Note: The article and all quotations below reflect the legislative situation before the General Assembly reconvened Tuesday morning, April 20.
Updates: See these articles by Jessica Blankenship at Creative Loafing and Jamie Gumbrecht at the AJC reporting events that may herald the restoration of the GCA, and keep watching this space for more info.
For Lena Carstens, yeah, it’s somewhat about the money—but really it’s the principle of the matter.
The managing director of Dad’s Garage Theater, Atlanta’s wry, improvisational theater company off Elizabeth Street, will not support the state budget that may eliminate the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA).
The GCA allocates annual grant money for everything from non-profit artists to cultural and tourist attractions for the entire state, ranging from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon to Dad’s Garage Theater.
The $17.8 billion state budget, which passed the House Wednesday, April 14, and is currently in the Senate for consideration, not only calls to eliminate the GCA but has whittled down the Council’s funds from $890,735 to $250,000 this year. Since 2008, the funding for the Council has dropped from $4.18 million. Federal funds for the GCA, usually matched by what the state gives, will also greatly diminish, putting the Council back to the tune of about $812,000.
Carstens, a Georgia native, has lived all over the country but returned to her stomping grounds with a cause. “Georgia is my home … and I chose to come back to Georgia to raise a family and have a career in the arts,” she said, somewhat melancholy in a phone interview Thursday. For Carstens and many in Inman Park, the arts are a way of life.
As money goes, Dad’s Garage Theater has received grant money from the GCA for several years, Carstens said. “It was money that … was an important part of our overall financial profile,” and the proposed budget is, “especially difficult considering the overall financial strain.” She added that cutting the GCA from the state budget would hit the economy hard. Businesses, restaurants, cafes, and parking garages have opened up in the last 15 years near the theater as a result of the “23,000 patrons” supporting Dad’s Garage, she said. She believes cutting funding from organizations that bring tourism and revenue to Georgia is a mistake. “It’s just another blow,” Carstens said, anticipating bad luck for small-business owners in addition to the arts.
Don Hinamon, co-owner of the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, Little 5 Points, Atlanta, agrees. “[The GCA] is good for qualify of life in general,” said Hinamon in a phone interview Thursday. While the 22-year veteran bar co-owner has an animated staff, a landmark location near the longstanding venues like the Variety Playhouse, and patrons so loyal they earn nicknames, last year was even financially rough for him. “It’s starting to get better, though … noticeably to me and now’s not the time to shoot us in the leg,” he said. “I know [politicians] have some tough decisions to make, but they should think about that for sure.”
An investment in the arts, Flora Maria Garcia contends, is an investment in the state economy and cutting the organization also cuts revenue. “The GCA provides a very valuable service to organizations in our state—it does a lot with very little money—it is very shortsighted to cut all funding to the agency,” said Garcia, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition.
“The GCA is really vital to the entire state. In many counties, it is the only public source of funding for arts groups and provides the ‘good housekeeping seal of approval’ to encourage other donors to give to the organization,” she said. Garcia added that, “Nationally, it would be an embarrassment to be the only state in the country to have abolished its State Arts Council—as a result, Georgia would also lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of Federal matching funds allocated to our state agency.”
In addition, nothing came of House Bill 1049, which Garcia and Carstens were pushing. The bill, proposed this winter, would allow each county to allocate either a penny or fraction of a penny from sales tax to quality-of-life initiatives, including arts and cultural organizations.
“The House,” said Carstens, “ran out of time before it could review HB 1049,” she said. The House and Senate have 40 legislative days to review proposed bills. Day 30 is the deadline the bill has to pass, and, during the 10 days following, the bill will cross over to the other side for review, either the House or Senate, respectively.
Garcia believes there is still hope for the bill. “We are currently exploring options for moving HB 1049 in the Senate—we have gotten good response from Senate leadership … we are working hard on it as we speak,” she said.
If the Senate does not revise the bill in time, it will die, as elections for the Georgia General Assembly approach in November.
While Susan Weiner, executive director of the GCA, has not responded for comment, she has released public statements that she is “profoundly saddened,” for the nonprofit industry and the state. “But I’m really sad for Georgians who recognize the value of the arts and participate in them.”
Find your local congressperson: www.legis.state.ga.us/
Dad’s Garage: 280 Elizabeth St., Ste. C-101, Atlanta, (404) 523-3141
Euclid Ave. Yacht Club: 1136 Euclid Ave. N.E., Atlanta, (404) 688-2582
Georgia Council for the Arts: Located in the Georgia Public Broadcasting Building, 260 14th St. N.W., Atlanta, (404) 685-2787