Since moving to Charleston in 1970 to work as a cardiologist, Dr. Bill Carter has attended his share of live performances in the capital city. Plays, symphony concerts, ballets — Bill’s been a common fixture at them all.
And in recent years, he began noticing a trend — empty seats. Attending shows at places like the Clay Center, Bill noticed that large chunks of the balcony were often lacking in folks. And he started thinking about how he could change that.
Bill was already involved on Charleston’s West Side. He helped to establish a tennis program in the summer months to serve children in the neighborhood. So he reached out to community organizations, like the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club and the Partnership of African American Churches, to help get live performance tickets into the hands of children growing up on Charleston’s West Side. Almost half of the kids in Charleston’s West Side live below the poverty line, the highest rate of any Charleston neighborhood.
From 2016 to 2017, Bill organized the cultural program all on his own, meeting with performance groups like the Charleston Ballet and the Light Opera Guild to secure tickets at a discounted price. He then worked with community groups to figure out how they could get kids to performances.
But that’s a lot of work for one person to try to manage. In late 2017, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation (TGKVF) stepped in to support Bill’s work. TGKVF helped Bill create a private, donoradvised fund to financially support the program, known as Ticket Town. Ticket Town is being facilitated by FestivALL, which oversees Charleston’s 10-day arts festival in addition to working throughout the year to create, produce and present vibrant arts experiences and entertainment opportunities.
This year for the first time, Ticket Town will help to enable kids throughout Charleston’s West Side to be able to attend some of FestivALL’s major events, like the Mayor’s Concert or Dance FestivALL. And because FestivALL already has partnerships with the live, performance arts groups throughout the city, they’re working to expose kids to even more cultural events.
“FestivALL has always been meant for everybody,” Brittany Javins, Executive Director of FestivALL, said. “… Building this community feeling through the arts has been a really important part of FestivALL.”
FestivALL and Ticket Town have been able to combine their community partnerships, adding schools on the West Side like Mary C. Snow Elementary and Stonewall Jackson Middle, to ensure they reach as many children as possible.
Now, in addition to paying for discounted tickets for kids to attend live performance events, Ticket Town offers mini-grants to community organizations to help them cover the costs of getting kids to and from events, like paying for extra gas or treating kids to a meal before a show.
“It’s been a twofold benefit,” Brittany said, “Both people from the community are getting to go to shows they might not go to, but also the arts groups aren’t completely giving them away for free.”
Bill isn’t hoping this program will change the world, he said. If it opens the eyes of a few kids, maybe inspires some to learn how to play music or try out ballet, he said, that will be enough.