Georgia’s annual Arts Advocacy Day is taking place at the capitol building in downtown Atlanta today, January 29. Georgia Arts Network will partner with half a dozen other associations to promote the state’s economic development and investment in the arts, tourism, and hospitality industries. The event, taking place shortly after the opening of the 2013 General Assembly, encourages Georgia’s residents to voice their support of the arts as a public good.
If you weren’t aware of Georgia’s Arts Advocacy Day, you’re not alone. It wasn’t until 2010, after nearly a decade without a capitol arts day, that the Georgia Arts Network (GAN) became the Americans for the Arts’s official state advocacy organization. With that designation, Georgia Arts Network began coordinating the yearly event, which provides constituents the formal opportunity to lobby for legislative arts funding in Georgia, starting in 2011.
Responding to state fiscal crisis
The reorganized advocacy effort was the requisite response to the fiscal 2011 state budget crisis that threatened to defund the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) and rank Georgia as the sole state without an arts agency. The council was spared, but barely so. The state’s allocation for GCA was cut to less than $800,000 that year. Funding was down to $574,000 in fiscal 2012, and is up by only a few thousand dollars in the fiscal 2013 state budget. To put these numbers into context, take into consideration that the state’s contribution to the Georgia Council for the Arts reached its highest—$4.5 million—in 2002. In 10 years, GCA has experienced an 87 percent decrease in funding from the state.
In 2010, GAN expanded its mission to advocate for the arts at the local, state, and federal levels. Practically, this means focusing its efforts on restoring public dollars to GCA. The council has long held esteem as the organization that can award art-based programs with the stamp of approval that opens new avenues for funding opportunities. With so little cash available, however, the number of personnel at the council has dwindled, and so too has the number of grants it can afford to offer.
Chris Appleton, executive director of the Atlanta arts-service nonprofit WonderRoot, explains, “When it comes to funding … the private sector often follows the lead of public funders. Both individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations can be bolstered by public funding. Perhaps more importantly, the public funding has a multiplier effect for nonprofit arts organizations.” Now, as fewer programs are awarded publicly-backed grants, funding to artists and arts associations from nongovernment and private organizations also shrink.
Keeping the state’s belt tightening in mind, GAN has a fairly conservative goal. “What we really need as a first step,” GAN president Wayne Jones argues, “is a state allocation of a million dollars.” Acquiring this amount of money—mere “budget dust,” according to Jones—might be easier said than done. All state agencies have cut back, and state investment in the arts has remained a low priority as Georgia struggles to pull itself out of recession.
Jones is optimistic nonetheless. He points to GCA’s repositioning under the state’s Department of Economic Development (DEcD) as one positive change for arts advocacy in Georgia. The move, which relocated GCA out of the state budget office, was a stabilizing one, says Jones. He notes that under the umbrella of the DEcD, the arts are recognized as a considerable factor of Georgia’s profitability; after all, over 4 percent of jobs in the state are in the creative industries (more information here and here). Jones also credits GCA director Karen Paty and the state’s director of Tourism Product Development, Bruce Green, with successfully partnering in order to incorporate an arts component into the state’s tourism program for the first time. The result of this alliance, the Tourism Product Development Agreement, offers grants to local governments that partner with nonprofit arts organizations to promote tourism in the area.
GCA will release its new strategic plan later this month, but initiatives such as the Tourism Product Development Agreement indicate that the Council is employing tactics already proven in the private sector. Jessyca Holland, executive director of C4 Atlanta, helps metro Atlanta artists develop successful business models to match their artistic skills. She identifies the ability to nurture strategic relationships to be the most significant factor in an artist’s success. “Leveraging relationships and creating work that is relevant drives patron behavior …. The best business models focus on a person’s or organization’s strengths to help overcome barriers.” This is precisely what GCA appears to be doing as it joins hands with the tourism, hospitality, and entertainment industries.
As for the livelihood of individual artists, however, Holland suggests that their futures depend on entrepreneurship. “Self-employment is on the rise in the US,” she says, “and hierarchical modes of operating are becoming obsolete.” In many ways, artists need to rely on the methods that are profitable in every other industry: researching their market, building a supportive network, and innovation. These traditional business tenets are even more important in Georgia, where, Holland concedes, there currently is not a large arts market.
This is perhaps the meeting point of support in the form of public dollars and private artistic enterprise. Speaking specifically of C4 Atlanta, which receives a small grant from GCA, and of nonprofit arts advocacy organizations more broadly, Holland asks, “How can we ever make the case to funders and donors”–and patrons—“that the arts are worth supporting if our own representatives don’t place any monetary value on our work?” Still, she’s enthusiastic, and impressed by the number of artists who are “staying responsive and nimble.”
“I feel extremely optimistic about the arts in Atlanta,” says Appleton. “While Fulton County is shrinking its budget, the City of Atlanta and State of Georgia are either holding steady or growing—this is obviously a good sign.”
Wayne Jones shares Holland’s and Appleton’s cautious optimism as he—maybe surprisingly— views Governor Deal as a friend to the arts. “Governor Deal is tremendously interested in the arts,” he says, and Jones is confident that, as the state recovers from recession, Governor Deal will work to restore GCA’s funding. Jones is saving the bulk of his enthusiasm, however, until that day: “I’m not worried,” he says, “but I’m not satisfied.”