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Charlotte arts groups hit hard by smaller ASC grants

June 18, 2009

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    June 18, 2009
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    Opera Carolina News

Charlotte arts groups hit hard by smaller ASC grants

Cultural groups had been bracing for the news, and Wednesday it came: Many of them will see their financial support from the Arts & Science Council cut next season by 25 percent or more.

The ASC, whose fundraising has been hit hard by the recession, put notices in the mail Wednesday. Some groups' leaders couldn't wait. They went to the ASC's office on West Trade Street to pick up the letters themselves.

Of 10 leading groups canvassed Wednesday by the Observer, Children's Theatre of Charlotte suffered the least, receiving a cut of 22 percent. Opera Carolina, with a cut of 33 percent, was hit hardest.

All the groups fared better than the Charlotte Symphony, which learned last month the ASC is reducing its grant by more than half from this season's $1,947,424. ASC president Lee Keesler said then that the group, which has had several years of deficits, is "not economically viable as is."

ASC leaders, who declined to release a list of next season's grants, were not available for comment Wednesday.

This year's ASC campaign brought in pledges of about $7million, 37 percent less than last year's $11.2 million. It cut more than $1 million from its own costs, then told groups that grant reductions were inevitable.

Many groups started making cuts without waiting for the specifics. Programming was trimmed. Employees were laid off. Salaries were frozen or cut. Furloughs were mandated.

The McColl Center for Visual Art learned Wednesday it will receive $400,000 next season - a cut of about 25 percent from this year's $538,000.

"It's actually a great relief that it's not worse," president Suzanne Fetscher said.

Opera Carolina's $500,000 grant represents a cut of about $245,000, an announcement from the company said.

"We're going to have to go to our donor base and see what we can raise," general director James Meena said.

Many groups are still waiting to hear about how much support they'll get next season from the N.C. Arts Council and other sources, Meena noted.

Besides raising money and cutting costs, Meena said, the company will push the idea that arts lovers can help cultural groups by buying tickets.

"I'd rather that someone buy a subscription," Meena said, "instead of sending us a check for $50 and never seeing a performance."

Charlotte-area cultural groups began learning Wednesday how much financial support they'll receive from the Arts & Science Council beginning July 1, when they start the new fiscal year. Here are some of the area's leading groups and how they fared:

Actor's Theatre of Charlotte: Its $45,000 grant is about 27 percent less than this year, executive director Dan Shoemaker said. The cut was roughly as expected. Money-saving measures include dropping one play and leaning toward smaller-scale shows.

Afro-American Cultural Center: It will receive $200,000, about 23percent less than this year, interim president Carolyn Mints said. The group had expected a sharper cut.

Blumenthal Performing Arts Center: Its $360,000 is about 25 percent less, president Tom Gabbard said. Because ticket sales are strong, he said, the center is "not expecting any significant changes in plans."

Charlotte Symphony: The symphony's grant will be cut more than 50 percent from this season's $1,947,424. The orchestra began fundraising and cost cutting. By instituting a $5 suggested donation for adults at its Summer Pops concerts at SouthPark, the orchestra collected a total of nearly $57,000 at the first two performances.

Children's Theatre of Charlotte: Its $500,000 is a decrease of about 22 percent, executive director Bruce LaRowe said. Cost-cutting moves have included eliminating two jobs, salary cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent, and a weeklong furlough.

Discovery Place: Its $975,000 is a cut of about 26 percent, vice president Debra Smul said. The science center has trimmed hours and expenses.

McColl Center for Visual Art: Its $400,000 grant is about 25 percent less than this year's, president Suzanne Fetscher said. Cost-saving has included cutting next season's exhibition schedule and bringing fewer artists for residencies.

Mint Museums: Its $1,250,000 is about 31 percent less than this year, executive director Phil Kline said. The cut is larger than the group expected. A recent N.C. law allowing groups to draw on the principal of their endowment may help offset it, Kline said.

N.C. Dance Theatre: Its grant of about $712,000 is a cut of about 25percent. That's better than the 30 percent cut the group had expected, executive director Doug Singleton said. Cost cutting has included scheduling works that save on royalty payments for choreography. The 18 dancers will probably have four fewer weeks of work next season, Singleton said.

Opera Carolina: Its $500,000 is a cut of about 33 percent. It will reach out to donors for help, general director James Meena said. If that falls short, options include spending less on sets, as the company did during the past season, or postponing an opera as a last resort.

Theatre Charlotte: Its $100,000 is a cut of about 28 percent, executive director Ron Law said. Belt-tightening has included cutting salaries, suspending its second-stage series, hiring fewer guest artists and scheduling smaller-scale shows.

By Steven Brown
Charlotte Observer

Mark Washburn and Lawrence Toppman contributed.