By ignoring public funding for the arts, Georgia’s innovation economy suffers

By Maria Saporta

The amazing arts disconnect.

Georgia has endured endless months of repetitive campaign ads and messages spotlighting our weaknesses or strengths in education and the economy depending from a candidate’s point of view.

But what speaks volumes is what has been left unsaid.

We have heard repeatedly that we have the highest rate of unemployment. We already know we have among the lowest average SAT scores in the nation and rank low in high school graduation rates.

Yet no one is mentioning that the Georgia State Council for the Arts budget is the lowest per capita in the United States.

Did anyone ever stop to think that there may be a relationship between our state’s lack of investment in the arts and its poor performance in education?

Did any of our candidates running for public office link the health of our state’s economic future to our artistic environment as one that fosters innovation and creativity?

Therein lies the big disconnect for even the most astute observers.

We can be ranked the No. 1 state for business but still have the highest unemployment rate and rank among the lowest in public education outcomes. We can boast of having some of the most natural beauty and temperate climates of any state in the nation, but we still have some pieces missing when we try to put together a pretty picture portraying a high quality of life.

What’s missing? Living in a state that is willing to invest in our social fabric, in our cultural amenities, in our soft-scapes as well as our hard-scapes, creating places and spaces where magic and special experiences will happen.

Candidates running for office in Georgia are fearful to talk about such “frivolous” expenditures – scared that they will be accused of wanting raise taxes or of government overreach, preferring instead to play it safe by not investing in the present or the future – which in the end is the most dangerous play of all.

So where does that leave us?

City Observatory released a report last month showing that college graduates were flocking to cities instead of suburbs — a big shift from 2000. Well-educated young adults were 126 percent more likely to move to a city after college than they were in 2000.

The young adults also were selecting which cities they wanted to move to – a great indicator of which cities would be the economic engines in the future.

So a state wanting to secure its major metro area to have an economic future would make sure it would be appealing to young adults. All of a sudden, those “frivolous” expenditures in a metro area’s quality of life — from the arts to parks to alternative transportation to streetlife to cultural amenities and to magical places — may not seem so frivolous after all.

In fact, to forward-looking leaders, those expenditures would be strategic investments that would make metro Atlanta and Georgia more competitive in the future.

Young adults and their cities of choice 2000 to 2012 (Source: City Observatory)

Young adults and their cities of choice 2000 to 2012 (Source: City Observatory)

But metro Atlanta and Georgia have not been making those kind of investments. According to City Observatory, the Atlanta region ranked third from the bottom among the 51 largest cities in the United States in the percent change in the number of young adults from 2000 to 2012. Only Cleveland and Detroit fared worse than Atlanta.

In a recent op-ed, Lisa Cremin, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, simply stated: “Public support of the arts is key to a healthy arts sector. It provides organizations with reliable revenue, fuels smaller arts groups, enables large arts institutions to present programming that is free to the public, and signals to other funders that the arts are essential to civic life.”

Cremin was bemoaning the decision of Georgia Shakespeare to dissolve after 29 years because it faced short and long-term debt issues. In the past three years, the region has lost two other theater companies — Marietta’s Theatre in the Square and the Theater of the Stars.

Not only is state funding for the arts shrinking, so is local funding. Fulton County’s 2014 contracts for services budget was $750,000 compared to $2.7 million in 2001. Small and mid-sized arts organizations have been hit especially hard.

Although there are about 200 active, nonprofit arts organizations in the Atlanta region, only four have operating budgets of more than $2 million — the Woodruff Arts Center ($111.7 million); the Atlanta Ballet ($9.2 million); Atlanta Opera ($5.9 million); and the Center for Puppetry Arts ($3.6 million).

On Saturday night, Nov. 1, at the second to last performance of August Wilson’s — “How I Learned What I Learned,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves handed True Colors artistic director Kenny Leon an oversized check for $30,000 with the condition he had to spend the money by the end of the year.

“No problem,” Leon assured Eaves in front of a nearly sold-out crowd at the Southwest Arts Center.

It was the last weekend of campaigning before the Nov. 4 election, and candidates were making their rounds, repeating their messages about jobs, education, unemployment, outsourcing, rubberstamping.

As candidates went on and on and on with their rehearsed political lines, it was all about the words left unsaid that broadcast the disconnect in our state and our city.

The standoff between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians and the Woodruff Arts Center played on. So as an ode to symbolism, no music emanated this past weekend from Atlanta’s symphony hall to soften the sounds of our political discourse.

The disconnect continued.

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.

