By Robert Bush
ASC Interim President
Almost 30 years ago, I got the call. The call was to join the Mint Museum staff as its first development director. I said, “Yes,” and while I knew some things about Charlotte, a crash course in all things Charlotte began.
ASC Interim President Robert Bush
Not unlike today, Charlotte had a lot of new cultural baubles then – Discovery Place was sparkling new and had just hosted its first blockbuster exhibit (featuring the Muppets, to be exact) and lines were wrapped around the building; Spirit Square was still new and was changing both the performing arts as well as the visual arts scene; work was underway to turn historic Little Rock AME Zion Church’s former building into a new Afro-American Cultural Center; and the Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina were filling seats at Ovens Auditorium. Even within the Mint, changes were brewing. I was quickly learning how the Dalton Wing expansion was going to change the face of the arts in Charlotte, but more about that later.
Charlotte was a different place then. It was smaller, and the skyline wasn’t nearly as filled as we see it today. Neighborhoods were the major players – Fourth Ward and Dilworth were just beginning their transformations. The ‘new coliseum’ on Tyvola was still a dream, and the business community was hungry and ambitious. We focused our jealousy on our big sister Atlanta. However, I soon learned that Charlotte loved big ideas, and that is when my love affair with Charlotte began.
Volunteer and Mint Museum staff leadership team for the Ramesses the Great exhibition (from left): Zach Smith, Margaret Callen, Tom Cox, Ann Parker, Jim Thompson, Karen Owensby, Patti Norman, Robert Bush and Milton Bloch (deceased).
Charlotte’s cultural sector also loved big ideas, and before the decade was over, Luciano Pavarotti had sung at a gala concert to benefit Opera Carolina (to standing room only at what is now Bojangles’ Coliseum); SpringFest was filling Uptown with thousands of visitors for its three-day arts festival; and the Ramesses the Great exhibit came for a four-month stay and more than 600,000 people came to Charlotte from across the U.S. to experience the historical art!
Our arts, science and history stars all still love big ideas and now the world is taking note. North Carolina Dance Theatre, not even a local player in the ’80s, was one of only nine dance companies selected to perform at the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America and received standing ovations from the audiences and rave reviews from critics for Jean Pierre Bonnefoux’s Shindig. The McColl Center for Visual Art has been recognized as one of the top three visual arts residency programs in the U.S. The Levine Museum for the New South has been recognized by the Institute of Museum and Library Services as the winner of its National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The professional peer reviewers that help ASC evaluate our operating support applications consistently rank Children’s Theatre of Charlotte as one of the best (if not THE BEST) children’s theatres in the U.S. The Bechtler Museum’s collection is the largest modern art collection south of Washington D.C. And as I briefly mentioned earlier, the Dalton’s gift to the Mint 30 years ago was just one of many, and now the museum has what many consider the finest collection of contemporary craft in the country.
There are still a few of us around from those days, and as we see each other at openings or performances, our conversations often go back to that time as we talk about how proud we are to have been there when Charlotte’s big ideas about using arts and culture to spark both economic development and improve our quality of life were in their infancy.
Today, the conversation now turns to the impact of the financial downturn on our community and our cultural superstars – where cash reserves have been depleted and little funding is available to invest in new programs or expanded services to the community.
Until 2009, gifts to ASC’s annual fund drive had driven the growth of our arts, science and history institutions. That is no longer true. Today, we are still working hard to dig our way out of a loss of more than one-third of the funds we raised through 2008, and we need your help to make that happen.
Your gift can help us continue to provide support for the things in which organizations find it the hardest to raise funds, like utility bills, security and computer systems to name a few. These often least compelling, yet critical items are not luxuries – they’re necessities, and as it is with any necessity, it must be met in order for things to survive.
Please join me in making 2014 the year of the turnaround. The year that we begin investing anew in Charlotte’s cultural jewels that make our city not only the center attraction of the Carolinas, but also a great city! Let your gift to ASC be the catalyst for a year of cultural awakening and renewal, so we all can enjoy a community that’s fun, alive and fascinating.
ASC needs you because ASC is You & Me.
(From left) Former ASC staff member Keith Bulla, educator and actor John Dickson, Robert Bush and local educator and actor Dennis Delamar.