The North Carolina Arts Council launched its work in 1964 as awareness for the importance of arts to all citizens was becoming a national movement. In the ensuing fifty years the arts in North Carolina have come to be valued as one of our state’s most durable and productive assets. Over the years, the Arts Council has imagined and executed an innovative vision for arts development that touches every corner of the state.
After decades of vigorous work, experimentation, and refinement, our state’s arts infrastructure reaches into all 100 counties through one of the most highly developed and effective networks of local arts councils in our nation. An abundance of outstanding artists and arts organizations continues to enrich our communities. These people and institutions improve quality of life, educate and inspire our youth, and stimulate an extraordinary amount of economic activity.
North Carolina’s nationally recognized arts infrastructure serves a fundamental requirement for our democratic society to thrive—bringing forward ideas, concepts, and emotions in many creative forms so that citizens can deepen their understanding of the world while discussing and debating the important issues of our time.
Twenty years ago the Arts Council accurately asserted that arts and cultural vitality would become a critical factor in North Carolina’s economic growth in the 21st century. Acting on that belief, we became a national leader in leveraging the arts for tourism, job creation, and downtown revitalization. We anticipated a surging interest in cultural tourism that drew us to focus on heritage arts and have created tourism trails that crisscross the state and promote our music traditions, writers, and crafts artists to the world. Deploying the arts to re-invigorate neighborhoods and business districts is another focus of the Arts Council. Through the SmART Initiative we are assisting cities as they transform downtowns and attract millions of dollars in investments from the private sector.
The North Carolina Arts Council is also a proven leader in the arena of education. The A+ Schools program, which uses the arts to teach across the entire curriculum, has been hailed as the nation’s most successful whole school reform program using the arts. A+ began here in North Carolina, has now spread to three other states, and regularly receives national attention from enthusiastic business leaders and educators who testify about its proven ability to enhance creativity in our students.
Few agencies within state government have practiced the art of collaboration as fully as the Arts Council. Our partnership with the Department of Commerce resulted in the documentation of the Creative Industries sectors and led the state tourism office to highlight the arts in national and international marketing initiatives. Working with the Department of Transportation we have expanded our tourism trails to new regions. Through our on-going collaboration with the Department of Public instruction, we have helped to implement and evaluate the A+ Schools program and formulate new arts education policy.
Building upon our past and current work, the North Carolina Arts Council is well positioned to make important contributions to the Governor’s goals of economic development, education, and government efficiency. At the same time, as we envision our future, it is imperative that we anticipate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in a rapidly changing state.
Strengthening our public-private partnerships in the arts is a high priority. The early leaders of the North Carolina Arts Council foresaw the importance of private investment and required matching funds for our grants. Today these allocations have grown to an average of $17 raised for every $1 we grant to the field. Greater private investment will be required in the years to come. To help address this need we have recently formed the North Carolina Arts Council Foundation, which has already attracted significant private support for A+ Schools and the SmART Initiative. The Foundation will help deliver additional resources to augment the growth of these and other arts programs that our citizens want for their communities.
Our capacity as a state to celebrate, reflect and engage the growing diversity of North Carolina’s communities is equally important to the Arts Council’s future sustainability. Our historic African American arts and community traditions draw significant participation each year. North Carolina has the distinction of serving as home to the largest numbers of Native Americans east of the Mississippi. Our Latino and Asian populations have also increased dramatically in recent years. Of course, our diversity is also generational; younger North Carolinians participate in the arts in ways that are quite different from those who created and supported the Arts Council in earlier decades. At the same time, the proportion of North Carolinians over the age of 65 is on the rise, and an estimated 17% of our residents are challenged with disabilities.
These distinctive communities have nurtured some of the richest arts traditions in our state, and likely hold the greatest potential for future growth in arts participation. Fully embracing the arts in communities that are presently underserved within our infrastructure requires us to continuously examine how we assign value to artistic expression. Our vision for ongoing arts development in North Carolina is built upon the recognition that cultural diversity is a tremendous asset to the arts, and that correspondingly our policies and programs will recognize, support and leverage the artistic contributions of all North Carolinians.
Our Strategic Plan for the next four years builds upon the Arts Council’s national reputation for innovation and stays true to our founders’ ideal of North Carolina as a state of the arts for all citizens. After seeing our roadmap for the next five years, we hope you will agree that the arts, more than ever, are among the most essential resources needed for growth and prosperity in its many manifestations.
—Wayne Martin, Executive Director