How Do We Achieve "Culture For All?"

The Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) mission is “ensuring access to an excellent, relevant, and sustainable cultural community for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region.” In this role, ASC strives to ensure that the cultural community is truly open to everyone, and not just a select few. Recently, ASC has adopted the tagline “Culture For All,” a clear indicator of the kind of future we hope to create for our community.

But, how can we accomplish this? How can we make culture accessible to people who lack the resources to seek out and participate in cultural events?

While this is a big challenge, my work at ASC has taught me that an important first step to guaranteeing a future of “Culture For All” is removing the barriers that stand in the way of being able to participate in the cultural sector. When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance, recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that the three most commonly cited reasons for not attending arts events were:

1)    a lack of time

2)    the high costs of attending cultural events

3)    difficulty getting to the event’s location

According to the study, these barriers not only discourage people from attending cultural events, but actively prevent people who would otherwise be interested in attending. This means that cultural events are often inaccessible because of a lack of resources. In order to create a world where culture is truly available to all, we must first address these and other practical barriers that exclude a significant portion of the population.

As a member of the ASC Education team, I have gotten to witness firsthand the ways in which ASC strives to remove these barriers for the students of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region. For example, Studio 345, an out-of-school time youth development program for high school students, removes the two biggest barriers to participation for its student: cost and transportation. The program operates completely free of cost for the youth and all necessary equipment is provided for each student to use for the trimester. Additionally, each high school student is provided with a free round-trip bus pass that they can use to travel to the studio and back home. Because of this, Studio 345 is able to provide its services to students who would have otherwise been excluded due to cost or lack of transportation.

Another way that ASC Education works to overcome barriers is by bringing high quality cultural experiences to students in schools throughout the region. For example, North Carolina Wolf Trap places trained teaching artists in Pre-K classrooms across Charlotte-Mecklenburg for residencies that use arts strategies to teach academic and developmental concepts. Through this program, young children are being exposed to the arts as part of their normal school day. This and other in-school time programs provide excellent opportunities to remove the barriers that might prevent students from having cultural experiences in their free time, guaranteeing access to the kind of vibrant cultural experiences that ASC strives to provide for the entire community.

In it’s effort to ensure that everyone has access to a vibrant cultural community, ASC works to remove some of the barriers that discourage participation in cultural events. My work with the ASC Education team has provided an up-close look at the ways that students throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg have benefitted from cultural experiences that they otherwise may not have been able to participate in because of a lack of time, money, or reliable transportation. These steps help ensure that the arts, science, history, and heritage can be a part of everyone’s life whether or not they have the means to easily access them and help move us toward an ideal future of “Culture For All.”