By Guest Columnist W. IMARA CANADY, vice president of programming and strategic partnerships for National Center for Civil and Human Rights

As thousands recently gathered to officially open the doors of our airports new Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. International terminal, an opening day that will further brand Atlanta as the world’s “Gateway to the South,” I can’t help but reflect on the many facets of the legacy of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Holbrook Jackson.

Mayor Jackson was a man who not only opened Atlanta to the world, but as Atlanta’s first “Arts Mayor.” he arguably transformed the cultural landscape and identity of our city.

One would be remiss to not credit this giant of man for truly opening the curtains of Atlanta, by mandating that it would be a community brought to life with every genre of arts and culture — a community that some would say 30 years later is on the verge of having those same curtains closed.

Over the last year we have witnessed our cultural community be plagued with financial challenges, including the almost closed doors of many arts organizations, such as Atlanta’s own Actor’s Express and even those of the Georgia Council for the Arts.

Imara Canady

Also the up-coming departures of many great arts leaders such as Joe Bankoff from the Woodruff Arts Center; Gerri Combs’ retirement from South Arts; the recent resignation announcement of Metro Atlanta Arts and Cultural Coalition’s CEO Flora Maria Garcia; and the revolving door of leadership at Fulton County’s Office of Art and Culture, forces us to pause and question if Atlanta’s once thriving cultural scene is in a state of crisis.

Or is the state of our arts community at a unique place in our history — an opportunity to look at how we can do things differently to expand the gateway and thus become the cultural mecca that Maynard knew Atlanta should be.
Though there is still more work to be done, one could say that we truly are at a turning point for cultural victories in this community. Though arts funding within local governments continues to be a chopping board, recently there has been a renewed public commitment by our city and county political leadership to make it a priority to increase the cultural vibrancy of the metropolitan Atlanta community.

The economic vitality of Atlanta’s arts community has been recognized nationally in a recent study by Creative Industries showing that the City of Atlanta has the highest number of arts-related businesses per capita among the 100 largest cities in the United States.

Atlanta also ranks second nationally of having arts-related employees per capita in the nation (an increase from 2011). Small and mid-size arts organizations are coming together to do more collaborative projects.

And across the board, arts organizations are actively working to take creative approaches to attract new audiences and build the next generation of arts supporters.

Though these are all steps in the right direction, to ensure a complete victory at this crucial moment of transition, we should have a call to action to the remaining voices of Atlanta — including the voices of corporate Atlanta and the citizens of the city.

Leaders of our businesses — both large and small — should take the example of a city like Chicago, where numerous corporations are leading the way. They are partnering with the tourism bureau and they are making a continuous commitment of human and financial resources to ensure that city is an internationally recognized destination for art and culture.

The business community of Atlanta has a long history of showing its power when it has joined the political leadership to support one united effort, the Centennial Olympic Games is the greatest example of that cooperation.

And finally the every-day citizen — within our families, schools and places of worship — we must renew our support for the phenomenal theaters, galleries, museums and other places of cultural enrichment. Most instiutions have specific days within their seasons for free or greatly reduced entry.

We truly are at a critically defining point in Atlanta’s legacy as a national cultural mecca. However, to ensure the success of this victory, we must continue to do what has always been the Atlanta way.

In the spirit of Maynard Jackson, Robert W. Woodruff, the victims of the Chateau de Sully, most recently Jane Bishop and countless others who committed their lives to enrich the cultural vitality of Atlanta, we must come together and bring both our human and financial resources to re-affirm all that is great about Atlanta.

Now with the increase in technology and opportunities to connect globally, we have a unique opportunity to shape our cultural landscape and mandate that Atlanta will not only be a city to busy to hate, but a city nationally and internationally known for its unique and vibrant cultural offerings — a community where every day really is an opening day!

In addition to his role at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Imara Canady is a veteran of city government who currently is a member of the Fulton County Arts Council.

Join the Conversation


  1. Call me a Philistine, but it would probably help if more “art” consisted of things that people actually liked to see, watch, or listen to.
    Has anyone been on the top floor of the High Museum?  Sorry, but if I can reproduce it in one weekend with materials bought at Home Depot, it ain’t art. And there’s a whole genre of “public-sector sculpture” infesting government buildings… not good enough for people to spend their own money on, so taxpayers get the bill instead.

