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Arts in the Harriet Sanford Era 

ASC President's openness and innovation earn -- gasp! -- kudos from all quarters

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Anne Lambert was one of those three winners, famous for getting chopped out of our 2002 Awards Issue from the forehead down. A co-founder of the all-female Chickspeare company, our future Theatre Forehead of the Year was serving as development director at North Carolina Dance Theatre when she drew up the landmark grant proposal with BareBones and Off-Tryon. Currently, she's handling the development beat at Charlotte Rep.

Aside from directing and acting with her fellow Chickspeareans, Lambert eats, breathes, and sleeps grant proposals. Pick up her idle, unconscious doodlings at staff meetings, and you're likely to find encrypted budgets, timelines, and delegated responsibilities.

From Lambert's perspective, the ASC was never aloof even in the dread Marsicano era. You had to learn how to navigate the voluminous forms and the labyrinthine procedures of the grants process. But she insists the terrain was navigable. Part of the blame for arts funding not getting spread more widely, Lambert maintains, must be laid at the cold feet of artists and administrators who were too proud or defeatist in their attitudes to embark on the twisted grant-writing voyage.

But even Lambert recognizes that the current ASC is reaching out to artists more aggressively and offering a helping hand.

"Certainly the grants process from our grant-writing point of view got streamlined," Lambert remarks. "She came in right away and said she's looking at multi-year application procedures. And the application process kind of slimmed down: it went on a little diet and lost a little weight. For those of us who write those grants, I just think you can't do enough of that. There is already an enormous due diligence process that all of the groups go through, and it's way too complicated even now. To most people in the community, it's sort of a mystery. Anything that can be done to demystify the process -- and I see Harriet doing this -- is a step in the absolute right direction."

The beauty of the streamlined application routine isn't merely onionskin deep. Today's ASC is sitting down with potential grants recipients and guiding them through the labyrinth. Nor do you have to make a pilgrimage to the Carillon Building to receive the ASC's blessing. They find you.

"In the process of the Grassroots and the Access Grants," Lambert confirms, "they have a meeting. It's called the Community Cultural Connections Grant Workshop, and they have them all over the city. Down in Davidson, Pineville-Mathews. They have them in West Charlotte, they have them in North Tryon neighborhood, First Ward uptown, the Community Services Center. They have them in churches, basements. They're designed to get this information out to the community. It's a grant writing workshop. Regina Smith is the VP of Grants and Services, and one of her mandates is to try to reach that group that is a potential application pool for the Access and the Grassroots Grants."

To Sanford, making those cultural connections is as important as calculating BOGs for established arts affiliates. Which areas are most likely to win approval for individuals and new groups from the ASC's Grants and Services? Anything.

"I want to reach out into communities, let them define what they want," Sanford stresses. "If they want dance class -- and it could be jazz, tap, ballet, I don't care what it is -- for 22 weeks in their community, then if you're going to organize it, we should put some money to help you make that happen. I will not be the arbiter of what is valuable and not valuable."

So if there's grassroots support for steel drumming, Sanford says the ASC will go with the flow and cut a check. Suddenly, the outlook is wide open. Or to use one of Sanford's favorite words, omnivorous. It's not that Sanford totally ignores her agency's fiduciary responsibilities to Charlotte's big corporate arts donors. That's "a given" in Sanford's book -- but it's not why she's here.

Nor is today's ASC caught up in the curious contradiction of preaching diversity one day and coaxing consensus the next. Sanford grasps the fundamental difference between great theaters and great corporations, so she's not interested in seeing our theater scene consolidate with group mergers. She'll proudly tell you that the population of Atlanta theater groups grew from a dozen to "like a hundred" during her 20-year tenure -- and the best groups were forced to get better. Or perish.

The Dutch Reformer

Neatness and tidiness may be desirable in our banking towers, but Sanford perceives they're unhealthy for a vibrant cultural landscape.

"I have no artistic talent," she confesses. "I'm a mediocre athlete. What I do well, I believe, is my intuitive sense of what makes a community work, respecting other people on the way, and trying to balance all those things to build it. You don't just need an arena, but you don't just need culture in the Center City. You need as broad a reach of it as possible. Our responsibility is to juggle multiple things. Giving people as many choices as possible to have as balanced a life as you can. I don't know that you can build community consensus, but I think you can create an environment where as many points of view as possible can be expressed. Really, what I'm more interested in is that we allow what I hope would become civil dialogue to happen without judging everybody."

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