Losing job opens new doors to strengthen the arts in Atlanta

By Guest Columnist JOE WINTER, co-founder of C4 Atlanta, a non-profit arts service organization.

You hear about it, empathize with it, but it never hits home until it happens to you: getting laid off from your job.

My co-worker, Jessyca Holland, and I had just wrapped up a major annual project. She and I had received phone calls over the weekend to come to the office for a meeting early on Monday morning, April 5, but with no explanation of the agenda for the meeting.

I walked in to the office. There were six of us: me, my two co-workers, and the board “triumvirate:” the co-presidents and the treasurer who was also the consultant.

The co-presidents immediately turned the meeting over to the treasurer/consultant who unapologetically told us the board had come to a decision to cut the office staff. “Effective immediately…” Jessyca and I were laid off together as our co-worker Marc had no choice but to look on.

After five years working for a local arts service organization and getting to know other service organizations throughout the country, Jessyca and I had developed a deep understanding of what an arts service organization could do for a city.

We had ideas for turning the organization around, for re-developing the organization so that it would once again become a valuable asset, not only to its membership, but to the Atlanta region as a whole.

The board triumvirate had its own ideas. By the time of the layoffs, the ideas only came across to me as an effort to save a sinking ship by blowing a bigger hole in it. The feelings of sadness, anger and betrayal that day could hardly describe the emotional roller coaster from the moment of “Effective immediately…” to the moment of handing over the office keys.

The value of an arts service organization is not well-known in Atlanta partly because there are so few of them here. My colleague, Jessyca Holland, and I had worked at one for five years before we were laid off in April. When we started, we also didn’t know what an arts service organization was supposed to be.

Today, we’re starting a new organization called C4 Atlanta. We found this career to be our calling. For years, we had been hearing about all the things Atlanta couldn’t do, even as we saw other service organizations elsewhere do these very things.

Joe Winter (left) hangs out with the other two founders of C4 Atlanta — Lyre Calliope and Jessyca Holland

And we watched as expensive solutions were imposed on Atlanta’s arts community, only to see these solutions deliver poor results.

We are now empowered to deliver 21st Century services to arts and culture organizations.

In 2005, the Boston Foundation released a detailed study on the role played by arts service organizations in the greater Boston area. At the top of the study’s report, the Boston Foundation highlighted arts service organizations as, “an important, poorly misunderstood segment of the arts sector.”

The report also identified nearly three dozen organizations providing direct services to artists and arts organizations in the greater Boston area alone.

Arts service organizations have a varied history in cities throughout the United States. If, for example, you have been to Times Square in New York City and purchased discount tickets from TKTS, you’ve taken advantage of one of many services offered by Theatre Development Fund.

On the other hand, you may never have heard of their other services, which are all geared toward either providing support to artistic works or toward making live theatre and dance more accessible to a greater diversity of audiences.

What makes a service organization different from many other types of organizations is that it is defined by who it serves, rather than by what it does. An arts service organization can specialize in any one (or any one group) of many possible services geared toward the stakeholders it tries to serve — services that are tailored to the special needs of artists and arts organizations.

In a single sitting, we brainstormed a list of services more than four pages long. Three months later, we found our focus of using technology and education as paths to sustainability for arts and culture.

Between the two of us, Jessyca and I were able to work through the events of April 5 and resolve ourselves to continue serving the community.

And we have brought on an additional business partner, Lyre Calliope, who brings with him a wealth of experience as a creative thinker in technology and social media.

Despite the economic environment, we believe that this is the right time to pursue a vision to create jobs in the arts and cultural fields. And we believe that Atlanta is the best place to make that happen at this time.

So we may have lost our jobs in April, but we believe that out of that setback, we have been presented with a remarkable opportunity to help strengthen arts and cultural organizations in Atlanta.

Note to readers: Joe Winter is an Atlanta native who graduated from Georgia State University with degrees in Business Administration and Urban Policy Studies. He has been active in transportation, arts and community organizations for 10 years.

6 replies
  1. Grayson says:

    The first play I ever saw was brought to my backwoods SC public high school by some kind of arts foundation. It was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I thought it was the most wondrous, illuminating, amusing thing I’d ever seen. And at that time it surely was just that. I couldn’t begin to articulate what being exposed to a worldly arts experience at an impressionable age can do to imagination and perspective, but let’s just say it can surely open the mind to possibility. I know that’s exactly what it did for me.

    I look forward, with admiration and support, to what C4 will be doing.Report

    Reply
  2. Jo R says:

    Atlanta is lucky to have talented folks like this willing to sacrifice more lucrative careers for the betterment of Atlanta. Thanks to Joe and the rest of the team at C4.Report

    Reply
  3. Lyre Calliope says:

    Grayson: I love hearing stories about how art touches peoples lives.. and turns them into sassy champions of culture such as yourself! Thanks for your vote of support. 🙂

    Jo R: In my mind, no career is worth it if it has no soul. No matter how lucrative.

    That being said, economic development within any industry tends to create more lucrative opportunities down the line for those who are prepared for them! Which is really where we’re focused. Not only the creation of opportunities for sustainable artistry, but preparation for them as well.

    Ultimately, we’re not opting to serve those with wealth because our time is much better spent serving those with the greatest capacity for creating wealth for our society. And I don’t mean that in the fluffy sense!

    While the cultivation of artistry breeds personal wealth, aggregate production through the process of artistry can be measured via economic growth.

    Fortunately, the problem we face isn’t that art is undervalued by our society. The myth of the ‘starving artist’ ultimately serves to devalue people. (And if we could only get undervalued artists to devalue themselves, that would mean ever more cheap and meaningless art for those unhappy souls with a lucrative career!)

    Unlocking the true economic value of the arts begins by supporting the artists.

    My point is that as an entrepreneur, I don’t see any sacrifice in taking this opportunity to work with Joe and Jessyca in building C4 Atlanta. Far from it in fact. As an entrepreneur I feel privileged to have found such great partners for the creation of wealth!

    Besides, it’s not like there’s a job out there waiting for me somewhere! I think creating a successful business, whether for-profit or non-profit, sounds like the more laid back proposition compared to the realities of finding a ‘real job’ in today’s climate.Report

    Reply
  4. JR says:

    Congratulations on this exciting endeavor! Your dedication to the city of Atlanta and its arts community, as well as your optimism and fortitude in the face of professional adversity is to be admired. I look forward to seeing what C4 accomplishes!Report

    Reply

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