Dire challenges for cultural groups cited during forum

mwashburn@charlotteobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

More Charlotte cultural groups may fail unless they adapt to modern realities about how to finance themselves, said Pat Riley, co-chairman of a task force examining arts and science underwriting.

Riley’s remarks, during a forum Tuesday night sponsored by WFAE-FM (90.7) at Spirit Square, come in the aftermath of a reorganization of the Light Factory photography museum and the Charlotte Museum of History, both beset by financial problems since the economic downturn.

“I think some organizations will fail, just like some businesses didn’t make it,” said Riley, president of Allen Tate Co. and one of the leaders of the Cultural Life Task Force, which is examining how other cities support cultural institutions. Recommendations from the task force are expected in January.

Charlotte’s key cultural groups – which include high-profile organizations like the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Mint Museum and Discovery Place – have been squeezed financially since the recession. Donations to the Arts & Science Council, for example, have fallen 30 percent since 2007, led by a steep decline in workplace giving programs.

Riley said the cultural sector is vital to Charlotte’s economic vitality, both because it helps in recruiting new businesses and because it has a major impact through salaries and spending. “It is as major as a Duke Energy, as a Carolinas Medical,” he said. “It’s big business.”

Jim Warren, executive director of the Carolina Raptor Center, said his nonprofit – the largest raptor hospital in the nation – saw its budget shrivel by nearly a third during the recession, but his patients kept on coming. “Those birds don’t come to us with the Affordable Care Act insurance,” he said.

Kathleen Jameson, president of the Mint Museum, said that despite declining financial support, the public is making more requests for services like tours and outreach. New ways to underwrite the arts in the region must be found, she said. “We are in a time of turbulent change.”

Washburn: 704-358-5007

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