An arts advocacy group in Charlotte, North Carolina, is facing backlash after it apologized for funding ‘white, Western Eurocentric organizations’ including the city’s symphony, ballet and children’s theater.
The Arts & Science Council, which has been a main source of funding for art and culture groups in the Charlotte area since 1958, issued the extraordinary apology in a February report examining its funding practices.
The report called out the fact that black and minority groups have historically received far less funding from ASC than white organizations, while highlighting the steps the council has taken to alleviate those inequities.
‘ASC has been complicit in upholding funding practices that elevate certain cultures, creative traditions, identities and art forms above others,’ it read.
The report drew outrage from leaders at the so-called ‘white, Western Eurocentric organizations’ and others who said it perpetuated the stereotype that certain art forms are only for certain people and diminished the work of those organizations.
ASC Acting President Krista Terrell condemned critics of the report and accompanying apology in a blog post last week entitled ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’.
‘While I knew the facts in the report were startling, I never thought I would experience so intimately the uncomfortableness, the defensiveness, and the scaredness of white people reacting to the unvarnished truth,’ Terrell wrote.
Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council is facing backlash after it apologized for giving disproportionate funding to ‘white, Western Eurocentric organizations’ including the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Charlotte Ballet and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte (pictured)
Terrell, who has worked at the ASC for nearly two decades but took over as its acting president this year, said most of the backlash centered around a graph which showed the nine legacy institutions which received the most grant money from the council between 1991 and 2020.
Of those nine – which include the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Opera Carolina and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and Charlotte Ballet – only one is minority-run: The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
ASC Acting President Krista Terrell (pictured) condemned critics of the report and accompanying apology in a blog post last week entitled ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’
The graph highlighted the fact that each of those nine institutions received more in operating support than all ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, Native American) institutions combined.
The report argued that the finding exemplified decades of ‘inequitable funding practices’ by the ASC, which is said ‘was created to fund 8 white, Western Eurocentric organizations with unrestricted dollars to support their operations’.
Terrell explained how the report was compiled in her blog post, writing: ‘It was important to the team to not focus the report on the “new and shiny” things ASC has been doing over the past eight years in the equity space.
‘We wanted to share, as in the words of author, songwriter, and educator Alice Randall, “the untold story, the rest of the story, the suppressed story.”‘
Terrell said most of the backlash centered around a graph which showed the nine legacy institutions which received the most grant money from the council between 1991 and 2020
Terrell went on to rail against those who criticized the reports’ findings. She did not identify anyone by name but told the Charlotte Observer the backlash was ‘solely from white cultural leaders’.
‘One president of a legacy organization told me: “I’m all for changing inequities as it relates to access,” but when I asked their thoughts about changing inequities related to funding, I was met with a long pause,’ she wrote.
‘If ASC wants its funding to go further, I was told, it should invest more in legacy organizations with existing infrastructure instead of grassroots organizations.
‘This is “the lie” at work. Think about what was said through the lens of equity. Equity is about everyone having the resources they need to move along together.’
Terrell also noted a Letter to the Editor that Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors Mike Rutledge wrote to the Observer.
‘I applaud, and share, the Arts & Science Council’s deep commitment to cultural equity, Rutledge wrote. ‘However, I worry that their labeling of the Charlotte Symphony as a “white, Western Eurocentric organization” in their Cultural Equity Report could undermine that goal by perpetuating the stereotype that orchestral music is only created by, and for, certain people.’
The Charlotte Ballet (pictured) was among the ‘white, Western Eurocentric’ organizations cited in the report as having received more money than all black and minority groups combined
Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors Mike Rutledge wrote a Letter to the Editor in the Observer complaining about the ASC report
Terrell said some critics accused her of not being inclusive by refusing to allow then to read the report and provide feedback before it was released.
‘I kept thinking, “You are not reading the report. You are uncomfortable with the truth and being defensive,”‘ she wrote.
‘What I know for sure, based on their behavior and reactions, is they would have tried to whitewash the truth for their comfort. I, nor the team, was not going to let that happen.’
Terrell pulled back slightly in her interview with the Observer, saying that ‘some’ of the nine institutions highlighted in the controversial chart ‘really champion this work and what we’re doing’.
She also said the ASC still has a good relationship with all nine institutions it has provided funding to since its founding.
Terrell said the ASC will host community listening sessions about the report next month, called ‘Beyond the Soundbites’.
‘We are using that title because people are hanging on to sound bites like “8, white, Western, Eurocentric” and our apology in the Introduction section of the report, and are not reading the report,’ she wrote.
She concluded her blog post: ‘There is great fear with change and the truth, especially playing out in the public realm.
‘As a Black woman leading a legacy organization, I know I am seen as the manifestation of that fear.’