EDITORIAL: The Arts-mageddon hits the Triad

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The arts council owes $4.5 million on the Milton Rhodes Arts Center, which opened in 2012. Balancing its own viability with grants to arts organizations remains an ongoing challenge.

Call it the “Arts-mageddon”: that downward trend in charitable giving towards the arts, reported on last week in Triad City Beat, though arts groups in Forsyth and Guilford have been struggling with it for years.

ArtsGreensboro took its big hit in its 2015-16 fiscal year, a 29 percent drop in gifts to arts organizations after a fundraising goal fell short.

Almost the exact same thing happened to the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County this year, resulting in 28 percent cuts across the board, with a couple exceptions.

It’s tempting, in situations like this, to blame the top of the arts-council food chain, but in truth the buck doesn’t stop there. Neither ArtsGreensboro CEO Tom Philion nor Arts Council President Jim Sparrow, both accomplished fundraisers, own the decline.

A lot of it lands at the feet of our corporations, merged and acquired into soulless entities despite their insistence of personhood. Lincoln Financial, according to its website, gave 106 grants totaling $1.8 million to Greensboro arts, human services, education and economic development concerns. But it’s a thin shadow of what Greensboro-grown Jefferson Pilot, acquired by Lincoln in 2006, used to do for the city that nurtured it. Among other accomplishments, JP provided an endowment for the Weatherspoon Art Museum, and once gave Action Greensboro a single grant worth $2.5 million.

It’s tempting, in situations like this, to blame the top of the arts-council food chain, but in truth the buck doesn’t stop there.

Certainly nobody can deny the community contributions of the company built by RJ Reynolds, which through all its various corporate phases always kept a philanthropic mission for its hometown of Winston-Salem. It would be naïve to assume that British American Tobacco, which purchased Reynolds American earlier this year, will honor that grand tradition.

And for these larger trends, there is no real recourse. Yes, individuals and small businesses can make up some of the gap. We can do it by giving directly to these arts organizations or actually paying for tickets to events, buying local art and actively participating in the legion of things they fund.

But even combined we don’t have the economic muscle of an international tobacco, insurance or textile concern.

Still, in this era of belt-tightening in the Triad arts scene, we all must do our part. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, if we allow our culture to die, then what the hell are we working for?