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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed reverses himself on arts cuts

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told the arts lovers attending the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund luncheon Thursday: “I did a bad thing.”

The mayor was referring to his budget proposal that called for cutting the city’s arts and cultural budget by 50 percent — from $470,000 to $235,000.

“We had to make a lot of hard and tough decisions,” the mayor told the luncheon crowd about how the city’s general fund budget has contracted by $100 million since 2008 to its smallest level in more than two decades.

But on Wednesday, while jogging, the mayor — who has been a strong supporter of the arts long before he took office — began to second-guess himself.

“It hasn’t been sitting right with me at all,” Reed said. “I have been thinking about it, and then I realized I was the mayor. So I came to announced today that we are going to restore every single penny….”

The cheers were so loud that one couldn’t hear the mayor finish his sentence. Immediately, the crowd at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis excitedly stood up and gave the mayor a long standing ovation. The budget cuts had been strongly criticized by many in the room.

Reed went on to explain that when he was growing up, he was surrounded by the arts. And he has pledged to make sure that the children of Atlanta today have the same opportunities that he had growing up.

“Art changes you. It enhances you,” the mayor said. “For a moment , I forgot that. I changed my mind, and it was largely because of you.”

Lisa Cremin, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, couldn’t have been more pleased by the mayor’s announcement.

“It’s very clear that the mayor understands that arts and culture are very important to the people of Atlanta,” she said. “We are thrilled he is holding the funding steady for arts and culture.”

After leaving the luncheon, Reed further explained his change of mind.

“I was making a decision that was causing a reduction in the quality of life that I had had growing up.”

That said, Reed said the city’s budget problems are real — largely because of the growing obligations of the city to its pensions. The mayor also has proposed deep cuts in the city’s parks budget, a move that also has upset many who though he was committed to increasing funding for green space in the city.

“Our failure to deal with the pensions by moving forward with a series of reforms, we can’t have stabilization or increased funding in those areas,” the mayor said. “The pension has to be dealt with or there isn’t another way to manage through this.”

The other hope the mayor has for dedicated funding for the arts is the proposed fractional sales tax that would permit local communities to invest in the arts and other quality of life and economic development initiatives. A bill for the fractional penny nearly passed the legislature two years ago, and it came close in 2011.

“We are on to the next fight. We will take up the bill with new energy and new vigor,” Reed said during his lunch talk. “I believe the Senate is with us. And now I need everybody in the room to go work a little harder on the House.”

Outside the ballroom, the mayor re-iterated his thoughts, saying that he realized “it would have been a bit hypocritical of me to tell the Georgia General Assembly we need a fractional tax for the arts,” while he was cutting the city’s arts budget.

“I’ve been involved in arts and culture in Atlanta for my entire life,” Reed said. “It’s not a ‘found’ issue to me. It’s part of my core. For a minute, I let finances get in the way. I was intellectually dishonest, and I was wrong to do it.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Burroughston Broch May 19, 2011 3:25 pm

    Somebody got to the Mayor. Taxpayer support for “arts and culture” belongs at the bottom of the priority list, along with Denali SUVs for the Mayor and his chief of staff. There should be no public welfare for unsuccessful cultural organizations and artists.Report

  2. Julian Bene May 19, 2011 4:38 pm

    Well done, Mayor Reed! It’s the right decision for all the right reasons the mayor gives. Great cities have a thriving theater and arts scene – they introduce young people to the arts and attract talented professionals – and that requires some government support.Report

  3. Lucas Causey May 19, 2011 4:44 pm

    Don’t be so narrow minded. Most of these grants were for a few thousand dollars, and the successful organizations used the money to shore up any shortage of staff they might have been suffering from or doing outreach. The individual artists you also accuse of not being successful simply make things that are not easily interpretted as commodity, e.g., a monumental outdoor sculpture or a video installation. These people do compelling, elevating things with the contract monies they are given.Report

  4. Sheridan Leary May 19, 2011 4:48 pm

    Burroughston Broch, your comment about someone “getting to the mayor” regarding arts and culture is completely asinine! It is proven that cities without a vibrant arts and culture community FAIL. Arts and culture add to the vitality and economic growth of a city. For you to assume that all beneficiaries of grants are unsuccessful proves your ignorance on all things concerning money, municipalities and business. Some of the city’s best cultural venues benefit from grants and funding. venues such as Center for Puppetry Arts, city museums, city art projects, etc. It is not that these artists or programs are unsuccessful, it’s that they need assistance with finds needs to bring artistic projects to the public. Let’s just follow your advice now and close every children’s museum, every museum, every theater, every ballet company, every opera company, every performing arts youth camp, and every visual arts program and dumb down the city so we can all crawl at your level.

    Almost every hospital in the city applies for and/or receives grants–not because they are unsuccessful, but because funds are needed from outside sources to supplement funds being cut in other areas.

    To equate something positive live arts funding to “public welfare” is like equating tea Party campaign contributions to “public welfare”. However an organization receives funds to help them reach their goal does not equate to a welfare system.

