The Arts Council of Fayetteville and Cumberland County is helping artists grow sustainably and encouraging local organizations and programs to expand.
The council is set to distribute $1.4 million to the Cumberland County arts community this year, CEO Bob Pinson said in a recent interview. The hope, Pinson noted, is that federal and state funds can reach artists, nonprofits and arts programs at the grassroots level. All together, nonprofit arts and culture are a $59.2 million industry in Cumberland County, according to a report prepared by the Arts Council. This sector supports 1,897 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $6.1 million in local and state government revenue. The Arts Council estimates organizations in this space spend around $29.6 million locally.
To spur this growth, the organization has grants initiatives such as the mini grants program, artists/projects support grants and the artists in schools matching subsidy program.
The mini grant program helps fund creative arts, culture, or history-based projects, activities, or events. It is available to nonprofits, municipal entities, or individual artists in Cumberland County. The program was born out of some returning funds allocated to a project that could not come to fruition in 2019. The Council then decided to repackage that leftover money to fund three other small requests, Pinson said.
“In 2019, we gave out about three mini grants totaling about $5,100,” Pinson noted. Between 2019 and now, that program grew from $5,100 to $130,000 with 56 applicants last year. He also added that the program encourages year-round participation.
“One of the things we saw over the years was that we needed a program that would run throughout the year,” Pinson said. “To me, it was always bothersome when somebody would come in and say ‘if I had been here a month ago, I could have had a chance at X grant.’”
Pinson highlighted the mini grant program as a gateway for the Arts Council to dive deeper into the local arts community.
“It allows us to get a more diverse number of applicants,” he said, noting that the program was a good starting point for local artists looking to learn how to submit grant applications. “Our staff is very diligent at working individually with every applicant to try to make the applications as successful as they can. We also want to teach artists grant writing skills so that the application can be representative of the project they want to do.”
Some recent stories of success, Pinson said, are awarding funds to a Tony award-winning theater artist, as well as approving funds for several artists who have performed on Broadway.
“These grants provide an avenue for artists to move forward,” he noted.
Recently, the organization also awarded $184,200 in project support funding to prop up cultural arts projects in Cumberland County. For this program, the Arts Council received applications last year to support 30 projects from 18 organizations with requests totaling $295,000.
Ultimately, funding was awarded to projects in the categories of arts education, collaborative/fellowship support, cultural tourism, inclusive outreach, military arts and a series of fine arts exhibits across Cumberland County.
“In some cases, we will actually utilize some of the programs that they’re actually applying for, incorporate them into some of the other things that we’re doing as an art agency, and then we actually help market that,” Pinson said of the support grants.
The artists in schools grant is meant to help educational institutions provide students access to artist residencies, assembly performances, online and virtual engagement activities and workshops. Title I schools, which are institutions that support low income students throughout the nation, have been part of the focus of this grant program, Pinson said. Cumberland County has 68 Title I schools.
“Our goal is to be able to put artists at each one of the 68 Title I schools at no cost to the school, funded through the Arts Council,” Pinson noted. “This past year, we actually serviced 56 of the 68 schools.”
The Arts Council plans to dedicate about $80,000 to that program for the upcoming year.
THE LOCAL ARTS SCENE RECOVERS FROM ADVERSE COVID-19 EFFECTS
The basic philosophy of the Arts Council is that “art is the common denominator across people,” Pinson said.
“Diversity is a really important aspect of what we do — diversity, equity, and transparency are our core values,” Pinson said. “Art allows topics and discussions to happen about some things that sometimes just don’t necessarily happen or don't happen very easily.”
Despite all the negative effects brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, the viral outbreak also showed the importance of being able to gather around art.
“I mean that in a very global sense, not just visual art, but art was absolutely essential to our mental well being,” he said. “We are still facing the ramifications of that isolation as a society coming out of the pandemic. We weren’t able to get out and gather. We found that art is not just a form of entertainment.”
That sense of community and focus has pushed the Arts Council to continue its mission to grow the local arts scene.
“We’re actually stronger by supporting our artists and organizations,” Pinson said. He added that being an organization that can disburse both federal and state funds at the regional level has given the Arts Council the chance to be efficient and help artists directly.
“Art is an absolutely essential piece of who we are as a people, and it is essential to our mental state,” he concluded.
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