Consultant suggests town create new funding source for arts, plan for new venue

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 11, 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.

TOM BARTON, STAFF PHOTO

Hilton Head Island residents overwhelmingly believe a vibrant arts scene and cultural life is extremely important to the island.

And they're willing to pay for it.

Those were among the findings of survey results presented to Town Council on Wednesday by consulting firm Cultural Planning Group.

The firm was hired to suggest ways to get the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina 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.

It conducted an online survey and community meetings in October to gauge support for the programs and the willingness to fund them.

According to the results, the town should play a major role in supporting and expanding arts, culture and entertainment on the island, said firm partner Martin Cohen.

Of the 2,170 responses received:

  • More than 70 percent believe the town should either "fully" support and expand arts, culture and entertainment, or play a "major" part in that effort.
  • More than 70 percent also favor paying as much as $25 per capita in annual taxes to pay for such offerings.
  • Nearly three-fourths want more, affordable options for live music, dance and theater performances.
Some, though, question the reliability of the survey results since 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, Mayor Drew Laughlin said. He and other council members worried respondents might not be representative of the population as a whole.

Cohen argued bias is inherent in any survey by those who choose to take it.

"This should be taken as a broad indicator of the level of support in the community," he said. "We did learn there is extraordinary high interest in the arts and expectation the town participate in the arts and cultural development of the community."

The firm suggested the town establish an arts commission to advise council and serve as a central cultural planning and coordinating agency. It also suggested the town establish a dedicated funding source independent of tourism -- such as property taxes -- to pay for its support of the arts .

The town funds some arts and culture groups through tax collections on short-term lodging, with a focus on tourism development. However, nearly two-thirds of the arts groups on the island primarily serve residents.

The island has an abundance of artistic and cultural resources with nearly 40 arts and cultural organizations, far more than would be expected in a community of 38,000 residents, Cohen said.

But, while Hilton Head is relatively affluent, it does not have a base of corporate and foundational funding to support those groups.

As a result, the island is "arts rich but arts facility poor," consultant Jerry Allen said.

The firm recommended the town begin planning now for a new 700- to 1,000-seat performing arts venue. In the meantime, it should develop a short-term plan to maintain the Arts Center.

Council directed the consultants to return in February with a detailed look at possible funding sources and short- and long-term plans to address facility needs.

Video: Consultant suggests town create new arts funding; plan for new venue (3:10)

Town-hired arts consultants Martin Cohen and Jerry Allen discuss their findings and preliminary recommendations for supporting arts and culture on Hilton Head Island. Tom Barton

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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