Arts grants: Government funding makes arts more available to everyone
By Guest Columnist MATTHEW TERRELL, communications director for Dad’s Garage Theatre and a working artist in several mediums
Government funding for the arts makes our communities better. Arts funding is a relatively small sliver of the budgets that cities, counties, and states administer; however, even a small amount of arts funding can have a tremendous impact on a community.
This isn’t just a city, county, or state issue (even though that is where a lot of arts funding comes from), because we’ve seen on the federal level a commitment to funding the arts. Our current and past presidents have supported the arts through the creation of the Shuttered Venues Operator’s Grant, a $16 billion dollar cash infusion to the entertainment sector. What our legislators know is that the arts are an economic driver, and by funding this industry the money will reverberate and have an impact across the nation.
The arts make communities more vibrant, interesting, and enticing. When a big corporation wants to move to a new city, its leadership often looks at the cultural offerings as a metric to gauge whether the city will be a good fit. That’s because they know their employees need entertainment options to make life there livable. It’s no secret that artists are often the first people to move into and spruce up run-down communities; that is, until real estate developers swoop in and “revitalize” the area.
But none of this would be possible if there weren’t organizations, such as local governments, funding the work of artists to ensure that our communities even have arts and culture.
I’m a real-life artist, and I rely on grant funding to make my work. I have received funding from both Fulton County Arts and Culture and the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs to make my work.
The state of Georgia has one of the lowest expenditures per capita on the arts – 11 cents per person annually! The only state that spends less on the arts than we spend is Kansas, which spends 6 cents per person. Even though our state is a hub for entertainment and media, and even though we are home to one of the nation’s largest art colleges (SCAD), Georgia is a hard place to be an artist. If it weren’t for government grants, I would likely have to move to another state just to be able to afford to make art. The opportunity for professional growth – the kind that can sustain a long term career – are few and far between for artists in the state of Georgia.
This past summer, I received a grant from Fulton County Arts and Culture to create a new cooking a lifestyle show called “Living the Dream.” FCAC launched a new grant program this summer called a “Virtual Arts Initiative” which helped artists like me produce work at a time when we had no revenue coming in. I know someone reading this right now is guffawing in disbelief of how much money is wasted on artists like me. Let me assure you that I am not greedily pocketing my grant funding and flying off to Bermuda (that’s the real estate developer who got a massive tax break). I use my grant funding to pay other creative professionals to make artistic products that bring joy and happiness to my fellow Georgians.
If I lived a couple hundred years ago, I would have relied on the support of wealthy aristocrats or the church to fund my art practice. We don’t have these structures in the United States – no titled landholders looking to spiff up their country castle, and no powerful popes commissioning paintings for their people. But what we do have are centralized governments looking to make life for their citizenry just a bit better.
Here’s where the benefit of government arts funding can truly be seen: Grants help bring arts and culture to communities that may often lack access to them. Let’s face it: museums, galleries, symphonies, theatres … arts programming is often geared towards middle and upper class communities. Low-income communities, marginalized communities, and other groups have less access to cultural institutions due to cost, access, and other structural barriers. When our local governments fund the arts, they help ensure that all of our citizenry can access and enjoy the arts.
Finally, I’d like to point out that arts are an economic engine, and I believe will be vital to the post-pandemic economic recovery. Arts of all sorts – blockbuster museum shows, theatrical musicals, dance performances – work in symbiosis with many other industries in our community. The arts drive tourism, as people seek to travel to see cool shows they couldn’t see at home. This in turn drives hotel stays and meals at restaurants. These industries were particularly hard hit during the pandemic, and are also areas where folks are excited to see some normalcy return. Having arts offerings in our community is about more than cool experiences – they are about making our community a place worth visiting!
But artists and arts organizations need grants, and in particular government funding, to do our work. If we relied solely on ticket sales, the price to see a show or go to the museum would be expensive and inaccessible for the average person. If we want to have artists in our communities, then we need to have funding mechanisms that can support their work. Government grants are a vital aspect of ensuring that we have high quality arts, available to all.
Note to readers: Matthew Terrell handles communications for Dad’s Garage Theatre and produces video, sculpture, social practice, and anything for which he can get a grant. He has launched a new cooking and lifestyle show called “Living the Dream.” This program can be watched for free at GoddessBlessYou.com and was funded by a Virtual Arts Initiative Grant from Fulton County Arts and Culture.