City of Charlotte hires inaugural arts and culture officer

Charlotte has hired its first arts and culture officer, who is charged with devising sustainable funding streams for the city’s arts ecosystem.

Priya Sircar, former director of arts for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, will begin working on Sept. 13, city officials said in a news release Friday.

In her new role, Sircar will be tasked with developing a cultural plan for Charlotte, including sustainable funding, the city said.

“Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know Charlotte as not only one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the United States, but also as one of the most creative,” Sircar said in the release. “I am thrilled to work with this dynamic community on creating a new, comprehensive cultural plan that will serve current and future Charlotteans.”

Priya Sircar.jpg
The City of Charlotte named Priya Sircar, former director of arts for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, as its first arts and culture officer on August 27, 2021. Courtesy of City of Charlotte

Sircar will have an annual salary of $150,000, a city spokesperson told the Observer.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, artists groups and creatives had to contend with Charlotte’s failed sales tax referendum in 2019, which could have generated $22.5 million for the local arts sectors.

The arts and culture officer, a three-year role, is part of the City Council’s larger upheaval for arts funding. The city had received 111 applications for the job between June 22 and July 16, the Observer previously reported.

In this year’s budget, Charlotte bucked a decades-long model of relying on the Arts & Science Council as a pass-through funding agency. Instead, Charlotte is using a blend of public funding, matched by private sector donations, for its annual arts allocation.

The city tapped the Foundation for the Carolinas to dole out grants to artists groups.

Charlotte’s arts and culture officer — with the help of a soon-to-be-created board of advisors — would figure out a longer-term funding plan. The officer will create a “framework for a sustainable and thriving community from emerging artists to established, legacy institutions,” the city had said in the job listing.

Sircar also will be the liaison to the 18-member arts and culture advisory board, which has not been named yet. The board will determine the use and allocation of future arts funding, the city said.

She will report directly to City Manager Marcus Jones.

“We are excited to welcome Priya and her family to Charlotte and I’m thrilled to get to work with one of the top arts professionals in the country,” Jones said in the news release. “Priya brings an exceptional level of knowledge and passion to this position and that is going to benefit the entire arts community here in Charlotte.”

Sircar is a practicing artist who’s been active in dance, music, theater and film. She comes into the position with 20 years of philanthropic and nonprofit work, a master’s degree in arts administration from Teachers College of Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas.

Manoj Kesavan, founder and executive director of the arts showcase BOOM Charlotte, said he’s worked with Sircar when she was with the Knight Foundation. He called Sircar’s hiring “an opportunity” for the city’s cultural future.

“With her great experience, along with her special insight and understanding of the cultural ecosystem here, I can’t think of a better person to lead us at this critical juncture,” Kesavan said.

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Jonathan Limehouse is a breaking news reporter and covers all major happenings in the Charlotte area. He has covered a litany of other beats from public safety, education, public health and sports. He is a proud UNC Charlotte graduate and a Raleigh native.

Angelia S. Rico

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