Hilton Head residents say town should play major role in supporting arts, culture

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 28, 2013 

About 35 residents gathered in Hilton Head Island Town Council chambers for the first of six planned "community conversations" on the needs, vision and aspirations of the cultural life of Hilton Head.


The Town of Hilton Head Island should play a major role in supporting and expanding arts, culture and entertainment on the island, according to preliminary results from an online survey.

Island residents were asked this month to take an online survey intended to gauge support for island arts programs and determine how they should be funded.

Of the 2,000 responses received thus far:

  • 60 percent say supporting and funding cultural facilities, including the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, should be a high priority of the town

  • 78 percent believe the town should either "fully" support and expand arts, culture and entertainment, or play a "major" part in that effort
  • Some, though, question the reliability of the results, as participants were not randomly selected. When participants are "self-selected," bias can be introduced, according to experts.

    People who feel strongly about an issue tend to participate, while those who are lukewarm might not, thus the respondents might not be representative of the population as a whole.

    The town hired Cultural Planning Group to suggest ways to get the arts center and other arts groups on solid financial footing, determine the town's role in supporting them, and suggest what should be done about the center's costly maintenance and repair needs.

    On Monday, the consulting firm held the first three of six planned "community conversations" on the needs, vision and aspirations of the cultural life of Hilton Head.

    The remaining three meetings are scheduled for 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday in council chambers, and from 6 to 7 p.m. at Palmetto Electric Cooperative and the Coastal Discovery Museum.

    About 35 residents -- a majority of whom were affiliated with an island arts or culture group -- gathered in town council chambers Monday to discuss what should be done about the cash-strapped arts center.

    While credited with providing high-quality, professional theater productions, the center's business model is not sustainable given its operating costs, according to the consultant.

    Center leaders have asked the town to buy the building take on its $425,000 annual upkeep. They point out that most arts centers are supported by governments or universities.

    The $10.2 million building opened in March 1996 without money for building maintenance. Center officials have since poured about $2.5 million into it by borrowing, but still-needed maintenance and repairs are expected to cost about another $2.5 million.

    Supporters of the arts center say it deserves more money from the town because it enhances tourism and the quality of life for residents. The group -- which included arts center employees and supporters -- agreed, saying the town should buy the building, fix it and rent it back to the Arts Center.

    "It's a precious commodity we need that separates us from other (resort) communities," said Port Royal Plantation resident Gil Campbell.

    To pay for the town's increased support for the arts, residents said they would be willing to pay more in property taxes. Some suggested adding a surcharge to ticket sales and to real estate sales.

    "Hilton Head Island has an abundance of artistic and cultural resources," said Martin Cohen, a partner with Cultural Planning Group. "It has nearly 40 arts and cultural organizations, far more than would be expected in a community of 38,000 residents. But, while Hilton Head is a relatively affluent community, it does not have a base of corporate and foundational funding to support (those) cultural organizations."

    The group also suggested the town establish an arts commission to advise council and serve as a central cultural planning and coordinating agency.

    It also would like to see a higher level of cooperation and collaboration among the arts and cultural organizations on the island.

    Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

    Related Content: October survey to gauge support for island arts: Sept. 7, 2013 http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/09/07/2671502/october-survey-to-gauge-support.html

    Building tour changes little on Hilton Head council support for Arts Center + video: Sept. 3, 2013 http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/09/03/2664752/building-tour-changes-little-on.html

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