Council QuickiesNews & Opinion

Council Quickies: Arts & Culture Policy Framework Stirs Debate

Feb. 27, 2023

The new Charlotte City Council stands behind the dais.
Charlotte City Council is sworn in. From left: New rep Marjorie Molina, incumbent Renee Johnson, incumbent Dimple Ajmera, returning rep James ‘Smuggie’ Mitchell, incumbent Braxton Winston, returning rep LaWana Mayfield, Mayor Vi Lyles, new rep Dante Anderson, incumbent Malcolm Graham, incumbent Tariq Bokhari, incumbent Victoria Watlington, and incumbent Ed Driggs. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Charlotte City Council met for a business meeting on Monday night, with much of the discussion centering around the Arts & Culture Policy Framework, which provides the Arts & Culture Advisory Board with Charlotte City Council’s priorities in creating the city’s Arts & Culture Plan, which is expected this summer.

Dimple Ajmera was not present on Monday night, having recently given birth to her second child, nor was James “Smuggie” Mitchell. 

Council will come together again for a day of committee meetings on Monday, March 6, followed by a meeting that evening to synopsize those meetings. There’s also a budget workshop scheduled for March 9 and another business meeting on March 13.


Action Review/Consent Agenda

Before passing the consent agenda, LaWana Mayfield asked if city staff yet know where they plan to install speed cushions, traffic-calming devices for which council will approve $350K in spending, and was told that data is still being studied and no final decisions have been made.

Mayfield also asked what “good faith efforts” were made to entertain a Small Business Enterprise (SBE) or Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) before awarding $9.2 million to ALS of North Carolina, which does not meet SBE or MBE goals, to maintain and manage local traffic infrastructure.

Steven Coker with the city’s Office of Charlotte Business Inclusion told Mayfield that the lowest bidder that met MBE/SBE goals offered a bid that was $2.5 million higher than that of ALS of NC.

Assistant City Manager Reenie Askew gave a presentation on the city’s work to increase digital inclusion, a project called Access Charlotte that launched in November 2020.

Since then, they’ve piloted public, open Wi-Fi solutions in 1,735 households at 14 multifamily sites, four public spaces and two community centers; supported eight Learning Labs and devices; and piloted a 311 Digital Navigators Program for tech support.

There are an estimated 56,000+ homes in Charlotte without high-speed internet and 71,000 CMS students who qualify for Access Charlotte programming.

Public Forum

Dominic Harris kicked off the public forum by reminding council that city employees with Charlotte Water, which he works for, are still forced to work side jobs to survive after working 40-hour weeks.

He was followed by activist Kass Ottley, who echoed Harris’ sentiment, saying that rent inflation is making it impossible for city workers to live in city limits. “They keep the city running and we need to put forward to help them live and thrive in this city.”

Kass Ottley of Seeking Justice CLT
Kass Ottley at a memorial gathering for George Floyd at Marshall Park in 2020. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The next speaker requested a left-turn signal on both sides of Hawthorne Avenue at Central Avenue after she was involved in a recent wreck at that intersection and was told by law enforcement that it happens there all the time. 

Kimberly Helms addressed council about voter disenfranchisement in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), as residents there do not have a vote in Charlotte City Council elections despite the fact that council does vote on rezoning and developments in those areas.

Arts & Culture Policy Framework

Council was scheduled to vote last night on an Arts and Culture Policy Framework, which will establish guidelines for #CLTCC decision-making, policy development and investments related to arts and culture. The city released its State of Culture Report earlier on Monday, which you can download here

Ed Driggs explained that a top priority for building this framework was to ensure that funding will continue for the city’s larger arts and entertainment venues that the city actually owns, but to also ensure equity and diversity in funding opportunities.

Susan Patterson, a board member with ASC Charlotte addressed council about the importance of her organization, which would be phased out of its role as a local arts funding organization based on the policy framework. She said ASC is not, as the framework suggests, “just a grant-making organization.” She says, “We are more than that … It is our job to ensure that there really is culture for all in this community.” 

