What's next for Arts & Science Council now that voters rejected tax proposal?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Executives at the Arts & Science Council and influential figures such as former bank CEO Hugh McColl and former Mayor Harvey Gantt raised a lot of money and pleaded for voters to support a quarter-cent sales tax increase. On Tuesday night, the referendum was rejected by a 14-point margin, garnering support of just 43%.

The tax increase would have brought in an additional $50 million annually. Mecklenburg County commissioners approved putting the sales tax question on the ballot and passed a resolution to allocate 45% of the additional revenue to the ASC, the nonprofit umbrella group that awards and distributes grants to museums and other arts groups. That 45% — equal to $22.5 million — would have replaced a combination of private and public funding crippled a decade ago by the recession and more recently by changing donor habits and interests. Since 2014, ASC’s private fundraising has declined to $3.1 million from $9.1 million.

“I was asked many times during this campaign, what will happen if voters say no,” Jeep Bryant, the ASC president, told a roomful of disappointed arts advocates gathered Tuesday night at a local brewery to watch election returns. “My response was always the same. I said, well, if voters were to say no, I know that the team at the Arts & Science Council will wake up the next morning with just as strong a commitment to creating a more equitable and more dynamic cultural ecosystem in Mecklenburg County. And I want all voters to know that’s exactly what we will do.”

In round numbers, 69,000 people voted against the tax and 51,000 supported it. Turnout was 17%.

Despite a million-dollar advertising campaign, voters weren’t persuaded — or not enough of them were persuaded, anyway. A loose coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, for different reasons, fought the proposed tax hike.

Bryant spoke with CBJ and a small group of local media on Tuesday as it became clear the tax would not pass. Read more here for excerpts from that conversation as well as perspectives from a variety of local leaders on potential reasons the proposal failed.