    1.  @stephenfleming Philistine. 
      Do you honestly believe that EVERYONE loves the Mona Lisa? Or that every person to see Gaudi’s Casa Mila in Barcelona was impressed that there isn’t a single straight line in all of his construction? The reason that Art’s definition is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects” is because each piece of work that is put out by a single artist is unique to their skill level and imagination.  Just because you might not like it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered Art.Also to say that you can reproduce one’s creative output without their skill-level  only goes to show that you are not someone who should be commenting on your appreciation of Art or the Arts Scene in Atlanta.

      1. I don’t particularly like the Mona Lisa, myself. 
        And I don’t doubt that I’m not qualified to appreciate the Arts Scene in Atlanta. But, as a taxpayer, I’m qualified to speak to the FUNDING of the Arts Scene in Atlanta. And my perception is that the funding spigots are running dry, and the community of people who care about Art had better do something more constructive than try to make taxpayers feel guilty for not giving more, more, more.

        1.  @stephenfleming I don’t think you’re a philestine…and you have eyes, ears, and a brain…so I think you ARE qualified to speak about both the funding AND the content.   In fact, I encourage you to contact your local arts institutions to let them know about particular types of art (or theatre or music)  that you WOULD be interested in seeing.  They can’t respond to your interests/opinions if you don’t share them.
          But just remember that “Art” is a noun, not an adjective.   Art can be “good” and “bad”…but those adjectives are always in the eye of the beholder.  Something does not need to be widely liked to be considered “art”.   But, I digress…
          I would simply suggest that you look more holistically at what the arts bring to a city…rather than basing your opinions on a few pieces of art that didn’t speak to you personally.
          Arts contribute to the overall vitality of the city.  The restaurants and businesses around the Woodruff/High area, for example, benefit from their presence.  They provide other jobs, drive tourism, and bring diversity of all kinds into the city.
          In regard to public funding: Our tax dollars support roads that we may never drive on…but we do so because we believe that having paved roads is essential to a thriving community.   The same is true for the arts, I feel.

      2. I don’t agree that the arts community should determine “who should be commenting” on the arts scene. The arts should be for everyone.
        As a theatre artist, I think the key is to do a combination of these things:   a) offer some work that is accessible….AND  b) do more to involve and educate our audiences and help them develop a greater appreciation for the so-called “higher art” that we do.

  2. As a former Atlantan and one of Maynard Jackson’s several press secretaries, I’m saddened that the city’s cultural life has fallen on hard times and that there seems to be a dearth of leadership. Mayor Jackson embodied Atlanta’s big, loud and very bold personality at a critical time in the city’s history.  While there was only one Maynard, I believe there must be other young men and women who love this special city well enough to put their stamp on it, and who understand that no matter how big and rich a city gets, it will ultimately be judged by the quality of its civic, social and cultural life.
    Lyn May
    East Haddam, Connecticut

  3. High brow art for high price tags and the theatre scene may be in tight spots, but street art and dance in Atlanta is flourishing the likes of which i’ve not seen since before the Olympics. New galleries stocked by SCAD students and local alternative types continue to pop up and draw capacity crowds; dance troupes are getting visibility from the Goat Farm to the corner of 10th and P’tree; the Beltline’s one true success as far as i’m concerned is making public art an expectation as well as a public event to be anticipated; multiple areas have art walks; which just leaves Eyedrum to get their collective act together. The DYI art crowd is a busy crew, with artists clamoring for exhibit space to showcase visual and wear-able art.There were so many gallery openings over the weekend there was no way to see them all, from the Atlanta Printmakers to Whitespace to a SCAD MFA show to early openings associated with the Westside art walk, Mason Muer (sp) had a huge do, the Goat Farm had its event, plus galleries up in Buckhead.
    Oh, to Stephen Fleming – any idea what the visitorship is on Free Saturdays at the High, and how many school students visit annually?

    1.  @urban gardener No clue. Would love to know some figures. And there are plenty of gorgeous exhibits at the High. Most of them of items more than 100 years old. I hope the kids get docents/teachers/whatever to help them appreciate them.

