One Charlotte art gallery has remained open in Charlotte throughout the COVID-19 crisis: the ArtPop Street Gallery, which provides a public platform for local artists on billboards, at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Northlake Mall, and on Uptown newspaper boxes, among other spaces. According to ArtPop founder and executive director Wendy Hickey, however, the organization may have to shut down for good at year’s end.
Since its founding in 2013, ArtPop has highlighted the work of 130 artists from Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. The organization has also expanded over the years to offer its annual class of 20 artists opportunities such as a two-day business class from Artist U and a new scholarship program in which one high school senior receives funding to help offset costs of pursuing their arts studies in college.
Now, after grant funding dried up at the end of 2019, Hickey fears that the Class of 2020 may be the last group of artists to enjoy the benefits of ArtPop.
According to Hickey, grants from the Knight Foundation and Foundation for the Carolinas have kept ArtPop’s Charlotte chapter going over the last two years, but those grants have expired. While Hickey relies on partnerships with companies like Adams Outdoor Advertising, Awedience Media and other donors to supply $3 million in advertising space for artists and sponsor some programs, she still needs around $95,000 a year to run the rest of ArtPop’s local programming and cover other expenses.
Hickey is now unsure of where that money will come from. She had originally hoped that it could come out of revenue from the potential arts tax, which would have funded $22.5 million in annual grants and spending for local artists and cultural organizations but failed on the ballot last November.
“When the arts tax didn’t pass in November, we knew we were going to have a long road ahead of us, but because our budget for Charlotte is so small, I just never imagined that it would continue to stay in the circumstances that we were in entering into 2020,” Hickey said during a phone call on Tuesday.
Though Hickey’s funding shortfall wasn’t caused by the recent COVID-19 crisis, it has only exacerbated the situation she finds the organization in now, she said.
“We entered into our 2020 year of ArtPop Charlotte under full faith that everything would get funded and we went ahead and moved forward with our program because we had the media sponsorships,” Hickey said. “So we offered our full program and portfolio of benefits under a deficit thinking that before long it would turn around, and that has not happened. Now with today’s circumstance that’s only amplified worse.”
The COVID-19 crisis has also affected ArtPop programs in Columbus, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia; although unlike in Charlotte, those programs are moving forward and have secured funding through 2020. The Triad-area program has been temporarily paused after a main sponsor pulled out due to COVID-19 concerns.
Here in Charlotte, Hickey is still applying for grants and has set up a GoFundMe campaign for donations of $10 and up to help float the organization until something more stable comes along. Hickey also recently launched ShopArtPop online to help create a new revenue stream.
She hopes that her consistent conversations with Knight Foundation will prove fruitful and expects to find out more in the next two weeks, but if not, she expects that ArtPop is near its end.
According to a survey of ArtPop alumni, 89% of ArtPop artists grew their audience through the program, 85% grew their connections in the community, and more than half saw a growth in sales through ArtPop-related events.
During our phone call, Hickey got emotional discussing the potential for the ArtPop Charlotte Class of 2020 to be its last one.
“We’re at 130 artists that we’ve promoted since 2013 in the Charlotte region, and seeing those artists’ careers and lives change from the simplest aspect of confidence all the way to becoming full-time artists due to being featured in the program, it’s just been amazing,” she said. “After seven years, I just hope that we can continue to offer this to make our city more beautiful and to support local artists, who are going to need us more than they ever have right now.”