (I include myself as part of the CSO family) didn’t and don’t make art that matters.
    That’s why I believe that our time in this tri-alogue (Mark, John and David) would be better spent discussing how to re-invent our art.
    Take for instance Chamber Music at St. Peter’s. Here is an organization that re-envisioned how they present great chamber music. Their concert format – convenient location, shortened performances, convenient time of day – has built an enthusiastic and ever-growing audience.
    Their Living Room Concerts are a HOOT AND A HOLLER, by all accounts (I’ve never actually been invited to one).
    Are there more innovations that, if adopted, could help build appreciation and support for chamber music? I bet there are.
    If anyone reading this has the chance, do try to go to Chamber Music at St. Peter’s concert this weekend: Sat., Mar. 9, 8:00 PM in the McGlohon Theatre at Spirit Square and see for yourselves!

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