25 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Two requests, please.
    1. Identify the proven correlation you are promoting. Real proof, not wannabe truth.
    2. Propose a taxpayer funding plan that is voluntary, so those who value public funding for the arts can pay for it and those who do not are not coerced.Report

    Reply
  2. John Sibley says:

    Are those who want to rest on the laurels of “#1 for business” rankings paying any attention to the fact that college graduates aged 25-34 are going elsewhere?  Memphis is doing better, for heaven’s sake.  Isn’t it a form of self strangulation to make a place that isn’t competitive with the bright young leaders of the future?Report

    Reply
  3. AmyAdams says:

    Burroughston Broch I have seen this “don’t coerce me” stance before, when it comes to the arts receiving public funding. May I ask: is it the “coercion”, the tax itself that sticks in one’s (okay, your) craw? Or is it more “meh, I don’t really groove to orchestra music.”

    What I’m getting at is: there ARE (while they may not float everyone’s boat exactly….) things that make us collectively better human beings. I am willing to chip in so that society can have this stuff, generations now and in the future, because I believe in my heart that we are all the better for it.
    You want correlation? It’s in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    (Pretty good bible quoting for a tax-n-spend liberal if I say so myself…) 🙂Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    @Michael It’s hardly the same thing and you know it. Find arts funding in either the State or US Costitutions as a responsibility of govern,ent.Report

    Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    AmyAdams Both the end goal and the coercion stick in my throat. I support the arts organizations I enjoy and you support the arts organizations you enjoy; perhaps we both support some of the same. I don’t enjoy rap so I don’t want to subsidize it by paying taxes; feel free to support it yourself if you feel so moved. Also, every time any organization accepts public money it comes with conditions and obligations attaced, as well as employing more government workers.
    I formerly supported the ASO and ASOC but doubt I will in the future.
    I trust your “correlation” is heart-felt for you, but it means nothing to me.Report

    Reply
  6. AmyAdams says:

    Burroughston Broch – that’s kind of what I’m getting at. It seems the the “conditions and obligations attached” is the part that’s so hard for you swallow – yet what are they? What are those conditions and obligations, and how are they So Very Intolerable?
    “Government worker” is not an inherently evil thing, despite the snarky chuckles I can hear from every conservative I know. No, it is not evil. Bullying workers is, that’s for sure. Rotten lockouts, absolutely.
    I subsidize government programs that I don’t always completely agree with, because I see the  inherent value in doing so, and while my rap collection is, um, not large…I think we are a stronger people Because We Differ. I actually don’t know of anyone threatening to force a rap tax on the citizenry, though.
    It seems that you discount the possibility of Saporta’s premise, that the two things (art funding and unemployment) are related….and you’re right, there is no objective proof that they are. 
    So, hang on to your money then. May it bring you peace.Report

    Reply
  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    AmyAdams I don’t mind paying taxes providing I receive a corresponding benefit. I would receive NO benefit from paying taxes to support arts organizations plus the added governmental cost to collect and distribute the taxes. More government workers than necessary IS an inherently evil thing in my opinion.
    You feel free to subsidize government programs as you wish – knock yourself out. I have no intention to subsidize any more than necessary.
    There is a certain buddhistic calm in having money in the bank. I use some of it to support the arts organizations that I enjoy. Try it – you might like it.Report

    Reply
  8. Burroughston Broch says:

    Kendric AmyAdams What ASO and ASOC? I see no assurance they will continue at all, even in a reduced size.
    The Allman Brothers Band and Mary Chapin Carpenter at Symphony Hall and pops concerts are not the ASO and ASOC.Report

    Reply
  9. Pete Westafer says:

    In view of the recent performance of the Braves and Falcons, I
    propose that those players who, based on review of the past week’s game
    video, did not perform up to their professional level, be required to
    donate a portion of their salaries to an Atlanta arts fund. 
    Kidding aside, as a community,
    we do need both the sports teams – including the upcoming MLS franchise –
    and a vibrant arts community. If we propose to be a world-class city
    and attract the high-level technology jobs that are everyone’s dream,
    all of these activities must be part of the mix. Unfortunately, only the
    major league sports teams can benefit from television revenue, so the
    others are forced to get by on event admissions and donations. And to
    those who object to public funding for the arts, your tax dollars are
    being, directly or indirectly, to support sports arena construction,
    improvements or infrastructure upgrades around the venues.

    Personally, I’m fine with public spending on sports venues. But I am also in favor of public support of the arts.

    My two cents.Report

    Reply
  10. Pete Westafer says:

    In view of the recent performance of the Braves and Falcons, I
    propose that those players who, based on review of the past week’s game
    video, did not perform up to their professional level, be required to
    donate a portion of their salaries to an Atlanta arts fund. 
    Kidding aside, as a community,
    we do need both the sports teams – including the upcoming MLS franchise –
    and a vibrant arts community. If we propose to be a world-class city
    and attract the high-level technology jobs that are everyone’s dream,
    all of these activities must be part of the mix. Unfortunately, only the
    major league sports teams can benefit from television revenue, so the
    others must get by on event admissions and donations. And to
    those who object to public funding for the arts, your tax dollars are
    being spent, directly or indirectly, to support sports arena construction,
    improvements or infrastructure upgrades around the venues.