  4. Please add to the the list of up-coming departures of arts leaders in Atlanta,  Sylvie Fortin, longtime editor-in-chief and executive director of ArtPapers |

  5. I understand @stephenfleming to be someone who would like to see Georgia compete globally. But that would be very difficult to do with such a Philistine attitude pervading our State’s non-arts institutions. There’s a big difference between art that “people” don’t want to experience and art that “you” don’t want to experience. To claim — without any basis, as he did — that “people” don’t want to experience certain art is very presumptuous.

    1.  @Joeventures I believe that anyone should be able to experience any art that they choose to experience (as long as it doesn’t violate laws against porn or whatever). I choose to experience 70s rock-and-roll and 19th century paintings. I like them. (“Philistine.”) Others do not. That’s fine with me.
      Where I get crossways is when people claim that their higher aesthetic sensibility gives them a claim on my pocketbook, so that I should be required to subsidize THEIR experience of a type of art that I don’t enjoy. I disagree. And as budgets get tighter and tighter, I think there will be millions of people who brave the scorn of their artistic betters and start publicly disagreeing. Which has implications for the funding of any art organization that can’t sell enough tickets to pay the bills.
      Accusing me of lowbrow taste (or “intellectual impotence” 🙂 may make artists and their enablers feel good, but it’s not going to pay the bills. If you disagree, maybe we could meet in the new Calatrava-designed Symphony Hall on 14th Street that was announced in 2005? I’ll buy you a latte and we can talk about it.

        1. Comparing apples and carburetors. State support for Georgia Tech is less than 16% of our budget AND we show an enormous positive impact on the state’s economy (payroll taxes, etc.). But if the voters choose to end that subsidy, we will survive. 

  6. Yeah, someone might be able to reproduce some of those works (although such statements are usually unadulterated bullshit that cannot be backed up should the one spouting them actually be called on their claims). But, the thing that anti-intellectual blowhards who tend to go around making such statements don’t have the ability to comprehend is that they did not have the idea to create the work(s) in the first place, let alone put forth the conceptual, technical, or aesthetic aspects the artist was trying to address when they were creating them… or even if they did, they didn’t bother to do so. The artist did. For better or worse, whether they failed or succeeded in their attempts or not. That’s the whole point, to put forth ideas for consideration. Ideas that others may not deem worth consideration, but often turn out to in fact be very much worth it. Reacting to works that one “doesn’t get” or whatever by claiming to be able to reproduce it, is just envy, or overcompensation for feelings of intellectual impotence.

    1.  @muckrakelabs *giggle* Lord knows I have my faults, but “feelings of intellectual impotence” isn’t one of them! 
      And if I want to put forth “an idea for consideration,” I’ll write it up as an essay, with footnotes where relevant. Painting a crooked red diagonal stripe across a plain white canvas (part of the permanent exhibit at the High) puts forth the idea that “Looky here! I can get paid for this!”

      1.  @stephenfleming a “crooked  reddiagonal stripe…” might mean what you say. it also might mean many other things, of which you are either unwilling or unable to permit may exist in contexts other than you’re own.

        1.  @muckrakelabs Not sure what strawman you’re trying to put in my place as “unwilling or unable.”
          Look. The “crooked red diagonal stripe” does not speak to me. Since I am a man of good will, I will assume that it’s not just a scam on the part of the artist, and that he or she is actually trying to communicate something.  Okay. But the communication is not working.
          Telling me that my sensibilities are not refined enough to appreciate it may be true, but it’s also useless. That’s making EXACTLY the same mistake as the prototypical Ugly American tourist, who gets angry that all those people in France don’t understand English, even though he takes the time to speak slowly and loudly!
          If the communication isn’t working, you need to fix something on one end or the other. One answer would be to change the language you are speaking.  I suspect this would be scorned as “going commercial” or “selling out”.  
          The other would be to educate me in the language that you are speaking. No one tries to do this. They just keep throwing incomprehensible messes on the wall or on the stage, and telling me that I SHOULD appreciate it. Sorry, communication doesn’t work that way. Break it down, build a baseline syntax, explain the pieces, do the Cliffs Notes version, show what it’s building on… TRY. 
          Because I’m the prototypical evil wealthy middle-aged white male. I spend thousands of dollars a year on theater, concerts, and art THAT I LIKE. I contribute thousands more to charities in Atlanta THAT I LIKE. If your concept of “Art” includes scorning me and people like me, you’ll ensure that I don’t LIKE you. Which means I will only pay for your work when forced by a governmental authority through taxes… and my thesis in beginning this interminable string of comments is that the flow of taxpayer funds to the arts is going to dry up as the public sector finds all its resources consumed by education, medication, and incarceration.
          Wouldn’t it be better to convince me that you and your friends are actually trying to accomplish something creative, and get me on your side?  

