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Atlanta must continue to invest in arts

Mayor Reed supported $10 million in arts funding last year, so why is the city only granting two percent of that now?

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The Atlanta arts community is cohesive and engaged. We are seeing new organizations, galleries and creative businesses open at high rates. Artists are moving to and staying in Atlanta. Organizations across a broad spectrum are working together to create the world-class city we all imagine — and we're working across boundaries and barriers of geography, economics, disciplines and cultural differences. In order for these efforts to be sustained and make a full impact, the city of Atlanta must invest in nonprofit cultural institutions.

Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., Atlanta ranks fourth in the number of arts-related businesses per capita and second in arts-related jobs. By comparison, Nashville and Charlotte rank, respectively, eighth and 32nd in arts-related businesses and eighth and 41st in arts-related jobs. Last year, Nashville granted $1.8 million directly to arts and culture organizations and Charlotte granted more than $3 million. Yet Atlanta's proposed budget for 2012 would reduce the city's granting to $235,000 — half the amount given this year. This will not make Atlanta a competitive city for tourists, international corporations or new residents. Why is the grant funding so disproportionate?

To quote from Mayor Kasim Reed's 2010 Cultural Platform:

"Atlanta, if it is to become the world-class city we all hope it will be, must invest more heavily in arts and cultural attractions. Arts and culture are more than just recreational activities. Studies have shown a direct correlation between arts funding and increased tourist and convention revenue, attraction of a more talented work force, and increased SAT scores for public high school students. We need to increase our capital contributions as well as the annual support we offer for operations and grantmaking. A robust public art program is a vital portion of public support for the arts & cultural community, but we must also build the necessary infrastructure, including affordable live/work space for young artists. I believe that $10 million is the minimum annual commitment we should be making, and I would absolutely support it."

Where is the mayor now? The City of Atlanta has exhibited in the past that it values the efforts of nonprofit arts institutions and artists. Just this past year, the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Council offices of both Kwanza Hall and Cleta Winslow supported Art on the Beltline. This initiative, Atlanta's largest temporary art project to date, is perhaps the best PR effort ever made by Atlanta Beltline Inc. In 2010, the Office of Cultural Affairs funded 55 organizations, including the High Museum, Flux Projects, the National Black Arts Festival and 16 individual artists. This is vital support for Atlanta's large and talented creative industries.

I am a native of Atlanta, and there's nothing more that I want to see than my hometown become the city that all of us deserve. The Council and mayor should consider strongly how Atlanta has invested in arts and culture in the past, and what this city might look like without those investments.

Chris Appleton is WonderRoot's Executive Director

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