Laura Way: ArtsGreensboro cuts funding to the ‘Greensboro News & Record’
One of the best parts of my job since becoming CEO at ArtsGreensboro in April 2019 has been the opportunity to spend significant time interacting with hundreds of arts organizations and artists. There is an amazing diversity of poetry, painting, theater, film, music, dance, lectures and other arts in our community. I am proud to be a champion of the impact that a strong arts and culture sector has on our local economy and quality of life.
As noted in the Greensboro Cultural Arts Master Plan, adopted in 2018 by City Council, our arts community injects more than $160 million annually into economic impact. The arts support nearly 6,000 full-time jobs and generate $112 million in resident household income, $16 million in state and local tax revenue and bring hundreds of thousands of people to our downtown for festivals, concerts, plays and events.
This tremendous impact is driven by an entire creative ecosystem, and ArtsGreensboro takes seriously its obligation to ensure equitable support across all sectors of the arts and culture community. Because of our mission, we can no longer support one line item in our budget.
It was for a relatively small amount of money — $15,000 for an Arts and Theater Media Fund. Put in place in 2014, the fund pays the Greensboro News & Record for arts-related content. In essence, over the past 6 years, we have paid the N&R nearly $75,000 to write about arts and culture in our community.
There are multiple problems with this approach. For example, the funds were not equitably distributed across diverse programs in our community. Of the news coverage generated in the past 18 months, nearly two thirds was directed on seven organizations.
The far more significant problem with this pay-for-play approach is the signal it sends about the value of arts and culture in our community. Other sectors do not pay for “news” coverage. Sports organizations aren’t charged a fee to send a reporter to cover a game. Elected officials do not pay to have the local newspaper cover council meetings. Developers do not pay the newspaper to have stories written about the impact their projects will have on the community.
The work of the news media is hard. They are challenged to find alternative ways to deliver news at lower costs. Circulations and ad revenues are declining at the same time publications are often asked to do more with less. This is their reality. But the optics, let alone ethics, of charging the arts sector for press coverage is deeply troubling.
It is a false argument that what the arts and culture sector brings to the table is not newsworthy enough to be covered as a general practice. Arts organizations serve the community in multiple ways – improving quality of life, driving economic development and swaying decisions of employers to locate or relocate their businesses. We are a news beat that more than deserves to be fairly covered.
Performance-based arts and culture organizations in our city depend on previews and reviews to create awareness and drive ticket sales. I understand this was the intention of the Media Fund when it was originally conceived. However, regardless of its intention, the Media Fund is no longer a budget item in our current budget (July – June, 2020). Arts and culture organizations should not have to pay a fee for legitimate news coverage that is vital to our community’s short and long-term success.
This was a tough decision for us to make as an organization, and we know it will be open to criticism. But we are committed to transparency and equity in our decision-making process. I welcome feedback on how we can best advance the ArtsGreensboro mission at a time when many arts and culture organizations have been impacted by changes in corporate philanthropy and new tax regulations. I will move forward with my job keeping the entirety of the arts and culture community in focus and making the best decisions possible to help our city have a sustainable, creative, and vibrant art scene that all our citizens can enjoy.
President + CEO