There follows an update to our earlier report of some trouble in NC’s River City – the city being Asheville, the river being the French Broad. We are grateful to John Ellis of the Diana Wortham Theatre for this information, which caps the arts funding crisis there for the time being and which concurrently may serve as a cautionary tale for other arts centers in our state.
“We – the Asheville Art Museum, Colburn Earth Science Museum and Diana Wortham Theatre – are pleased to report that while Buncombe County did ‘adjust’ the funding for the operation of the Pack Place complex in which all three organizations are housed, it did not reduce funding by the proposed $100,000 earlier reported. We are grateful to the Buncombe County Commissioners who listened not only to our arguments for not cutting the funding but also to the hundreds of citizens, arts patrons, and tax payers who let the commissioners know how they felt in a very short time. Commissioners will tell you that 10-20 emails on a single subject is significant, but to receive hundreds of personal emails is another matter entirely.
“We learned of the potential cuts late on a Monday afternoon and the Commissioners were meeting the next night to discuss and potentially approve these cuts. We spent that night gathering information and communicating within our own organizations. Very early the next morning we put into action a quick advocacy program consisting of direct calls from key leaders to the county commissioners and requesting our supporters contact commissioners via email. For the Diana Wortham Theatre this consisted of reaching out to our core audience, our donors and the arts groups who use the theatre.
“This campaign was highly effective – highly effective. By late morning, we were hearing that the $100,000 cut was a mis-reading of the numbers – that there had been a mistake in calculating the amount. That was confirmed at a serendipitous lunch meeting I had that day. The meeting was at a restaurant near the County Building. At the end of the lunch, I was surprised to be visited at my booth by the Chair of the County Commission and another Commissioner who wanted to let me know that they had heard from our constituents, that the number was an error and that they were working on a solution. The Commission Chair called me later that afternoon to confirm that what would go before the Commissioners that night was in essence a reduction in support of $16,000 instead of $100,000 and there were justifiable reasons behind the $16,000 cut.
“This would not have been possible without the rapid response and action taken by our patrons. Commissioners were impressed with the volume of email they received and that the messages were thoughtful, respectful, courteous, and personal. While most messages included the core message we asked for, each was also very personal. From the theatre’s perspective – the copies of emails we received – patrons told of why the theatre was important to them and to the community. To paraphrase some of the comments made by the County Commissioners at the meeting that night: ‘we’re often chastised by ‘tax payers’ for supporting things like Pack Place, but today we heard from many county tax payers who said this is important to them and encouraged our support. We are listening to the taxpayers.’
“This advocacy not only helped save the day but also made an impression on the commissioners that we hope will last into the next budget go-round.
“If there is a lesson to be learned – as a leader of an arts organization, it is imperative that you know your local governmental leadership, both elected officials and staff – that you have an ongoing relationship with your audience and donors that helps make your organization something they cherish and would hate to lose – [and] to be ready at a moment’s notice to call those patrons and donors into action.
“If this is a victory, it is not one for the three organizations in Pack Place – it is a victory of the audiences and patrons we serve and for the residents of this great County and City.”
Our original posting follows:
(This was 8/19.) Posted as a public service for DWT management and Asheville-area arts organizations:
From John Ellis…
Please do not ignore this email if you are just an occasional user or not an arts group who perhaps used Pack Place/DWT for a fundraiser. The County needs to see that this facility serves the broader community and not just arts groups.
… We learned late yesterday that:
At tonight’s meeting of the Buncombe County Commission action is slated to be taken that would reduce funding for the operations of Pack Place by more than $100,0000 in the current fiscal which began this past July 1.
If this passes, it would have a devastating impact on the theatre and all the groups, such as yourself, who use it throughout the year or who might use it in the future.
It is URGENT that you, your board, your supporters and audience members CONTACT THE MEMBERS OF THE COUNTY COMMISSION TODAY with the following critical message.
Let them know what the DWT means to you and your organization and why you urge and encourage them to:
MAINTAIN FUNDING FOR PACK PLACE THROUGH THIS CRUCIAL YEAR AT THE FULL $390,000+ BUDGETED AND DO NOT REDUCE IT.
An email received from County Commission Chair David Gantt late yesterday explained that the county commissioners are prepared to reduce the funding for Pack Place from the $390,000 already budgeted and contracted for this Fiscal Year to $286,000
Pack Place simply cannot sustain a reduction in funding of $100,000 in this current year. What impact this will have on you, our users, in unknown at this time but if this does pass tonight, it would mean the cost of using the DWT would increase dramatically.
County funding pays for the basic operations of this building – from utilities to maintenance to janitorial to yes, even the paper products in the restrooms.
Please do not assume anyone else is going to do this – please do something now and have others you can think of write as well. Please take action immediately.
Here’s a link with the email addresses http://www.buncombecounty.org/Governing/Commissioners/default.aspx.