When you peer behind the metaphorical curtain of the Charleston Gaillard Center, you may notice something even more than its state-of-the-art acoustics and luxe decor. Those with an eye on the local arts scene will also admire it as a feat of philanthropy.
The Gaillard would not be shining forth in all its rosy splendor were it not for one benefactor, Martha Rivers Ingram. She first approached Mayor Joseph P. Riley with an idea that evolved into the proud neoclassical building, which aims to be a game-changer in Charleston’s local arts scene, particularly by way of its robust education program, and in elevating the city’s stature as an international arts destination.
It is also worth more than its weight in marble. Ingram’s multi-million-dollar lead gift, which launched a $71 million capital campaign, also teed up a philanthropic paradigm shift. It not only raised the bar to a new level of giving in Charleston, but offered an illustrative local model of a public-private partnership.
Have Charleston arts organizations been able to leverage such a grand gesture to foster a culture of giving to the arts?
The state of the arts philanthropy
In the past five years since the Gaillard opened, there have been sizable gifts in the arts and culture lanes. For starters, well before then, in 2011, the Gibbes Museum of Art had already embarked on a five-year, $13.5 million capital campaign to renovate and expand its building. In 2016, it ushered patrons into its stunning new space.
Other Charleston arts organizations have also benefited from such generosity. In 2017, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston received an anonymous $1 million gift from a member of its advisory council. There is also the rare and dear 1638 Guarneri violin, which was provided to Charleston Symphony by an anonymous symphony patron so that concertmaster Yuriy Bekker can perform with it.
Most recently and considerably, in August, the International African American Museum announced the go-ahead to break ground, having reached a fundraising goal that exceeded $90 million. Gifts have included pledges of $1 million from Spartanburg’s Susu and George Dean Johnson Jr. and $500,000 from local entrepreneur Carolyn Hunter.
The uptick in gifts that propel grand civic institutions starts with Ingram. Renee Anderson, President & CEO and vice chairman of Gaillard Performance Hall Foundation, said Ingram came to understand the need to improve the performance venue from her vantage as a board member for Spoleto Festival USA. She then went to Mayor Riley to solve the problem.
“We needed a world-class performance hall for this community because Charleston certainly deserved it,” said Anderson, citing benchmarks like its status on top travel lists, as well as the continued growth of arts organizations like the Charleston Symphony.
“I’m pretty sure that the catalyst of her initial gift allowed us to attract the talent we have in Ken Lam,” she said of the symphony’s music director. Moreover, Ingram’s gift enabled the mayor to then go to City Hall for approval and support of the project.
“That model has many different approaches, but that kind of catalytic gift brings together the right principles, both public and private,” said Anderson.
Ingram said that when she joined the Spoleto board, she became alarmed by the shrinking audiences at the former Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.
"Based on conversations with Spoleto’s patrons and those of Charleston Symphony, I realized that both organizations’ future success, as well as a satisfying patron experience, depended on a better concert hall, both acoustically and in terms of creature comforts," she said.
Informed by her work on Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, where she now lives most of the time, Ingram thought she could help. "A visit with Mayor Joe Riley was so encouraging that we agreed on the spot that each of us would be responsible for half the needed funding," she said.
"With a total cost later fixed at $142 million, we each did what we had agreed to do, and with the help of hundreds of other Charlestonians, we now have the beautiful Charleston Gaillard Center featuring a world-class performance hall."
Ingram said the Gaillard Performance Hall Foundation works with patrons across the Charleston community to preserve and promote the success of the space through endowment fundraising and planned giving, intended to permanently support the Gaillard Center’s educational programming for all ages and grade levels.
At the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, director and chief curator Mark Sloan points to the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation’s support as the game-changer in town, and an example of what he calls enlightened philanthropy. “They so transformed the landscape here it is unrecognizable now.”
In addition to other funding like general operating support, the foundation has underwritten collateral materials and initiatives like a comprehensive membership program so that the Halsey can more effectively raise additional funds.
