By Charles Ratterree
Have you ever received something for your participation? If so, your souvenir is probably gathering dust since you last played a sport, joined a club, or entered a science fair. Many of us hardly remember these acknowledgments. Even the most supportive parents question why we even applaud participation as an achievement. Despite your misgivings, participation is one of the most essential concepts we can celebrate. I will share with you that many leaders miscalculate the value of their involvement as an assistant within their organizations. It is rare when the humble act of participation can inspire others, but it is a remarkable and selfless endeavor when it does.
Last week, one of Greenville’s own was acknowledged for what is his tremendous capacity to lead through participation and focus our attention on the success of others. The South Carolina Arts Commission annually presents the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award to South Carolinians who have made an extraordinary contribution to the arts. It is the highest honor that the state can award, and this year they have selected Alan Ethridge.
Alan has served as the executive director of the Metropolitan Arts Council (MAC) since late 2005 and has led Greenville’s arts community into a renaissance of the arts. Founded in 1973, MAC began as a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and growing cultural arts in Greenville County, enabling a strong, well-supported community of artists and arts providers, encouraging arts advocacy, connecting the arts to peoples’ lives, and supporting regional tourism by enhancing Greenville as a cultural destination.
As you may know, MAC is the primary funding source and advocate for the arts in Greenville County and has been the benchmark arts organization for others throughout the state. Its critical mission is to participate as a regranting organization for individual artists, arts organizations, and arts education initiatives. Alan has been responsible for the development activity for MAC since becoming executive director. Historically, over 93.1 percent of its income is driven from local sources to include individual gifts, corporations, and foundations. Alan had raised over $13,991,995 for the arts during his tenure at MAC with an annual total income that has increased 239 percent — from $722,927 in 2006 to $2,447,416 in 2017.
At MAC, the grants program is the backbone of the organization and a large focus of Alan’s efforts. In 2017 alone, MAC awarded $385,988 to cultural initiatives throughout Greenville County. Without Alan’s participation as a fundraiser and advocate for others, many arts and cultural projects in Greenville would not exist. Recipient organizations that annually receive operational support include Artisphere, Centre Stage, Greenville Chorale, Greenville Little Theatre, Greenville Symphony Orchestra, Peace Center for the Performing Arts, South Carolina Children’s Theatre, and the Warehouse Theatre. In addition, he has been responsible for fundraising over $3,649,890 that has been regranted by MAC to include artists, smaller arts organizations, and our schools. In 2009, MAC began work on the granting infrastructure for an endowment strictly for the grants program that is vital to the independent sustainability of the many arts initiatives in Greenville. As of March 2018, this endowment has a balance of $1,452,701 in cash and pledges to be used exclusively for the grants program over the next decade.
Greenville is home to the 44th largest school district in the country to include over 75,000 students. MAC’s SmartARTS program began in 2002 with three grants from the U.S. Department of Education totaling $2.1 million. This partnership between MAC and Greenville County Schools connects students, teaching artists, and teachers to provide deeper learning and self-awareness through integrating the arts with all areas of education. When the federal funding expired in 2007, Alan began development efforts not just to continue the program, but expand it. Since 2008, he has raised over $2,038,000 and grown the program from two schools to 63. Through MAC, SmartARTS has trained more than 200 artists and more than 450 teachers and funded over 400 arts-integrated units of study.
Held annually during the first weekend of November, Greenville Open Studios is the premier local artist event in our region in which studios of participating artists are made open the public. During Alan’s tenure, Greenville Open Studios has expanded significantly — from 80 artists in 2006 to 145 artists in 2017. The advertising budget used to support and recognize these local artists has grown by 236 percent from $76,852 in 2006 to $258,183. His efforts have led to over 550,000 people visiting Greenville’s artists and purchasing over $3,110,000 in local art.
What is not said in the demonstrated professional success above is what a beloved and generous individual Alan is in this community. No art event, performance, or ceremony in Greenville across all of our 60+ arts nonprofits is without his participation and support. His work for the arts is tireless, and he deeply cares about the success of every arts organization. Many people across all walks of life credit Alan with developing an appreciation for the arts, supporting or nurturing an artistic talent, or providing funding to grow an arts organization or event. Alan’s kindness, hard work, and strength of character are inspiring to any of us that have chosen to be involved in our arts community. His core belief is that the arts are for everyone. By serving, contributing, or simply encouraging the idea of the arts, we have participated in something worthy of remembering. It is by Alan’s participation that our lives in this small part of the world are enriched, and I am grateful that South Carolina Arts Commission has chosen such a worthy recipient.
Charles Ratterree was elected to the board of directors of the Metropolitan Arts Council in 2009 and served as chairman 2013-2017.