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N.C. Arts Groups Reel From Funding Cuts

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Arts organizations in this area of traditionally rich culture are suffering as the result of a county board's $2.5 million defunding of the Charlotte-based Arts and Sciences Council.

The Mecklenberg County Board of Commissioners--in apparent right-wing frustration over Charlotte Repertory Theatre's play productions which included a Pulitzer Prize winner with homosexual content--devastated the county's arts funding in April. The board then stipulated that arts organizations could apply directly to the county board on an individual basis.

But political infighting led on June 17 to the board's denying all applications. As a result, the only arts funding approved by the board was a previous contractual obligation of $1.2 million for facilities maintenance and for the Cultural Education Center initiative at Spirit Square, a downtown Charlotte performance facility. But without a separately requested $400,000 for repairs and renovations to make the space safe for children, the initiative--a collaboration between Spirit Square, Children's Theatre of Charlotte, and the Charlotte-Mecklenberg public schools--remains in doubt.

Further Repercussions

Also, the Arts and Sciences Council has canceled First Night, the popular New Year's Eve celebration which drew over 65,000 people to downtown Charlotte last year.

North Carolina Dance Theatre has announced that its production of "The Nutcracker" will be performed to taped music this year, since the company won't be able to afford to have the Charlotte Symphony in the pit. The Symphony, which counted on those revenues to fund other operations, is now examining its performance and touring options.

Meanwhile, Charlotte Repertory Theatre is canceling its program of free or reduced tickets for seniors and students, escalating prices an average of eight percent, and is evaluating the viability of its educational and outreach program.

The popular downtown museum Discovery Place, which last year provided free admission to more than 100,000 local and regional grade school children, will now have to charge each child $2.25.

The suspension of renovations at Spirit Square leaves in doubt the future of Actors' Theatre of Charlotte and other small companies who use performance spaces within the facility. Actors' Theatre was dealt an earlier blow when the Arts and Sciences Council allocated $12,000 in May for a production of "Dream of a Common Language"--with a contingency clause forbidding nudity in the performance. "Dream" deals with a 19th-century woman painter's attempts to paint male nudes and challenge the artistic gender presumptions of her day. This was the first time the council had ever placed such a contingency clause on an arts grant.

The Mecklenberg County funding cut came despite appeals from civic leaders, arts organizations, and a petition drive by an emergent political action committee. The Committee of One Thousand for Public Funding of the Arts and Sciences presented over 1,200 signatures on a petition favoring arts funding to a county board meeting on June 9.

Across the state, the Board of Commissioners in Guilford County initially reduced arts funding by $45,000 following a May production of "La Cage aux Folles" by Community Theatre of Greensboro, but later restored that amount through arts funding for local schools.

A Proposed State Law

On a related note, a proposed law by North Carolina state senator Sam Ellis (R-Wake County) would give city and county governments the ability to block state grants for art works they find objectionable. While city councils and county commissioners have always controlled local municipal arts, this bill would now give them the ability to block funds allocated to arts organizations by state agencies, including the North Carolina Arts Council. The bill has been included in the N.C. House of Representatives' version of the state budget; the N.C. State House and Senate are presently negotiating on differences between the two budgetary r

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