Almost two years ago, ASC awarded the first three Cultural Innovation Grants (CIG) to emerging organizations that showed promise programmatically and were innovating to serve Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s diverse population. From a firm foundation and with strong, passionate leadership Charlotte ARTery, Carolina Actors Studio Theatre and Charlotte Viewpoint have grown into stronger organizations with a clear mission for the future.
Carolina Actors Studio Theatre
Founded in 1992 and a 501(c)(3) since 2006, Carolina Actors Studio (CAST) Theatre has been a consistent and unique force in Charlotte’s performing arts community. CAST’s immersive experience envelops patrons in another world from the moment they walk through the door.
“We try to change the look of our lobby, the tickets, our ushers and bartenders with every performance,” said CAST Executive Director Michael Simmons. “You never know with CAST.”
In 2010, the organization was in a venue desperately in need of upgrades and an organizational structure that needed to be updated.
With the grant, the organization relocated to a larger more modern space in the North Davidson neighborhood. It also provided CAST with a coach that has helped guide them through strategic planning including the restructuring of its board of directors.
“I think the Cultural Innovation Grant has really done more than help CAST. In many ways, it has saved and positioned CAST,” Simmons said. “We were in an untenable situation in our last venue – roof leaking, structure weakening – we had no hope of getting any repairs or up-fit from that building owner. Without that grant we would not be in this new space, and without that move I’m not sure we’d be alive.”
A loose collection of artists is how co-founder Bev Nagy describes Charlotte ARTery before the Cultural Innovation Grant.
With the help of a consultant, Nagy and the group have gone through an analysis of organizational strengths and weaknesses, worked on strategic planning and interviewed and brought on new board members.
“We want ARTery to be a place for artists to learn to be entrepreneurial,” Nagy said. “We want to teach all artists how to make a postcard, business card, write a press release, how to enter a juried show – we want them to learn how to do all these things you do not know unless you have done them.”
With 501(c)(3) status pending and work being done on a new, permanent home for ARTery, Nagy said she’s excited for the future and an organization driven by a clear mission and vision.
“We went from almost nothing to this in three years,” Nagy said. “This innovation grant has helped us learn little things along the way to help us take it to the next level.”
Catch ARTery’s last show before it moves into its own permanent space on display at Vin Master in South End through the end of June.
When approached to apply for the Cultural Innovation Grant in 2010, Charlotte Viewpoint (CV) was a monthly civic and culture PDF magazine. Founder Mark Peres said the magazine, founded in 2003, was limited in both content and reach.
For CV, Peres said the grant, through its financial and professional resources, has created a snowball effect driving increased engagement, involvement and interest both internally and externally.
“The grant allowed CV to rebrand, redesign its website to include additional content, publish a range of new content on a daily basis, including literary and visual art and reach new audiences,” Peres said. “This in turn led to refinement of mission, reorganization and recruitment of new staff and content contributors, additional organizational capacity, and generation of new financial support.”
Professional coach Kristin Hills-Bradberry further helped the organization with board development and provided them with strategy and guidance in developing a new individual donation initiative.
In addition to the online Web site and magazine, CV is also hosting live events and gatherings.
“Our aspiration is to become a nationally recognized multimedia platform that challenges and celebrates the Charlotte region,” Peres said. “We seek to impact the common good by helping shape what the metropolitan region can be.”
The Cultural Innovation Grant was born out of a $60,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and an additional dollar-for-dollar match from ASC. The CIG grantees received $15,000 each year for two years in addition to long-term professional coaching. ASC and Knight Foundation expanded the program last year to include three more grantees (September 2011, “The Next, Next Best Thing”) – On Q Productions, Charlotte Folk Society and Historic Charlotte.