CHARLOTTE – South Charlotte resident Yasmine Young explained how receiving a free saxophone from the Harvey B. Gantt Center changed the trajectory of her 9-year-old son’s life.
He’s taking saxophone lessons and plans to use his music to help the homeless.
“His experience at the Harvey B Gantt Center unleashed his creativity,” Young said. “It empowered his humanity so he can give back to this community.”
Young’s story was one of several shared with the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners on July 2 as they considered giving voters the option of approving a quarter-cent sales tax to support the arts.
Commissioners voted 7-2 to put the referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Commissioner Elaine Powell voted against the measure due to concerns about how the initiative came to the commission in February. She would have liked to see more public engagement and wanted to know more about the governance model.
Commissioner Pat Cotham said she personally supports the arts, but she believes there are bigger priorities like affordable housing. She also took issue with the governance of the funding, as well as how the estimated $50 million generated annually will be distributed.
If approved, 45% would go to arts and culture, 34% to county parks and greenways, 16% to education (teacher supplement) and 5% to arts and culture/parks for the towns. The tax would amount to 25 cents for every $100 spent in Mecklenburg County.
Commissioner Susan Harden, who represents south Charlotte, cited facts from the Tax Foundation about how North Carolina ranks 25th out of 50 states when it comes to combined state and local sales tax.
Harden said she’ll fight for investments and services that advance prosperity. She said investments in culture create substantial returns, noting the creative economy totals $2.8 billion in total earnings.
“I believe that people are moving here seeking prosperity and what are the building blocks of prosperity?” she said. “High-quality education that enriches the mind, cultural amenities that enrich the soul and an environment and parks that enrich the body.”
Commissioner Vilma Leake supported giving the community an opportunity to vote on the measure, but she has expressed concerns about the oversight of the funding. She sought guarantees that all children would have access to music in schools.
The county has worked to better define the governance of the Arts and Science Council. A resolution approved earlier this month called for the Arts and Science Council’s board of directors to consist of elected leaders from the county, city and towns, as well as representatives from the public and private sector. The board will govern based on values such as accountability, transparency, strategic planning, equity and transformational.
Funding will be spent on areas such as arts education and schools, neighborhood programming, emerging artists and organizations of all sizes.
Matthew Ridenhour, who used to represent south Charlotte on the county commission, has campaigned at voter polls against the sales tax. He’s part of the Mecklenburg Tax Alliance, a group with concerns about the affordability of living in Charlotte. The alliance also points out other priorities the sales tax may be better suited for, such as affordable housing, transportation and education.