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Sustainable Georgia: Where The Art Is

 

One of my brightest experiences in 2012 was seeing more visual art emerge in my MARTA commute downtown. Suddenly every tunnel along DeKalb Avenue had a new mural, and much to my delight, they were really good. 

Georgia’s fine arts community has been like a sleeping giant. Maybe it is finally waking up.

Faced with another budget shortfall, Gov. Nathan Deal spared the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) the ax this year, and we hope it will again make the cut in 2013.

This year saw Strategic Community Plan Forums on the arts by the GCA in Augusta, Macon and Columbus and nearly $1 million in awards to more than 100 arts organizations around the state. The GCA, in partnership with other groups, also honored Col. Bruce Hamp-ton, Arthur Berry and several others with the Governor’s Award for Arts and Humanities.

There have been some great exhibits – “Southern Folk Art from the Permanent Collection” at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Rocio Rodriguez at the Columbus Museum of Art and the handsome retrospective hosted last summer by the Telfair Museum’s Jepson Center in Savannah.

And there’s some good news: The PNC Foundation awarded $1.2 million in grants to expand arts and science education for pre-K students in poor communities, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed doubled the city’s funding for Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs to $1 million – a significant increase. 

With Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, the city has seen some of its brightest lights, like visual artist HENSE and musician Kebbi Williams, given a long-overdue public spotlight. Now in its third year, the “Living Walls” project I mentioned earlier has replaced a lot of blank concrete spaces with murals by artists both local (Sarah Emerson of Atlanta) and global (TIKA of Zurich, Switzerland).

In May, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) announced it would absorb the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition and re-leased some interesting findings in the process.

Metro Atlanta has 1,740 cultural nonprofit organizations generating half a billion in revenues and representing $1.8 billion in assets. More than 15,000 arts-related businesses employ 62,000 people in the 10-county region. Arts and culture were major factors in the location of NCR Corp. to Gwinnett County.

Atlanta citizen Louis Corrigan, who founded the arts nonprofits Possible Futures and Flux Projects, told the ARC that as a private hedge fund manager who could live anywhere, he chose Atlanta because of its cultural offerings. The digital workforce, less dependent on hard infrastructure, will increasingly prioritize quality of life, Corrigan said, and choose cities with vibrant culture.

Public art plays a role in getting people to get out of their cars and walk around. This has not been lost on the ARC. Formed to promote pedestrian-oriented development (after dirty air froze our transportation funding in the ‘90s), it now integrates “placemaking” into its programs, according to ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker. 

“We were created by federal mandate as a planning entity, but we’ve evolved,” he says. “Planning is just one tool to get us to community development, so we are realigning to allow more cross-discipline work, to become more outcome oriented and implement these plans.”

“It’s great for the ARC to own this,” says recently retired Woodruff Arts Center CEO Joe Bankoff.  Woodruff itself transformed under Bankoff’s leadership. It now kicks off shows with parties curated by Andy Moon Wilson  and with performances by Social Studies. The Alliance Theater’s “Bring It On: The Musical” hit Broadway to good reviews.

The proximity of SCAD-Atlanta students further helps mix up the High’s Midtown demographic; similarly, Georgia State Uni-  versity’s Rialto Theater, which this year had music by Brazilian Gilberto Gil and visual art by Mexican Jorge Arcos, is a downtown global village hub.

The 10-county region’s community of 250,000 college students keeps many similar places humming, and what happens here echoes through other Georgia cities. People make city centers successful. These kinds of events may seem trendy or occasionally challenging, but they get us talking, engage us in our communities and often inspire.

I hope these synergies can snowball in 2013. 

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