    Personally, I’m fine with judicious public spending on sports venues. But I am also in favor of judicious public support of the arts.

    My two cents.Report

    Reply
  11. Dowager says:

    Not to mention the loss of the Latin American and Persian film festivals with Linda Dubler in the lead.  Since her death after 26 years of curating great film for the High Museum, there has been a stark blank and silence on the screen in the Rich Auditorium.  That was a lively venue with a loyal following. Is there any movement to establish a Linda Dubler memorial position to continue that great tradition?Report

    Reply
  12. BPJ says:

    There is nothing in the federal or state constitutions which precludes state funding for nonprofit arts organizations. So the argument that arts funding is somehow illegitimate compared to other purposes is bogus; even the Tea Party Republicans who run Georgia continue to put arts support in the budget – just at a dismally low amount compared to every other state. Even for those who don’t personally appreciate the arts, Georgia’s ability to compete in attracting talented people (and corporate headquarters) should provide enough incentive to increase funding. It’s embarrassing to be behind South Carolina and Mississippi!Report

    Reply
  13. seeescobar says:

    What’s also missing is how much subsidy has come from the private sector. Many of these arts organizations have relied on support from corporations and foundation in the absence of the public funding available elsewhere. That’s the only reason we can have such little public support and yet so many organizations. This is also drastically changing and weaning–look at Turner Broadcasting. 
    These organizations not only serve their patrons, but the artists and crafts they support and many of these turn into real industries–look at the Film & TV industry and what its become in just the last 5 years. $5.1B in economic impact to our state just last year!? That’s huge! When so many companies and tradesman who were making their living in what was our construction boom that halted in ’08 can still make a living because they’re building sets and wiring up electricity–that’s huge! 

    The kicker for that industry is the tax incentive that GA offers, but at the end of the day, there are other states that have offered MUCH larger incentives and didn’t have anywhere near the success–becoming 3rd in the state behind CA & NY in production–that’s huge. It’s because of the combination of having the government incentives, the diversity of our locations and ultimately the crew base (fostered and created by many of these arts organizations) that makes it all work. Know thing just like anything else, you have to have a diverse approach to make anything work well.Report

    Reply
  14. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ BPJ
    The US Constitution lists the responsibilities of the federal government, and anything not specifically named is reserved for the states. You can’t maintain that, because an activity is not banned, it is then allowed.
    You are of course welcome to your opinion, which I consider wrong.Report

    Reply
  15. Pete Westafer says:

    Yep, we saw the reach of the film business last month. A movie, “The Fifth Wave,” was shooting in our neighborhood, at a house that is along my dog walking route. Each day I was amazed by the support functions that were being supplied by local businesses – food service for cast and extras, many rental trucks, trailers, hydraulic lifts, security guards, a stunt medical support team, generators, massive amounts of lighting inside and outside. It’s obviously a big impact on the economy. I suspect most of these support businesses did not exist in Georgia 10 years ago.

    The folks who are so adamantly opposed to public funding of anything that they don’t personally touch seem to be unaware that those electricians, rental companies, and yes, perhaps a government bureaucrat or two, may very well use some their income to buy products or services from the very person who objects to the industry being supported in the first place. It’s a bit like marketing and advertising: Georgia promotes its film industry just like Pfizer promotes its pharmaceuticals. The marketing is expensive, but the net effect is a clearly positive boost to the state’s economy, and to the micro-economies of its citizens.Report

    Reply
  16. Pete Westafer says:

    Burroughston Broch Pete Westafer 
    No. I don’t like paying taxes any more than you do.But in my business, and I presume in yours, I
    have to market my products and services if I want to prosper. If all states
    agree that they will not market their advantages to anyone, then Georgia can do
    the same, saving all of those taxpayer dollars that go into marketing while we
    sit back and wait to be discovered.
    I think we’re going down a rabbit hole here . . .  there are two intellectual arguments, both valid: One, the government has no business paying out any money for activities that are not narrowly specified in the Constitution, and two, the government should act judiciously to create economic opportunity for its citizens.Report

    Reply
  17. Burroughston Broch says:

    Pete Westafer I market my business’ services but I don’t depend on government tax subsidies. The State can market its advantages without providing tax subsidies.
    The business climate has become slanted towards subsidies and rebates. I heard a presentation by a data center operator that can be summarized thus, “We believe in being green provided the taxpayers and utility ratepayers subsidize our activities. We will continue to do so as long as you are willing to pay us and we can profit by it.” I reminded the presenter that the Federal tax subsidies for solar and wind energy expire by 2016, and asked whether his “green” activities would continue after 2016. He refused to commit, which I take as a NO.Report

    Reply

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