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Councilors debate arts coordinator position
Charlottesville City Council, February 21, 2017
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Credit: Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Charlottesville City Council
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Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 10:03 p.m.

The Piedmont Council of the Arts adopted a cultural plan in September 2013 intended in part to foster additional government support for the region’s arts community, but the city of Charlottesville is wrestling with its role three and a half years later.

“There has been a concern in the community about the lack of coordination between the arts organizations and a lack of a clear vision for the future of arts in our city despite the creation of the PCA’s 2013 Create Charlottesville Albemarle Cultural Plan,” said City Manager Maurice Jones at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“That was conceptually approved by the City Council and the Albemarle [County] Board of Supervisors, [but] there’s been very little movement to advance the recommendations of the plan,” Jones said.

Councilors directed staff in late December to study whether unallocated arts funding could be used to start either a city arts position or a city architect. City Council will be briefed on the architect position in March, but Tuesday’s discussion was a wide-ranging one that began with a conversation on a full-time arts coordinator position that would cost between $80,000 and $90,000 a year, including salary and benefits.

Jones said Richmond, Alexandria, Arlington, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg all have arts councils that have a more formal connection to municipal government than what currently exists between the PCA and the city.

“Each one of those areas has an office that is dedicated to either cultural arts or the arts,” Jones said. “Within those offices, the staff was directed to serve as liaisons to arts organizations.”

Representatives of several arts organizations in the region were on hand to present their views on the issue. More than 20 arts organizations met before the meeting to form a unified front.

“We believe that that position of art director is important and the line item that has been proposed is very important to the progress of the arts here in the community,” said Sara Clayborne, co-director of the Charlottesville Ballet.

Clayborne said members of the arts community, ranging from independent artists to chief executives of large organizations, need to provide input on the position. She also said the scope should not just be restricted to Charlottesville.

“We feel that it is imperative that the city and the country collaborate to make this position a possible one that is going to help us progress,” Clayborne said. “We also feel that it is very important for us to work as a team to make sure that funding is delivered in a way that will sustain all of the arts here in Charlottesville.”

Jones said the council has several options. One would be to explore creating a city arts commission to work with arts organizations to coordinate and promote activities. This proposed Office of the Cultural Arts would be initially housed in the city manager’s office.

The current president of the Piedmont Council of the Arts’ board of directors said he welcomes additional city funding but has reservations about creating a new commission.

“PCA believes that creating a city cultural officer position could be a positive step, but under no circumstances should the position be funded through an offset of direct grants and contracts to local arts organizations,” said Jon Peede, adding the PCA is a federally recognized body that has been in place since 1979.

“PCA does not support the proposal to create a competing city arts board,” Peede said. “We recommend the city refocus those resources of time and money on the cultural plan.”

Last year, the city redirected money that had previously gone to the Piedmont Council for the Arts to a line item for “arts coordination and planning” because of a recommendation from the Agency Budget Review Team.

“The ABRT recognizes the need for art planning and coordination and recommends that City Council allocate $45,000 for this purpose to be awarded as a philanthropic donation to an appropriate organization after the budget process is complete,” reads a section of the current year’s budget.

An additional $12,000 was added to the pool of money. Four organizations applied for that funding, but none was successful.

“The review team felt that the applications did not rise to the appropriate level to be funded,” Jones said. “Out of that, the City Council asked us to look into other ways of trying to address these concerns.”

Councilor Bob Fenwick, who called himself an artist, said he would support the position but that it would be difficult to make it work.

“Artists are notoriously independent people,” Fenwick said. “The problem is that when you have a person like an arts czar, they tend to favor the art they like.”

Fenwick said he wants the arts community to suggest ideas about how the position would be structured. Jones agreed their input is needed to create a pathway forward.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said she was not sure the city and the county have large enough populations to support a position.

“If we’re putting this much money into a position, we’re not putting that money into the arts,” Szakos said.

City Councilor Kathy Galvin suggested creating the position within the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau because that would include the county and it would provide a funding mechanism.

“Tourism is a major driver for the arts,” Galvin said. “I think we have the vehicle in place that’s already receiving funds. There’s been some debate on both of our elected bodies about how we can use some of the resources that we give to the CACVB, and I would like to pursue that course.”

Councilors made no firm decisions but directed staff to further research the issue, including researching a part-time position that would work to support the PCA. Another item to study will be to investigate how a connection with the CACVB would work.

After the council’s discussion, the head of one non-profit told councilors that the arts are more than just about economic development.

“Tourism and festivals are great and they’re important to this city,” said Alex Goffinski, the director of the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. “The things that I see art doing in Charlottesville involve strengthening social ties, improving understanding of each other, rooting people in place, retaining residents by creating community identity and serving a city-wide social lab for understanding and responding to complex social issues.”
 

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