The shrinking pie. The declining patron. The battle for grants. These terms don’t just sound ridiculous, they are currently the jargon in fashion within the arts community.
Conceptually, everyone agrees that arts are an important part of any community. On any scale and virtually using any application, the arts can bring value to real estate, decrease crime, enhance citizen pride, etc. So that’s not the problem. But the arts remain low on the list of priorities here in Georgia and more specifically, Atlanta. Why? Could it be that arts groups themselves just aren’t talking? Whether to themselves or to the public, the importance of supporting the arts has not, in itself declined.
Naturally the economy has changed the habits of giving among the historically generous, but perhaps arts groups should be proactive, communicative and actually provide “what the customer wants” for a change. Just a thought. I’ve known many artists who have said they’d rather starve than cater to the public’s tastes, but have achieved a modicum of success by modifying their technique to do just that.
The media has broadcast Georgia’s lack of support for the arts like never before, trumpeting the dismal statistic that we rank 44th among states in per capita arts appropriations in 2009.
Even a bill introduced in this year’s legislature (HB1049) which would let counties use sales tax money for arts programs failed to gain support. So we recognize very little leadership exists “from the top.” What about related arts groups, the shepherds of government funds? Who are these art groups? Is there a clearinghouse for information to help artists and art supporters? Consider the following “tip of the iceberg” list of government funded “local arts” groups:
Georgia Council for the Arts (www.gca.georgia.gov). This state agency “supports the state’s nonprofit arts industry.” It maintains a state art collection and provides some grants. The Georgia Artists Initiative is designed to provide services to artists. Those include an Artist Roster, Arts Education Consultants Bank, and a Writers Registry. (404) 685-2794.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund (part of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta) (www.atlcf.org) launched the Atlanta Arts Recovery initiative in order to facilitate grants for small and midsize organizations. They have doled out $6.5 million since 1993 including $50,000 to the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, $40,000 to the Spruill Center for the Arts, $30,000 to the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and many others just last year. (404) 688-5525.
Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition (www.metroatlantaarts.org) primarily does advocacy work and marketing, but also created Atlanta PlanIt (www.atlantaplanit.com), a search tool search tool enabling users to find art in any neighborhood, on any day or in any neighborhood. There are over 400 groups listed. Atlanta PlanIt recently became part of WPBA and its new Lens On Atlanta website (www.lensonatlanta.org), an online community of artists with resources, news and education.
Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs (www.ocaatlanta.com) operates several events with public funds including the Atlanta Jazz Festival, Chastain Art Center, and Cyclorama. Mr. Eddie Granderson, Director of the Public Art program, spoke to a group of assembled artists recently about the Artist Registry. It was unclear how artists are allowed to register, and more importantly how artists are awarded public commissions. But the resources are there, ready to be unearthed. (404) 546-6999.
Clearly there are government programs in place to support the arts. But how much is being duplicated and how much is actually connecting the artists and public (i.e., provider and user)? Consider that the private website Arts in Atlanta (www.artsinatlanta.org) lists over 60 galleries, 18 museums, 9 visual arts organizations, 10 photography centers, 6 sculpture studios, and many related arts centers. Unfortunately this website went defunct in October, 2009. But doesn’t this site represent a potential clearinghouse?
The challenge is not to get people talking about the arts. That’s relatively easy with a bit of controversy and marketing savvy (think about the “groundbreaking” use of automobiles as art in the High Museum).
The challenge is to get arts groups to talk. Instead of lamenting the shrinking donor dollar and lack of “free” government funding, why not create artistic partnerships, merge resources, co-op advertisements, perhaps coalesce a viable Arts District? It’s not rocket science, folks. It’s communication. Supply and demand. Provider and user.
Two galleries sharing the bill for a great exhibit (think Besharat Gallery and Fay Gold); non-equity theaters sharing mailing lists or hosting a writers competition; an open call for artists to design functional art for Grady Hospital; outdoor neighborhood murals connecting students, teachers and neighborhoods. The possibilities are endless for the creative mind. And there is money out there to support the arts.
Consider the fact that last year more than $2 million was voluntarily donated to various arts charities from the Woodruff Foundation, Zeist Foundation, Kendeda Fund and Bank of America. There are millions more waiting to be spent, once the providers start talking, that is.
Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. He lives in Atlanta.