Prominent NC arts group apologizes for perpetuating inequities against minorities

Joe Marusak
·4 min read

The Arts & Science Council, one of Charlotte’s most prominent cultural groups, apologized Tuesday for what it said was its role in perpetuating and worsening inequities against Blacks and other minorities.

In a 34-page Cultural Equity report, council leaders detailed how ASC funding decisions led to inequitable support of Black-led and other minority cultural organizations and artists in the region over the years.

“ASC has been complicit in upholding funding practices that elevate certain cultures, creative traditions, identities and art forms above others,” the agency said in its report. The organization “was created to fund 8 white, Western Eurocentric organizations with unrestricted dollars to support their operations.

“Those organizations still exist today: Charlotte Choral Society (Carolina Voices), Charlotte Symphony, Charlotte Nature Museum (now Discovery Place Nature), Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, The Mint Museum, Theatre Charlotte, Oratorio Singers (now part of the Charlotte Symphony) and Opera Carolina,” the report said.

The report also outlined how the ASC has worked to diminish the inequities through stronger support of Black, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American artists, cultures and communities, “ALAANA” for short.

“It is important to apologize, acknowledge and accept accountability for the role ASC has played in creating and perpetuating systems and structures that have exacerbated inequities in our cultural community and beyond,” ASC acting president Krista Terrell said in announcing the release of the report.

The apology comes as the ASC and arts and culture groups in general continue to be battered by the economy and coronavirus-related shut-downs. It was only last week that Blumenthal Performing Arts, for instance, announced that its Broadway touring season would resume in August.

In Tuesday’s ASC statement, Terrell said: “Our intent is that the report honestly reflects the steps — and missteps — we have taken on our path to becoming an organization where our commitment to equity is reflected in everything we do.”

That includes everything from ASC funding investments in the community to the makeup of its staff and board, she said.

Terrell was named to her post in January, days before Jeep Bryant’s resignation as head of the council was scheduled to take effect. An ASC veteran of nearly 19 years, Terrell will hold the post until an interim president is named.

Krista Terrell is acting president of the Arts & Science Council.
Krista Terrell is acting president of the Arts & Science Council.

‘A lot of work to do’

Susan Patterson, who chairs the ASC board, said the organization has “a lot of work to do in the equity space.” Issuing an annual Cultural Equity report helps to hold the group accountable, she said. “We ask for the residents of our community to hold us accountable as well,” Patterson added.

The apology followed similar statements by other prominent Charlotte area institutions dealing with race, inequity and history, including:

Charlotte-based Truist, the sixth-largest commercial bank in the United States. In July 2020, the bank apologized for and denounced its predecessor banks’ roles in slavery. The bank apologized in a letter sent to employees.

And Davidson College, which apologized in August 2020 for supporting slavery during its first 30 years in the 19th century. In a statement, the college also apologized for “its embrace of the racist laws and policies” in subsequent decades.

ASC says grants favored whites

The ASC is a funding pass-through agency, and began in 1958 as the Charlotte Arts Fund.

For decades, as it gave operating grants primarily to white groups, the report said, The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in uptown was the only minority-run organization to receive such grants consistently.

Families enjoy an exhibit at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. The center has been the only African, Latinx, Asian, Arab or Native American organization to receive operating support grants consistently from the Arts & Science Council, ASC officials said.
Families enjoy an exhibit at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. The center has been the only African, Latinx, Asian, Arab or Native American organization to receive operating support grants consistently from the Arts & Science Council, ASC officials said.

Such organizations have received just 3.4% of ASC operating support funds since 1991, according to the report. That’s $8 million out of $235 million in total investments over that span.

In ASC’s history of awarding such operating grants, only nine of 61 recipients have been for minority groups, according to the report.

Over the years for public art commissions, the agency said $16.3 million went to 157 white artists, while nearly $5.1 million went to 44 artists of color.

And it wasn’t until 2017 that the ASC made its first operating support grants to LGBTQ organizations, in that instance, One Voice Chorus and Gay Men’s Chorus, the report said.

Helping cultural organizations

ASC officials said ongoing efforts to address such disparities are improving — an imperative given the county’s rapidly changing racial makeup.

Since a 2015 ASC grant-making task force highlighted disparities in who received the organization’s support, the agency said it has:

Nearly doubled the number of organizations receiving operating support grants, from 20 to 37, including six minority-led. And two of those organizations were new to the applicant pool this year. By comparison, the Gantt Center was the only such organization to receive an operating support grant in 2016.

Decreased awards to the largest organizations by nearly $2.5 million, while increasing what’s given to small and mid-sized arts and cultural groups by $470,000.

Made cultural equity, access and inclusion keys to receiving such grants.

Launched a more equitable allocation model this year through which ALAANA organizations received an equity supplement that increased their grant amounts by 33%.

Led racial-equity, leadership and other workshops to help organizations build more-diverse staff and boards and community programming.