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Charlottes Cultural System - From the Community - To the Community

by Lee Keesler

November 3,2004

Consider, for a moment, the time-tested Charlotte business that still brims with opportunity.  Here are just a few of its selling points:

• customers use its products close to 3 million times in a fiscal year
• investors number 40,000 annually
• it generates $100 million in economic impact, putting the potential price tag for this business at a half billion dollars or more
• over 2000 jobs created
• more than 8000 dedicated volunteers ensure its success

I am referring to the cultural system that we enjoy in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

What is the cultural system? The cultural system that exists in our city is a gift from the community, to the community. Cultural organizations, individual and corporate donors, businesses, government, artists, educators and patrons are all play important roles in this vibrant and essential enterprise. Arts, science and history organizations provide considerable benefits to our region. It is difficult to find anyone whose life isn't enhanced by them both personally and economically. From young people touring a science exhibit or hearing their first orchestra concert to thousands who visit museums or attend opening nights at the theatre, these organizations host more than 55,000 events annually that educate, enlighten, enrich and entertain. Beyond the obvious, our cultural organizations provide untold contributions to the quality of life in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The cultural system increases capital on many fronts. It brings workplace capital to the region as an attractor of new companies. It is an incubator for new social capital, encouraging citizens to become involved in important community issues. It helps us retain intellectual capital and transforms it into creative capital, one of the many keys to a thriving community.

Why should we pay attention to our cultural system? Charlotte has enjoyed incredible growth over the last 25 years and investment in the cultural system has played a pivotal role. Culture has helped our city move forward. The Cultural Action Plan of 1976 detailed recommendations for a science museum, studio space for artists and an Afro-American Cultural and Service Center, just to name a few. Today, when we look at Charlotte's Center City, institutions such as Discovery Place, the McColl Center for Visual Art and Afro-American Cultural Center are monuments of forward thinking and careful planning. In 1958, when the Arts & Science Council (ASC) was formed, the $63,000 it raised supported eight anchor cultural organizations. Today, the ASC will reinvest more than $13 million back into the system to help support 27 cultural organizations, individual artists and community organizations that provide neighborhood cultural programs.

How will the cultural system navigate the next 25 years? Clearly, our unique cultural system makes Charlotte a better place to live, work, play, visit, move to and raise a family. A new cultural facilities plan for the next 25 years has been completed and presents ideas ranging from a renovated Discovery Place to a new 1200-seat theater and the creation of a new museum housing a collection of modern art courtesy of the philanthropic spirit of Andreas Bechtler. Business leaders, cultural leaders and elected officials are engaged in dialogue that could mean a dynamic new face for our cultural institutions and a renewed focus on the importance of cultural infrastructure. The time is now to champion the increasing needs of our art, science and history groups so they remain state-of-the-art and poised to meet the demands of our growing community for years to come. Historically, support of culture has proven to be a sound investment with high returns. At ASC, we continue to advance the system in hopes of leaving it better for the generations that follow us. We respectfully thank all those who contribute to this cultural enterprise and make it work for the greater good with gifts from the community, to the community.

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