The next speaker, Ricky Woods with the Arts & Culture Advisory Board, encouraged council to reconsider removing ASC as a beneficiary of arts funding in years to come, stating its importance in Charlotte’s arts scene.

Patsy Burkins with Charlotte Community Services Assoc., which provides after-school programming for at-risk youth: “We are well acquainted with Charlotte’s arts community … I ask that you keep in mind that ASC has evolved into the leading supporter of grassroots artists.”

Caroline Calouche of Caroline Calouche & Co., whom we profiled earlier this month, said the plan to defund ASC has come as a shock to many in the arts community. “We need their help, we need their guidance.” 

Arsena Schroeder
Arsena Todd Schroeder. (Photo by Andrea Orr)

Arsena Todd Schroeder said she couldn’t have accomplished all that she has without ASC, adding they are not just grant-makers but community organizers. “Why would city council even consider cutting funding support for Charlotte’s local arts agency?”

Anne Lambert with Charlotte’s Off-Broadway also spoke in support of ASC Charlotte. “Their mission includes funding small, grassroots, independent artists who often do not have funding available to other larger institutions.”

Visual artist and curator Justin Hicks with Loyd Visuals said, “I have many organizations to thank in all of my endeavors, but one in particular: ASC … My hope is that as this policy framework comes to fruition, the Arts and Culture Board sees the value of ASC.”

Local activist and creative Hector Vaca said ASC has recently become the top local funder for artists of color and he believes this didn’t sit well with Charlotte’s larger arts institutions, leading to the decision to defund it.

Following the public forum, Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston said “I feel you” to the many creatives in the crowd, as he is someone who has long worked in the industry. He said he sometimes works with companies that ASC funds, “but there is much, much more that we can do.”

“This is not something that has snuck up on the Arts & Science Council,” Winston said. “We have been engaging with the entire community but make no mistake, this is city council’s policy guidance. What the 11 of us have come up with. Staff needs to understand what council’s priorities are so they can make the funding decisions.” 

“I hope that in this conversation you don’t lose sight of the fact that we went from $3.4 million in arts funding to $12 million,” said Ed Driggs, adding that this new policy does not preclude anyone who currently receives funding from ASC from continuing to receive funding. 

Woods said the Arts & Culture Advisory Board met last Tuesday then received word from city staff on Thursday that “everything had changed” re: the council’s framework and he and his colleagues were taken by surprise in the midst of their work.

Council member Renee Johnson moved to defer the vote on the policy framework until some of the questions raised could be resolved. Driggs said this has been in the works for years and there has been lots of community outreach so he didn’t see the point in deferring.

Mayfield seconded Johnson’s substitute motion to defer, as she did not like the idea of setting a precedent in which the city reaches out to community members and spends all that time doing outreach only to then release a framework that goes against the community’s wishes.

The motion to defer got 5 votes and did not pass. The motion to adopt the policy framework as presented got 6 votes and was passed.

Other Business Items

Council approved annexation of a parcel of land they’re calling Avery Place in southwest Charlotte. The 7.24-acre property located east of Interstate 485, along the north side of Shopton Road and the east side of Steele Creek Road will host 58-single family attached homes.

Two other annexations: a 17.56-acre Evolve Northlake property located south of Interstate 485 and east of Northlake Centre Parkway in northern Mecklenburg County that will host 336 multi-family units and a 3.32-acre Mallard Wood property in northeastern Mecklenburg for five single-family homes.

Council approved acceptance of $6.6M from NC DOT for a Rea Road widening project from I-485 to Williams Pond Lane, as well as $998K for street lighting along W.T. Harris Blvd. for eight miles from Mount Holly Huntersville Road to I-485.

Council approved appropriation of $3.9M from the Emergency Rental Assistance program provided by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and authorized the city manager to administer those funds to support housing stability for residents with an emphasis on “large-scale displacement events.”

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