July 07--Uptown's Gantt Center suddenly has 100,000 reasons to increase its membership.
Duke Energy Foundation says it will donate $100,000 to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture if the center increases its membership rolls in the next year from about 700 people to 1,974 -- a target pegged to the 1974 founding of the museum as the Afro-American Cultural Center.
"This would be a transformative grant for us," says David Taylor, Gantt's president, who believes it would be one of the largest gifts in the center's 40-year history.
Announcement of Duke's challenge grant comes at the same time the Arts & Science Council is expected to release the results of the annual $6.9 million fundraising drive, which was about 10 percent behind its goal in June. Workplace giving results, once the foundation of the drive, lagged again this year.
Taylor says that the decline in workplace giving is one reason to expand the membership base. Individual memberships for the Gantt cost $50 a year, the same as memberships at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Discovery Place. At the Mint Museum of Art, annual memberships cost $60; at the Levine Museum of the New South, they are $35.
Taylor says the museum will look for new members through drives at churches, workplaces and social groups, including fraternities and sororities.
Taylor says that the growing population of Charlotte gives the center an opportunity to reach people who may not be aware of the Gantt's artistic and cultural offerings. "It's really about community engagement," he says. "So many people are moving to Charlotte -- the question is how do we get these people engaged?"
Richard "Stick" Williams, president of the Duke Energy Foundation, says that the challenge grant would help ensure the Gantt's long-term success, though it would require the museum to more than double its membership.
"This is a tall order," Williams says. "Unfortunately, most of the cultural organizations have had a tough time reaching the individual givers."
Williams, who was also the chairman of the ASC drive this year, says he was dismayed that corporate giving has continued to decline markedly, a trend that has accelerated since the recession was fully felt in Charlotte in 2008.
"Maybe I was a little too optimistic," Williams says. "We did continue to see a downward spiral."
A task force studying ways to help underwrite the region's cultural mainstays released recommendations last month that included getting local governments more involved in underwriting the arts.
Already, Mecklenburg County commissioners have endorsed a referendum for the November ballot to raise the county's 7.25 percent sales tax by a quarter-cent with most of the money going for teacher raises. But about 12 percent was earmarked for cultural groups and libraries.
"That the county even broached the subject on the sales tax was encouraging to me," Williams says.
Taylor says the center was notified last week by the ASC that it will receive about $180,000 from the ASC this fiscal year for operating support, the same amount as last year.
At the Mint Museum, with a membership of about 4,000, increasing members is a priority as well for the fiscal year that began last week. To create value in joining, the Mint is increasing the use of additional admission fees for special exhibitions, like "Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939" that ran last winter and the current "Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment."
A publicity campaign will soon be launched showing how visitors intending to visit four special exhibitions this year can save about $40 by taking a $60 membership rather than paying repeated guest fees, says Mint spokeswoman Leigh Dyer.
Among the recommendations by the Cultural Life Task Force, a yearlong study released last month about ways to sustain cultural destinations, is for organizations to increase efforts cultivate patrons and donors.
Gantt's anniversary year
In marking its 40th anniversary year, the Gantt will be holding a jazz gala Dec. 6 at the Charlotte Convention Center sponsored by PNC Bank.
On July 12, the center will open "40 and Counting," with works and artifacts from the Gantt's permanent collection and works on loan from collectors and other institutions. Among the artists featured will be Simone Lee, Jim Alexander, Susan Harbage Page, Elizabeth Catlett, Juan Logan and African art from Duke University'sNasher Museum.
Also on exhibit will be pictures from the John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art, which was presented to the Gantt by Bank of America when the center opened its new South Tryon Street building five years ago.
This week, the center will also announce its schedule for the Gantt Symposium in October at the Knight Theater, expected to feature the artist, actor, lyricist and philanthropist known as Common, who has been called the "king of conscious hip-hop."
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