I have always liked the quote – although sometimes attributed to Machiavelli – “Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
The idea that less can achieve more is the basic operating principle for the 52-year-old ASC as it begins work on a new Cultural Action Plan, its fourth one since 1976. Previous ones focused on grand schemes like the creation of Spirit Square and Discovery Place, increased financial stability for arts organizations, and adding history and cultural tourism to its scope of activities.
This time around it’s different. As Bush, ASC’s senior vice president of cultural and community investment, recently explained to me: “Ten-year plans are obsolete. We’re thinking shorter term now. Things move at a faster pace, and we have to change and evolve faster than we have in the past to address the needs and desires of our residents.”
Yet at the same time, the ASC is expanding its field of vision to include much more than “the arts” – regardless of how broadly one defines them. I asked Bush if this means the ASC no longer sees art as a separate silo within the life of the community: important, but apart from the rest of what’s going on.
He agreed: “It’s another step in the continuous process of integrating arts and culture into addressing broader community issues like economic development, sustainability, education and community building. The cultural system needs to be part of broader solutions – as a bridge builder, perhaps. As we develop this plan, we want to envision ways the cultural community can be a key player in advancing progress in this community.”
As a first step in the new plan’s development, leaders from all parts of the community – civic, neighborhood, ethnic, corporate, the arts – are meeting with ASC staff and board members this week and next to talk about how this could be accomplished. Market research is also being conducted. What the next step looks like depends on what is discovered during these first efforts.
The ASC has changed dramatically since I came to Charlotte in the early 1980s when it was perceived by many as a blue-blood organization serving the needs of the white-glove crowd for whom art meant only the symphony and opera. Times have sure changed. Last year, ASC-funded organizations sponsored 70,000 events and programs that attracted four million people.
“We are aware of our responsibility to serve the broad base of the community. Access should not be determined by ability to pay – everyone should have the opportunity,” Bush says.
Hmm … maybe those “small” plans do have magic after all.