Photo by Beth Khalifa
Performers at circusSPARK 2013, part of Raleigh's annual SPARKcon arts festival
Raleigh has a 10-year plan for the arts
and the vision, called “Creative Life,” is as progressive as it is ambitious. This is probably as it should be for a city where arts, festivals and cultural events contribute more than $150 million to the local economy, and where there’s a clear demand for all kinds of art that’s well above the average of other U.S. cities.
After engaging more than 4,000 citizens for input over the course of 10 months, the 34-member arts plan steering committee announced in January that a draft of the plan is ready, with eight overarching goals, both short- and long-term, and 63 strategies designed to help achieve these goals.
The goals include promoting and marketing the arts, bringing the arts to the cities’ many neighborhoods, getting young people involved, bumping up arts funding, and making sure arts and cultural activities are accessible to everyone.
Strategies include redistributing arts and cultural resources so they’re not concentrated only in downtown, creating a public art master plan, streamlining all the of the city’s arts functions and activities under one administrative unit, and creating more affordable spaces for artists to rehearse, perform, and exhibit their work, possibly through public-private partnerships.
The plan acknowledges current weaknesses in the accessibility of the arts to everyone in Raleigh, including geographical and cost barriers; many people don’t participate because they’re simply too far away, or don’t have transportation. The plan found that 35 percent of Raleigh households that participate in the arts are located more than 45 minutes driving distance from downtown.
The plan also notes that the city could be doing a better job of reflecting Raleigh’s diverse population in its programming and aims to meet “the cultural interests of all groups,” including communities of color, immigrants, the LGBT population, low-income people, and people with disabilities.
Sarah Powers, the executive director of the Visual Art Exchange and the cochair of the Creative Life steering committee, says this is something that will happen organically as the plan is implemented, through more engagement and outreach.
“We want to activate the whole city, so with all that new square mileage, we will be serving different people than we currently are,” Powers says. “We want to work out how to shore up all the different arts groups to make sure grant funding hits in multiple places throughout the city and expands, and to start bringing people who are off the radar into funding.”
A market research survey (included in the plan) of thousands of residents at 22 Raleigh arts organizations found that the demand for the arts is 16 percent higher than the national average. So the plan doesn’t beat around the bush about the fact that the arts in Raleigh need more—and more sustainable—systems of funding. It notes that cities like Denver, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Salt Lake City have established a dedicated revenue stream that have enabled them to successfully engage their residents with the arts.
To this end, the plan recommends enhancing the Office of Raleigh Arts’ grants by increasing per-capita funding (currently, that’s at $5 per person), by funding community arts programs through the parks and rec department, and by increasing the percentage-for-public-art ordinance from 0.5 percent to 2 percent, incrementally. This means that every City capital improvement project in the future would set aside 2 percent of its budget for public art, a model already used in Charlotte, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose and the Fort Lauderdale area.
It’s hoped that this will generate enough money to incorporate more public art into city projects as well as to eventually commission a “major signature public artwork,” like the gateway arch in St. Louis.
“The per-capita spending now is a good place for today,” Powers says, “but that won’t last long, and it doesn’t stand up to the national average. If you look at other cities doing big, exciting things with the arts, they’re spending more. Hopefully we will see an increase that will come with the work we are excited about doing going forth.”
You can read through the draft of the plan below.