    But, for the WELFARE of our great city, we need to make sure people like you are properly looked after in the asylums where you belong.Report

  5. Burroughston Broch May 19, 2011 10:54 pm

    @ Lucas Causey & Sheridan Leary

    I am amused that “cultured and art loving” people like you get so vexed by a person who doesn’t agree with your narrow mindset. I suspect that you think of yourselves as tolerant and liberal, but that goes out the door when someone disagrees with you. If my suspicion is correct, you should take a look in the mirror.

    To set the record straight, I attend the ASO, visit the Woodruff Arts Center, have art in my home and, for many years, sang in two of the top choirs in Atlanta. Sheridan, I am not now an inmate of an asylum and never have been.

    I never asked you or anyone else to pay for my pleasures, and I don’t expect to have my pocket picked to pay for your pleasures. Public art is controlled by powerful people who have plenty of money but enjoy spending someone else’s. If you believe that these expenditures are vital, then gather with a group of like-minded people and pay for them yourselves. I am probably contributing to some of these organizations of my own free will.Report

  6. Joe May 20, 2011 8:07 am

    @ Burroughston Broch
    Hell Yeah, everything should be funded by people who like/appreciate what the organization does! I, for instance, hate the fact that $1,193,036,865,855 has been spent on the wars in the middle east! Let’s cut it from the budget! Perhaps the army could get you and some like-minded friends to have a silent auction to help raise some money for bombs and night vision goggles and whatnot? If these wars are so vital, surely they would have no problem raising that money in the private sector, right?Report

  7. burroughston Broch May 20, 2011 1:57 pm

    @ Joe

    Read the US Constitution and you’ll find that national defense is one of the primary responsibilities of the Federal Government. You won’t find welfare payments for artists and cultural organizations listed. You won’t find those welfare payments mentioned in the City of Atlanta Code. Defense and welfare aren’t equivalent.Report

  8. Al Bartell May 22, 2011 1:17 am

    Could The Fact That Al Bartell (who spoke at the hearing) and is running for mayor also Impacted Mayor Reed’s reverse decision?Report

  9. Catherine Owen May 24, 2011 4:47 pm

    Thank you, Mayor Reed! The arts are a big part of what makes Atlanta great and your support for them is a good example of what a fine leader you are for Atlanta.Report

  10. John Rydell May 24, 2011 5:04 pm

    Yea for Mayor Reed. I had doubts about him, but this is a plus in his favor.

    yea for the Shakespeare Taver which I attend. They will be helped also.

    Now if we can get rid of some of the dead weight city workers that aren’t worth thier weight or pension, we would be better off.Report

  11. Jerry Griffin May 24, 2011 5:19 pm

    “There should be no public welfare for unsuccessful cultural organizations and artists.”

    “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” – PlatoReport

  12. Christina May 24, 2011 5:45 pm

    Hurray for the noble Mayor Reed!

    Speaking of the Constitution, Mr. Broch, one of the men who helped to pen it, Thomas Jefferson, was an avid supporter of the Arts who advocated the use of Neoclassicism in the fledgling United States in order to unify and shape its developing identity to reflect the values stated in the Constitution like democracy, civic virtue, logic and permanence. It worked. Jefferson understood that it is a grave mistake to take what people see for granted. The
    Arts give us a portrait of who we are as a society. Take them away and you’ll have a portrait of Atlanta etched in endless suburban sprawl and X-Mart shopping centers.

    History simply agrees that the arts are important.

    “Welfare payments to artists..” “pleasures…” So silly! That is very “narrow minded” as well, correct? Do you know any artists? Real, living ones? Perhaps a little study in Art History might sooth your concerns on this issue. One simply does not often find “success” in art the way one would in accounting or middle management. One relies on commissions — and often those come from the government — particularly when the private sector is strapped and views art primarily in terms of investment.

    Here is a link on Neoclassicism for you to start with. You sound like a patriot. I think you will enjoy it once you get your feet wet:



  13. Burroughston Broch May 24, 2011 6:45 pm

    @ Christina.

    Mr. Jefferson supported the arts by investing his own money and encouraging those of a like mind to do the same. He did not force others of a different mind to pay taxes to support the his taste in the arts.

    I am not saying that the arts are unimportant. I am saying that welfare payments to unsuccessful artists are not a valid use of public moneys.

    I know a few artists (none of whom are on welfare), and they all had day jobs while they established themselves in their profession. Some still do. And I studied art history at university.Report

  14. Christina May 25, 2011 12:46 pm

    So it was Jefferson’s money that built the Nation’s Capital? Jefferson believed in education for the public good. He used the Arts as a means of education.

    What criteria to you propose in determining a so called “unsuccessful” artist? Van Gogh became a very successful artist — after he died penniless. It this the sort of “success” you would have our young artists wait for?

    As far as forcing tax payers to pay for things they don’t want — heavens! Is this
    a new issue? Considering the relatively small about of money in question relative to other government spending like defense, haven’t you larger fish to fry? Perhaps you could help trim the fat existing in government agencies across the board so that they operated more efficiently and with more business sensibilities? We all must pay for something we don’t like in government. Our diversity is what makes us strong.Report


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