Hilton Head must get grip on future role in arts

Town officials have laid out an ambitious effort to plan the future of arts on Hilton Head Island -- at least for the next 10 years.

The complexity of that endeavor and the cooperation it will require can be seen in the town's request for proposals from arts consultants who want the job. The proposal lists no fewer than 32 nonprofit organizations that could be part of the project; 13 different types of facilities to consider; and 28 potential sources of public and private financial support.

While it might seem daunting to come up with a vision and a strategic plan for the town's role in the arts, it is necessary and should have been done long ago. The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina's most recent financial problems and its request that the town take ownership of its facility have brought the issue into sharp focus.

Diminishing private financial support, along with increasing costs, make it imperative that some perspective and priorities be brought to bear, especially when the town tops most groups' lists for financial support in the form of accommodations tax grants.

The difficult part will be corralling (if it can even be done) the dozens of arts and cultural groups, all with different missions and supporters, into a coordinated strategy. The town wants to study possible collaboration among organizations to share resources and expertise and get more efficiency in their operations.

Among the questions the town wants a consultant's help in answering:

  • What should the town do to serve as a catalyst for growing the arts on the island, ensuring access to the arts for all and supporting the arts through public-private partnerships?
  • What is the role of the community in the arts, including what types of performing and cultural arts does the community want?
  • What are the appropriate funding methods and sources? How should the town restructure the way it finances arts organizations to have the strongest impact on the local economy, improve the town's competitive position to attract and retain permanent residents and visitors, and improve property values and the town's tax base?
  • What types of arts facilities are needed?
  • The town also wants to know strategies used by similar cities, and it wants recommendations on how to fairly distribute funding. Given what we've seen in years past, most organizations define"fair"based on whether or not they get money from the town.

    This won't be easy. Some people have invested a lot of money and emotion in their particular groups. All see themselves as deserving of support and contributing to the well-being of the community. But something has to give. Neither the town nor the community has an endless well of money to tap for arts and cultural groups.

    The town expects to pay about $80,000 for this work. If the consultant accomplishes what the town has outlined, it will be money well earned and it will be money well spent.