        2.  @stephenfleming to answer your last question, in short, no. it wouldn’t be better. because you are not the whole of the sum of what or whose opinions/reactions matter. and, one of art’s primary functions is to challenge what we as a society or an individual think. how that happens is as varied as there are different kinds of people, i.e. infinite. letting such a role or undertaking fall to “market forces” is like saying human rights should be left to a majority vote of the people… oops. 

  7. Atlanta arts was supported for many years by patron’s contributions. Now, the arts seem to focus on feeding from the public trough, as though they are entitled to public support. Have they forgotten how to cultivate patrons? Or are they only focused on pleasing themselves?
    In my opinion, there should be public encouragement of the arts but not public funding of the arts. If you appreciate an artist’s work, provide support. But don’t force me to support it by governmental force.

    1.  @Burroughston Broch You’re engaging in a little bit of mythology here.  Arts have long been supported by a mix of private donations, public funds, and ticket sales.  This is not a new concept.
      In this particularly bad economy, however, private contributions, corporate/foundation sponsorships, and ticket sales tend have dried up just as fast or faster than government funds.  Arts organizations are being squeezed from all directions, so it’s not as simple as you suggest.

      1.  @MBW  @Burroughston Broch it is that simple in the mind of those who say such things. not really wanting to be so skeptical here, just saying. i’ve yet to see/hear anyone who demonstrates such an antagonistic view of publicly supported arts and culture have their mind changed. they have an agenda, and they’re not about to let facts or logic get in the way.

        1.  @muckrakelabs @MBW 
          Go back to 1962 when the plane carrying the core of the Atlanta arts supporters crashed at Orly, and compare the support that was lost there versus the almost non-existent support from the public trough at the time. Then lecture us about mythology.
          I do have an agenda – there should be no, i repeat NO, public funding of the arts. I don’t want my taxes subsidizing what has no value to me. And don’t bother equating it to paying taxes for roads on which I don’t drive – it’s not the same thing at all. Arts are the frosting on the cake, but it’s my cake and I should pay for it. I gladly and generously support the arts that have meaning to me, but don’t you or government force me to support those that do not have meaning to me.
          I support  mine and you support yours – simple and equitable.

        2.  @Burroughston Broch  @muckrakelabs 
          I understand your point of view….but I think it’s unfortunate.
          Charles Green has made a point that resonates with me (See above).   I don’t want MY taxes to pay for football stadiums and basketball arenas either (because I don’t use them and don’t value that as entertainment for myself)….but I also realize the greater value to the community and so I’m okay with it.
          The whole “I support mine and you support yours” mindset simply doesn’t work in a large society.  We don’t live in isolation from one another, so eventually (whether it’s arts, football, or something else), we will ALL (not just you) end up paying for things we don’t necessarily use or agree with…and we all end up using things & services that have other people’s tax dollars involved.  it’s part of living in a civilized society with a government.   The only way to avoid that is to not have government at all.
          I can understand if you have other priorities for how tax dollars are used. Fine.  It’s a free country.
          But this attitude of “I only want to pay for things I use” is counter productive and, to me, reflects a lack of understanding or appreciation for the ways that we ALL benefit from many of the things that the government does.   And, yes, even well-to-do, employed people who are self-sufficient STILL use and benefit from government services.  
          Do you suggest “fee for service”  fire and police?   Should every road be a toll road?Of course not., because we all benefit from lower crime, greater safety, etc.
          The same is true for entertainment venues:  some people benefit from sports arenas, while others benefit from arts venues…..but we ALL benefit when our city is a place where people want to live and visit.

