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Restructuring frees up $25K for arts

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — In today’s economy, most arts groups are making do with less.
But a proposed reorganization of the Rowan Arts Council could mean up to $25,000 more each year for the local arts community.
The suggested model would do away with the Rowan Arts Council’s executive director position, which has been vacant since February.
Instead, the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau would handle marketing, bookkeeping and other administrative tasks, saving up to $25,000 in overhead that would be split among arts groups, said James Meacham, who leads the visitors bureau.
“It would be a fabulous improvement to the arts community,” said Joe Morris, Salisbury planning director who presented the proposal Tuesday to City Council.
City Council members liked the idea and agreed to release a quarterly payment of $10,125 for the arts council to the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
City Council has been withholding Salisbury’s $40,500 annual allocation until the arts council had a plan to reorganize.
The city’s yearly allocation, plus $22,500 from Rowan County, act as matching funds to pull down an additional $31,119 from the N.C. Arts Council.
Most of the money is distributed to local arts organizations, but about 50 percent of state funds have gone to overhead, Meacham said.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce overhead costs for the arts council and allow more grassroots funding to go directly to arts organizations in the community,” Morris said.
Under the new proposal, the arts council would still operate as an autonomous, nonprofit group and distribute funding to the “big three” arts organizations — Waterworks, Piedmont Players and the Salisbury Symphony — as well as smaller arts groups.
The council would plan and promote arts programs and education.
“This would not diminish the identity of the arts council,” Morris said.
The model calls for a 13-person arts council board consisting of five appointees from the arts community and four each from the Salisbury and Rowan County tourism development authorities.
Meacham serves both tourism authorities, which are funded with hotel room taxes paid by visitors.
“This is a good move,” he said. “There is a strong connection between arts, culture and tourism.”
The Joint Marketing Committee, a combined effort between the city and county tourism groups, already supports arts and cultural events in Rowan County, including the Salisbury Sculpture Show, Meacham said.
Initial projections show a 17-to-20 percent savings for the arts council under the new arrangement, Meacham said.
To handle the additional work, one part-time position at the Convention & Visitors Bureau likely would become full-time, he said.
However, all four employees at the bureau would help administer the arts council, he said.
The proposal needs the blessing of City Council, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, the tourism boards and member agencies before moving forward, Meacham said.
So far, arts leaders in the community have been supportive, he said.
Both Salisbury and Rowan County cut funding for the arts council by 10 percent this year. State funding also will decrease.
Despite those cuts, Meacham said local arts groups will see more money as soon as this month, when the state makes its allocation.
“We will get more money out to those organizations than they saw last year,” he said.
If the model is adopted, the arts council must adhere to N.C. open meetings laws, Meacham said. Meetings would be advertised, and agendas and minutes would be available to the public.
“The arts council would be much more open and accessible,” he said. “The more information we can provide to the public, the better.”
The idea is based on a recommendation made in the city’s 2008 Cultural Action Plan, Morris said.
In other action
In other business at Tuesday’s meeting:
• Salisbury-Rowan Utilities will quit adding fluoride to the water supply for about three months while determining if the system needs to be repaired, director Jim Behmer said. The utility will drain the fluoride tanks to complete a “thorough assessment” of the feed system, he said.
Behmer said he would come back to the Council with a repair proposal.
Because toothpaste and mouthwash have fluoride, the temporary suspension will not cause any problems, Behmer said.
• City planner Lynn Raker updated City Council on the $290,000 state grant that will pay for streetscape improvements in the 300 block of North Lee Street, including sidewalks, trees and lights.
The city won the grant because the project will improve safety and economic development in the area, Raker said.
“It’s a windfall,” Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said.
• Council recognized the participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program: Koneisha Jones, Kayla Ferguson, Jazmine Campbell, Joseph Wiggins and D-Shawn Jordan. Coordinators Michelle Balknight and Anna Bumgarner said supervisors had high praise for the students. The Woodson Foundation provided $2,500 to make up for cuts to the Community Development Block Grant.
“I hope someday after your education you will come back and consider a job with the city,” Kluttz said.
• Appointed 14 members to the West End Neighborhood Transformation Plan Steering Committee.
• Council awarded a $196,500 contract to Carolina Industrial Equipment for the purchase of a Johnston model VT-650 Street Sweeper.
• Council awarded a $91,705 contract to James River Equipment for the purchase of a John Deere 410J Backhoe Loader.
• The city and N.C. Department of Transportation extended the completion of Grants Creek Greenway from July 25 to Nov. 1.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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