City may match arts donations

Oct. 24, 2013 @ 10:25 AM

Arts supporters in High Point are applauding a proposal that would have the city contribute funding to a new arts center.
The city earlier this year turned down a request from the High Point Area Arts Council for a $200,000 capital campaign grant to match a donation it received from Guilford County. The arts council is trying to raise enough money to pay off the remaining $501,000 balance on the loan it took out to purchase the former Centennial Station property, which serves as its headquarters.
The City Council did provide $117,063 in operating money to the arts council, but city leaders decided not to include the additional funding in the budget, which was adopted in June.
Councilman Jay Wagner has instead suggested a “challenge grant,” by which the city would match whatever sum the arts council raises from private sources up to $200,000.
“They took a building that was in foreclosure and were able to convert that to an arts center in an area of town where we really need our arts thing to be,” Wagner said. “There’s no doubt the arts play a major role in economic development, not just in terms of what artists are doing, but the type of qualify-of-life amenities it brings to the city.”
Arts council board member Jim Morgan, who is leading the capital campaign, said he believes the challenge grant will set the organization on the path to paying off the loan.
“I’m very excited about it. I think it’s a wonderful move for High Point. We need a cultural arts center. I’m convinced that, if I can say the city is behind this, we can get this building paid for,” Morgan said. “We’ve got folks and foundations that like the fact that there would be a match involved and like the fact that you are giving money to pay off a mortgage on the facility.”
Morgan said he believes the challenge grant funds could be raised within two years, but he’s willing to work within any time parameter the city might apply to the campaign.
Mayor Bernita Sims said she supports the challenge grant idea, which could help solidify the arts council in its permanent home, something it hasn’t had for a long time.
“What we’re saying to the community is, if you want this here, you demonstrate it by showing you’re going to step up to the plate and make those dollars available,” Sims said. “That sends a message to us as a council that you have a vested interest in the arts. So if they do nothing, we do nothing.”
Support among city leaders for the challenge grant is not unanimous.
“I’ve heard about the arts council and their fundraising efforts for years. We hear how important the arts are, but it seems like over the years, they can’t raise any money to support an arts program,” said Councilman Jim Davis. “The city is giving them $117,000 out of the budget for operating expenses. I just don’t think that continuing to throw tax dollars at something that the public’s not supporting is what we should be doing.”
The arts council has repaid $301,266 of the $981,000 it borrowed to buy the building. The campaign has received $480,000 in pledges to date.
Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall, who serves on the arts council board, said the organization has a viable income stream through rental of its facility and stepped-up arts programming.
“Eventually, it will cover the operating costs. They’re doing very well with that, which is a great thing,” she said.