        3. I support mine and you support yours works very well in many essential areas of society, such as restaurants. I don’t understand your distiction, and I would like you to explain it.
          Fire and police are essential services in an urban community; public subsidy of the arts is not. I love and support the arts that I appreciate, but I don’t demand that you support them with your taxes.

        4.  @Burroughston Broch  @MBW also, feudal.  you can advocate for turning back the calendar by centuries if you like. i’ll pass.

  8. What’s missing in this discussion may be some relative honesty.
    1. Burroughston Broch doesn’t want to pay for “art” with tax receipts, and my answer is “I don’t want to guaranty the debt of a football stadium with mine.” When our state floats bonds to build a football, basketball, and baseball performance venues, that’s exactly what I do. But in reality, they’re going to earn plenty of revenue for private businesses / people.  Is it an economic driver? Sure. But did you know 1 in 7 persons in the metro area is employed by a creative industry? According to The Highland Group, the non-profit arts industry makes a greater economic impact in metro Atlanta than the Atlanta Braves.
    2. My friend Stephen Fleming also draws a fairly narrow view of public arts funding, but why would someone not similarly question the public subsidy paid in his enterprise to start new businesses?  Shouldn’t they have to go out and find investors to pay for their own incubation?  The truth is that these investments are well worth their weight because of some of them turn into successful companies that grow and contribute new technologies, jobs, and investment capital. So do the arts – think about what 7 Stages and Horizon Theater means to Little Five Points, the Rialto and Theatrical Outfit to downtown at night, and Woodruff Arts Center to midtown. Cultural tourists spend more than sports tourist.
    You can have it both ways – when you don’t embrace and idea, before attacking it, maybe look closer and ask why others do.
    And so far as becoming an armchair art critic, I will turn back to football – I attended a “Super Bowl” once and the final score was 51 – 3.  False advertising? Professional football?  Definitely a shill sport
    Charles H. Green, Chair, Fulton County Arts Council

    1.  @CHGreen Please explain what you mean about “relative honesty.” Is it akin to “relative morality?”
      I feel just as passionately about taxpayer subsidies of sports stadiums, but the deal has already been cut with Arthur Blank and his cohorts. We should pray that the hotel/motel tax raises enough revenue to pay for the financing vehicle; if it doesn’t, we taxpayers are on the hook for the difference, as Gwinnett County taxpayers have learned in a hard lesson.
      There is an important difference between the not-for-profit arts industry and public support for the arts. The NFPs are supported almost exclusively by personal and corporate contributions, not taxpayer subsidies.

  9. the fact that this discussion is even occurring is a pretty bad sign as to just how much worse things are than most think. and also, how exponentially successful 60 years of overt and covert assault on public education can be. obama’s election was like the boy holding a finger in the dike. but the fact is, if enough of us don’t get up to intellectual speed by the time he’s gone, all that rabid stupid being held back is gonna break loose like all hell. and the bush years will be made to look like puppies and kittens. i always felt atlanta was crucial in making or breaking america’s future, for various reasons, from geography to demographics and other things. then i had to let go of that conviction, or at least my ability to play a role there, and move on. beating one’s head against a wall has to stop when more than one’s own personal well-being gets implicated. all that drearily said, atl’s geographics and demographics and all those other reasons i felt atl had a critical international role to play have not changed. so i guess i should mention that technically, there’s still hope. this thread hasn’t done much to make me think that any sudden lurches forward in progress are imminent though. i mean, arts and culture – publicly funded especially – are part of what separated america, and any great civilization in history, from all the wannabe and hasbeen nations/states. the fact that this is still “debatable” is an ominous symptom of a rather nasty kind of “infection”. eh, whatever. despite the doom and gloom, i did/do want to add a heartfelt wish of good luck. really. here’s hoping the right combo of people and timing and events align, sooner or later. maybe even in spite of itself.

