A nine-month process to develop a cultural plan for the Charlottesville community has reached an important milestone. Some local leaders are calling for bold new investments in the arts and a bigger role for one nonprofit that might be called on to facilitate the plan.
A steering committee of about 30 people has engaged hundreds of others in the planning for the area’s arts and culture future. In a meeting at CitySpace last week, a consultant walked the committee through the plan’s draft goals and strategies.
Jody Kielbasa, vice provost for the arts at the University of Virginia and director of the Virginia Film Festival, challenged his fellow steering committee members to think “bigger, bolder, faster.”
“The arts are an economic driver and catalyst for the community,” Kielbasa said during a break in the meeting. “There’s not tremendous government support for the arts locally right now. There’s some, but there is not enough. I do believe that more support will create more revenue.”
Maggie Guggenheimer is a local coordinator for the planning process and the past executive director of the Piedmont Council for the Arts.
“The cultural plan is intended to be a broadly inclusive process so that citizens that care about arts and culture can figure out what the priorities are so that we have the most vibrant arts community possible,” Guggenheimer said in an interview.
“We want to figure out what the taxpayer needs are here — identify what’s feasible and what’s aspirational,” Guggenheimer added.
One of the six major goals is to increase community capacity to represent and coordinate arts and culture activities. One task force recommended that the Piedmont Council for the Arts play a larger role in that work and partner with the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to administer their arts funding budgets.
Committee member Katie Brooks said one idea was for the city and county to invest up to $75,000 in total with the PCA. The funding would support PCA’s work over the next two years to implement the plan and start making recommendations on local government arts grants.
Kielbasa suggested that would have to be supplemented by a bolder vision for new revenue sources.
“I am very supportive of the PCA … but I am not supportive of spending two years spinning our wheels looking at doing all this,” Kielbasa said. “You will ultimately come to conclusion we need $1 million, or $2 million or $500,000 a year … and two years would have been wasted.”
“I would use the force of this committee and this plan … to make an appeal to the city and the county for increased funding through a bed tax,” Kielbasa said referring to transient occupancy taxes on the use of hotel rooms and other lodging. “We are taxpayers and we can make recommendations and there’s power in that.”
Mary Scott-Fleming participated in one of the many task forces. While she works at Monticello, she said she could only speak for herself.
“It’s not just art, it is the arts and the culture of art, music and history under the whole umbrella of what we call Charlottesville,” Scott-Fleming said. “We are a cultural destination. People come for history at places like Monticello and they stay longer to take advantage of arts opportunities.”
Craig Dreeszen, the Massachusetts-based consultant working with local leaders, noted that the work products to date continue to be drafts and that public feedback will be invited before September when the steering committee holds its next meeting to approve the plan.
Dreeszen highlighted one “gnarly topic” that dominated the discussions of one task force — the future of the city-owned McGuffey Arts Center.
“There is some affirmation of all the McGuffey has done and the needs it has met,” Dreeszen said. “But not all needs are being met, and there is more being asked of it.”
The group reached consensus to recommend only short-term leases for the artists in residence in McGuffey’s 40 studios. The lease with the McGuffey Arts Association Inc. ends June 30 and the committee suggested only a one- to two-year renewal so ideas about maximizing McGuffey’s full potential could be further developed.
“There’s a lot of positive momentum, particularly from artists and people representing arts organizations around this process,” Guggenheimer said. “The momentum has been building and it’s an exciting culmination of people putting a lot of dedicated thought into how we maximize the benefits of arts and culture.”