“They identified within our budget where the weaknesses were. They challenged us to address that in an innovative way, which we did,” said Sloan, citing the Halsey’s creative membership levels, which include names like “No Monet” for student giving. “Donnelley, in the nicest way, pushed us into that.”
It’s the smaller arts organizations that seem to still struggle for funding.
Kerri Forrest observes this in her role as director of the Lowcountry Program at the Donnelley Foundation, managing funding for organizations in the nine counties on the coast of South Carolina, with most funding concentrated in Charleston and Dorchester counties. The foundation has a long history of supporting the work of smaller or under-supported organizations.
Last year, the foundation allotted $750,000 in grants annually, spanning small arts organizations like Annex Dance Company, as well as considerable undertakings like Spoleto.
In terms of philanthropy, Forrest has observed that the large organizations, such as Spoleto, Charleston Symphony and Charleston Stage, do fairly well. However, there seems to be a real struggle for organizations below the $500,000 budget range.
She adds, though, that everybody struggles, particularly relative to the new people moving to Charleston. “Everybody is having this conversation on how to attract new donors.”
New residents, new potential
“Today, philanthropy is about individuals, and not institutions,” said Julia Forster, director of development at Spoleto Festival USA. “Of course, Charleston has changed dramatically and people have come here with wealth.”
Forster says the organization’s private giving comes from both long-standing local benefactors and new arrivals, as well as from out-of-towners in places like Charlotte, who either have vacation homes in Charleston or who travel to the city regularly to enjoy its cultural and other amenities.
“I have a lot of newcomers on my board,” said Sloan, listing New York, Connecticut and Chicago as their places of origin, some of whom have served previously on the boards of esteemed arts organizations. “They are coming with an expectation.”
Forrest also sits on the One Region Executive Committee, which is connected to Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. In that role, she anecdotally hears reports of the dozens of new residents pouring into the city each day, but wonders whether there is an effective pipeline for arts support with these new arrivals.
The education nexus
One inroad that has proven successful in cultivating donors is by way of the convergence of arts and education. Kenton Youngblood, a senior development officer at the College of Charleston who serves the School of the Arts and other areas, said that aligned missions of education and the arts are compelling to prospective donors.
Her current fundraising focus at the college is the creation of scholarships, which make an impact on recruitment, and also work to attract talent to the city. Those individuals regularly feed out into the city’s arts arena.
“Our largest major in the School of the Arts is arts management,” she said. “We are training the arts and cultural administrators that run these other community organizations.”
Education also figures prominently into the Gaillard Center’s mission. Today, it hosts schoolchildren throughout Charleston county, including many who are in Title 1 schools.
“We’re removing as many barriers as we can to get those children into the Gaillard for performances that are tied to their curriculum,” said Anderson.
According to Anderson, this arts education focus engages children who may not otherwise have the opportunity, while also engaging their families. What’s more, it cultivates a new generation of arts enthusiasts and potential future donors.
Getting with the program
So how does Charleston further the momentum started in Charleston by grand initiatives like the Gaillard? Some arts practitioners research commensurate models in public-private partnerships in other cities. Forrest has talked with leaders in cities with creative enterprise zones. These are supported areas, usually a few blocks, within municipalities that specifically attract arts organizations, such as Shreveport, La., and St. Paul, Minn.
She also points to Greenville, commending its strategic efforts in carving out a creative zone in the city, something that would benefit Charleston artists in search of performance or studio spaces.
Sloan sees other challenges that are specific to Charleston, citing extensive arts festivals that compete for funding. “I can’t think of any other city that has the same kind of competition for dollars that Charleston has in that sense.”
To ensure that all arts organizations are benefiting from Charleston’s ever-evolving stature as an arts destination — and are getting the people moving here to participate — Forrest suggests a more comprehensive conversation.
This would require not just the arts organizations, Forrest said, but it also needs to happen at the local level within the Chamber of Commerce. A vibrant arts community, she said, creates a vibrant community.
"Everybody’s got a part to play in this,” she said, adding that we all need to get better at communicating what artistic vitality looks like. “That needs to be a collective conversation.”