  10. Some quick facts: Not-for-profit arts and publicly financed arts are one in the same. The average arts organization nationally generates about 50% of its funding from ticket sales and earned revenue, 25% from patrons, 15% from corporate / philanthropy, and 10% from government sources (local, state & national). 
    Reading the series of posts from yesterday, I get the fact that some people don’t want to have their taxes allocated to public arts funding, and then strangely can’t make the connection about objections others of us feel toward other public priorities (beyond football stadiums). Art is the same as police / fire protection if you never call for either of them or own nothing that burns. Art is as important to some as having Grady Hospital may be to you. You can’t divvy up public budgets and decide what is important or not – we all get a say in that.
    This whole line of reasoning mirrors the emergence of these fellow citizens who are waging a war that was settled in the 18th century. They want to carry us back to live within their view of the Constitution, just as the Pope expects his adherents to live in the Old Testament. The Pope surely knows they don’t and will not (surveys say 82% Catholics use contraception?). Neither is the Tea Party going to change America permanently. They have run off legions of Republicans and Democrats alike, and landed a few in Congress. But they are slowly learning that governing is more challenging than complaining.
    I’m not going to argue that stuff here – but a warning, particularly to Stephen – if you think this mind set has limits, you are mistaken. These kinds of people would be cutting of public funding for the GA Tech’s of this country in a minute because they “educate” their own at home. I think you cited 13% of Tech’s cost are publicly funded, but I’m guessing your Trustees would choke on the news if it disappeared some day.
    We are a great nation because we have invested in our humanity and our future. Think twice before turning your back on any of it just because you don’t embrace or understand it.

    1.  @CHGreen Charles — good points, even though I probably come to slightly different conclusions than you do. One quibble: I suspect that the Pope wouldn’t have a problem with the New Testament. An Orthodox rabbi might be a different issue…  🙂

    2.  @CHGreen  I belonged for any years to a very successful, nationally known performing arts NFP, and we prospered by hard work and sacrifice, not by chasing income from government sources. We knew that our destiny would be determined by how we pleased our private and corporate patrons, not how many bureaucrats might throw a crumb into our cup.
      I find your comparison between public safety/heath funding and arts funding ludicrous. We are in an era of limited personal and government funds and to say that every potential service is of the same value is laughable. Public safety and health are at the top of the essentials list, and arts funding (along with Arthur Blank’s stadium) are at the very bottom. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to government as well as to you and me.

  11. Stephen – re Catholic / Jew divide – true, but even the Haredi Jews are a minority in terms of both strict adherence to the Torrah and the population of Jews [and they have recently had their exemption from military service questioned, similar to question about Catholic institutions providing same health care benefits as rest of country].
    Not sure what your conclusion might be, but to summarize mine with an example, which may answer you and Brother “ludicrous’ below, Thomas Jefferson won an appropriation from Congress for $2,500 to pay for the expedition of Lewis & Clark, who carried a 19th century credit card – a signed letter from Jefferson stating that the U.S. government  would pay all claims submitted that were authorized by the explorers. No doubt he had to fight for the appropriation from many who thought it was not the federal government’s business. The final cost of the trip came in over $39,000! Outrageous in the day, no doubt, but was it worth it? Without question.
    Whatever NFP Mr. Brock worked for made a choice to pass up on an public financing options, and that’s fine – it’s their business. Some do not need it because they set their sights lower or it many encroach on their philosophy. Fair enough.
    I happen to know that the GA Aquarium will never apply for public funding because Bernie Marcus doesn’t believe in it (although ironically he did call on the GA legislature to exempt the construction costs from sales taxes – isn’t that the moral equivalent?).
    I believe in protecting the heritage of our world’s creativity. Just because classical ballet doesn’t sell as many tickets as NFL does not mean it’s any less important. The trouble with a “survival of the fitist” outlook is that it tends to dumb down our world to where brawn is valued over brains, and the remaining survivors are too dumb to fight. Don’t watch for Zuckerberg to ever take home the Nobel Prize for Science. He’ll have to settle for a Swiss bank account.
    Lebron James and Robert Spano both have an important role in this world, and if you believe that our governments shouldn’t encourage both of them to be all that they can, I just think that’s shortsighted. 

    1.  @CHGreen I agree that our governments should encourage artists and performers, but that encouragement should not include public subsidy at the taxpayer’s expense.
      For the record, the NFP to which I belonged (as a volunteer member) chose not to ask for a public handout because we knew that the deal works both ways – with government subsidy comes the potential of government control – the fleas that come with the dog.

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