News Column

Donations down, ASC cuts field trips for pupils

July 29, 2014

By Mark Washburn, The Charlotte Observer

July 29--Facing an $800,000 shortfall in donations for this year's fund drive, the Arts & Science Council announced Tuesday it would suspend its support for public school field trips to Charlotte cultural venues, including the science museum Discovery Place.

Begun four years ago as the recession gripped Charlotte and the school system slashed its budget, the annual grant paid for school bus trips allowing thousands of students to visit museums and attend educational performances by the Charlotte Symphony and other groups.

It was meant to be a temporary solution to connecting pupils to the venues until the economy rebounded and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools could afford to resume paying for the trips, said Robert Bush, ASC president.

"Donors that gave us temporary increases to do that said that was a temporary fix," he said. "They were looking for the school system to step back up. They're disappointed and we're disappointed too."

Last year, more than 51,000 Mecklenburg students participated in field trips at a cost of $338,000, largely underwritten by donors to the ASC. Other major contributors included Wells Fargo, UNC Charlotte and CMS.

Trips ranged from the Children's Theatre of Charlotte Taradiddle Players performing "Brother Rabbit Spinning Free" for elementary students to seventh graders visiting the Mint Museum Uptown, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with curriculum in history, social studies and language arts.

CMS officials were in an all-day workshop Tuesday and couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

STEM subjects covered

At Discovery Place last year, the program brought 10,800 Mecklenburg sixth graders from 40 schools and 400 classrooms who experienced robotics curriculum and other so-called STEM subject exposure, for science, technology, engineering and math.

"We hope the school district and their partners will find a way to let the students have this great experience they've had over the years," said Catherine Wilson Horne, president of Discovery Place.

Horne said that after field trips were cut back four years ago, Discovery Place increased its science outreach program, which now reaches about 50,000 students through educators who bring exhibitions into the classrooms.

Overall, Discovery Place serves about 90,000 children a year from the two Carolinas and Virginia, she said.

Fund-raising campaign

This year, the ASC set a goal of raising $6.9 million, which fell 12 percent short.

Bush said that workplace giving campaigns, which have been in decline for years, continued to fall. Major corporate gifts were down this year too, though it was largely the result of companies involved in mergers or acquisitions.

In addition to cutting the school field trips, ASC reduced internal staff by leaving vacant positions open and cut grants to recipients like festivals, Bush said.

In all, the ASC announced grants to 57 organizations ranging from $1 million to the Mint Museum of Art for operations to $1,850 to Silent Images Inc. to teach photography to homeless children.

Mecklenburg's six suburban towns each received $5,000 for arts projects ranging from the Hello Huntersville Music & Arts Festival to a public art sculpture for Davidson called "The Dancer."

Positive trends in drive

But Bush said there were several encouraging trends from this year's drive:

--For the first time since 2009, operating grants to major organizations like uptown museums, the symphony and ballet were stable year over year. In the last five years, ASC operating support to such organizations had declined 41 percent.

--Donations from real estate, developers and construction companies were 152 percent of goal, reflecting the comeback in those industries.

--A $50,000 increase was recorded in individual donations outside the workplace-giving campaigns.

--Donations from small businesses and from professional services companies like law firms and accountants were at 106 percent of goal.

"Overall we feel good by the dollars we generated this year," Bush said. "It's not everything we'd hoped for but it wasn't as tight as past years."


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Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)

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