The arts fill our lives with an enchantment reminiscent to what we find in fairytales and epics. Now, as unfortunate as it is, we are risk of losing the closest thing we have to magic. Donations to the Arts and Science Council, a Charlotte-based non-profit organization that is responsible for distributing grants to other cultural organizations, have been falling. Some of you might wonder how this affects you, if at all. I’m here to tell you that art has a bigger impact on your life than you might know. Aside from my wide-eyed, admittedly sappy viewpoint, there is much more to be said about what our cultural institutions do to better our community. Our museums, theaters, and studios garner economic growth, cultural understanding, and educational opportunities.
First things first: we need to go over the logistics. Funding for arts organizations in Charlotte are dropping at rapid rates. Workplace donations to the Arts and Science Council came in at a dismal $2.1 million last year, a stark difference from the $7.9 million that was made in 2007. I shudder to think what will become of our cultural sector if this trend continues. Luckily, we have the opportunity to keep Charlotte’s arts scene thriving. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners has announced the possibility of a quarter-cent tax increase that would go to various noble causes throughout the county. Although this might not seem like much, it is predicted to bring in $50 million in 2021. Of this money, 45 percent would go to the Arts and Science Council, 34 percent to maintain parks and greenways, 16 percent would go to schools and educational programs, and five percent would service town parks. I’m not the only one who thinks these are worthy causes. “These are all quality of life things,” said Armando Bellmas, Vice President of Marketing and Operations at McColl Center for Art + Innovation. “We all benefit from our parks, schools, and arts organizations, so our community would be strengthened through this tax referendum." A community election will take place on Nov. 5 to decide whether this tax increase will pass. Everyone is welcome to cast a vote.
Why should we care? For one, our cultural institutions are responsible for great economic growth within our community and beyond. According to Americans for the Arts, “the nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $2.12 billion industry in the State of North Carolina.” Charlotte is a large contributing factor to this number. Our community has become a hotspot for tourists due to our vast array of cultural institutions. This has caused our local economy to benefit greatly. According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 National Economic Impact Study, our arts sector is “generating $31.5 million in local and state government revenues.” Also, over 11,180 individuals within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region are fully-employed by an arts-based organization. These numbers are hardly something to scoff at. If we make a point to foster our cultural sector, these numbers will rise. This means we will have an increase in money flowing into our community and job opportunities for our fellow Charlotteans.
The arts also benefit us in more profound ways. We live in a time where our political and cultural opinions completely polarize us. It seems like the longer this trend goes on, the more deaf we become to the lives of the ones we call neighbors. I consider art to be a cultural facilitator. Individuals can express their opinions, stories, and heartaches through painting, dancing, or any form of artistic expression they choose. Then, all we have to do is observe. This allows us a safe way to begin understanding each other in a way that is far more cathartic than the needless arguing that surrounds us. In fact, a study from Americans for the Arts found that 91% of individuals in the UK that participate in art-based programs report forming meaningful connections with fellow participants. Charlotte is an amazing melting pot of people from different places, all with a unique story to tell. Luckily, artistic expression is not reserved for a certain group of people. All genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds are not just invited to share, but encouraged to. I can think of no better way to bring understanding and acceptance to our community than allowing individuals to express themselves through art.
Our arts organizations also help us grow from an educational standpoint. Art teaches new and innovative ways of thinking, thus opening our eyes to a whole new way to learn. Some may struggle to see the connection between education and art, but there is a strong and pretty astounding link between the two. According to the Art of Education University, students who participated in arts learning while in school had “higher GPAs and lower dropout rates.” Standardized test scores were also higher for these students. As impressive as this is, the educational growth we experience stems well beyond that classroom. “Arts and music programs teach children how to form social bonds that you build when you’re on a team, “ said Michelle Hamilton, CFRE, Charlotte Symphony Interim President and Chief Executive Officer. “You learn that together we can create something that is so much bigger than what we could create as individuals, and those are important life lessons.” Through artistic experiences we also develop complex problem solving and critical thinking skills as well as emotional intelligence, this according to National Art Education Association. These truly invaluable skills are essential to living a thoughtful and intellectually rich life.
The arts have a significant impact on our community and everyone in it. Whether we realize it or not, in one way or another, we are all benefiting from our arts organizations. Voting in favor of this tax referendum on Nov. 5 will be our way of giving back to the organizations that have given so much to us. We should view this tax as an opportunity to strengthen Charlotte’s spirited culture.Without the weight of economic restraints, the possibilities for innovation and enrichment are immeasurable. Let’s vote to be bold. Let’s vote to be curious. Let’s vote to keep art alive.