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Metropolitan Arts Council Receives 2021 Leadership in Arts Award

The Leadership in Arts Award recognizes an organization that serves our community through outstanding arts leadership and outreach programming, therefore elevating the artistic opportunities available in our community.

Any statistician worth their salt would say correlation is not causation, and they’d be right. But it’s hard not to see a link between the tandem growth of Greenville’s art community and its rising national prominence as one of the best places to live, work, and visit.

“There’s no better example than Greenville of how the arts can transform a community,” says Alan Ethridge. “All this started when the Peace Center opened in 1990, and you see the profound effect it and other arts organizations have had. Greenville has experienced a true renaissance, and I think the arts have played a huge part in that.”

Ethridge would know. He’s served as executive director of the Metropolitan Arts Council (MAC) since 2006, and in that role, he’s helped shape the local arts landscape for nearly two decades. MAC’s core function is a simple one. As an umbrella arts organization, it provides funding to individual artists, arts organizations, and art education initiatives.

However, funding is simply a means to an end. “Our underlying philosophy is that the arts are for everyone,” Ethridge explains. In practice, that means ensuring artists have the resources to create and express. It also means prioritizing access, so that arts experiences are available to as diverse a cross-section of the public as possible. But most importantly, it means nurturing the arts community so that it can continue growing and thriving into future generations.

In 2009, the MAC Endowment for the Arts was created with that future in mind. “As Greenville grows, there are going to be more and more initiatives, and there is going to have to be a stable source of funding for everyone,” says Ethridge. “And what a wonderful thing to have an endowment, because it will continue to be a source of funding, long after we’ve gone.” By the end of 2019, the endowment counted over $1 million on its books. But then the world ground to a halt in March 2020.

“We weren’t going to take any withdrawals until we met our initial $3 million goal, but when COVID-19 came, we knew this was the perfect time for MAC to step up to the plate,” says Ethridge. “When we saw how hard artists and organizations were getting hit by the pandemic, we worked very closely with the board to make a plan. Since the pandemic began, we’ve withdrawn about $300,000, but we also sought out foundations and partners to match or augment our withdrawals.”

With contributions from the Graham Foundation, Hollingsworth Funds, the Community Foundation of Greenville, and the Canal Charitable Foundation, MAC has been able to distribute over $660,000 in COVID-19 relief funds to 33 local arts organizations.

“Alan’s hard work paid off as evidenced by MAC’s ability to support so many of Greenville’s arts organizations challenged during the pandemic,” says Mark Johnston, publisher of Community Journals and longtime friend and supporter of MAC. “I know firsthand how critical this lifeline was for many of them.”

Despite the immense challenges presented by the pandemic, the Metropolitan Arts Council closes out 2021 even better positioned to support the artistic and cultural expressions that help make Greenville such an enviable place to be.


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