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Claiming the Arts as One of Georgia’s Greatest Assets

Karen L. Paty

Karen Paty, Executive Director of Georgia Council for the Arts
I travel the state frequently, and that my inroads into communities lead through the complex beauty and power of the arts in Georgia, I find to be a humbling privilege.  Those travels have taught me that as diverse and varied as the state’s landscape is, so too are the unique and endearing culture bearers, artists and arts assets of each region.  It is that diversity where I find our strength as a state. I consistently observe artists and arts organizations in the delicate work of unearthing the layers of story, history, and identity that feed our collective sense of being.   Their movements in communities are the lessons of the creative process: curiosity, discipline, perseverance and an enduring commitment to a vision greater than oneself. In big cities and rural towns, artists are working in service to our greatest aspirations, rethinking civic challenges, erasing boundaries and building equitable coalitions of thought and action in the pursuit of our shared ideals.  
Earlier this year Americans for the Arts released a public opinion poll which found that 90 percent of Americans believe that the arts are important to quality of life, and 86 percent believe that the arts are important to local economy.  The economic data on Georgia’s creative industries validates these beliefs. The nonprofit arts industry accounts for more than 30,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion. When data from nonprofit and for profit creative sectors are combined, those numbers skyrocket to $62.5 billion in economic impact, $37 billion in revenue and nearly 200,000 jobs annually.  As an economic engine, the arts not only create jobs, but a robust culture fueled by the arts attract tourists and businesses in non-arts sectors.

Pasaquan Columbus State University (credit Tamma Smith)

The same poll found that 91 percent of Americans believe that the arts should be part of a well-rounded K-12 education. Decades of research prove the value of the arts on a student’s academic life:  increased test scores, higher graduation rates, and greater probability of earning a bachelor’s degree, to name a few. Further, in our increasingly competitive global workforce the skills developed through arts education: resilience, problem solving and creativity are skill sets that over 70 percent of business leaders identify as incredibly important when hiring. Our students deserve every opportunity to succeed and arts education is an essential part of workforce development in Georgia.
As we move into 2019, let us boldly commit to acknowledge, value and support the essential talent that enables community, economic and educational progress through the arts: artists.  Partnering with industries as varied as healthcare, corrections and transportation the work of Georgia artists leave lasting local imprints in all 159 counties through initiatives not often expected, but consistently impactful.  At this very moment, Georgia artists and arts organizations are working with cancer patients, community members with memory impairment, incarcerated populations, art programs that teach job skills, returning members of the military, homeless populations, at-risk youth, individuals on the autism spectrum, addiction recovery, and the list continues.  They are leading local charges to build arts infused community based solutions to complex community based challenges.
The arts call to us to lay claim to our shared identity, to explore our differences, to be challenged and inspired and if not to be artists ourselves, then at least to approach the world with curiosity, creativity and a sense of humanity.  Let us not forget that the arts in Georgia belong to each of us as a contributor, participant, audience member, observer, advocate, and patron, and that our artists and arts organizations are not accessory to a vibrant Georgia, but the cornerstone of it.

AthFest photo credit Jamie deRevere

Featured image (Top): Deep Center, Credit: Savannah Jerome Visual Poems

About Karen L. Paty, Executive Director, Georgia Council for the Arts
Karen L. Paty is the Executive Director of Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) and
brings more than fifteen years of leadership experience in arts and culture and
community development. She has been with Georgia Council for the Arts for fourteen
years, serving as the agency’s first hired, rather than appointed, executive director for
seven years. Ms. Paty leads the state’s strategic efforts to support the arts industry and
bring more awareness and visibility to the role of the arts in supporting economic
development opportunities, creating vibrant communities, enhancing the state’s quality
of life, and contributing to a strong educational curriculum. Karen has initiated a
multitude of programs and projects that contribute to these goals including initiating
state level partnerships across sectors to engender support for the arts, overseeing a
redesign of GCA’s grant making programs, developing new initiatives to serve under
resourced counties, the institution of an annual Governor’s Awards for the Arts and
Humanities, integration of the arts in several state tourism initiatives, creation of a new
Arts Education program to increase access to and quality of arts education in Georgia’s
K-12 public schools, publishing statewide economic impact data and best practice case
studies for the creative sector, and a multi-year capacity building program to foster and
support the sustainability of Georgia’s nonprofit arts organizations. In addition, she
manages the state’s 600-piece art collection, published the book Inspired Georgia,
which celebrates the work of Georgia’s contemporary poets and photographers, has
conceived of and initiated numerous statewide traveling exhibits and created “The Art
of Georgia,” Georgia Council for the Arts’ first ongoing rotating exhibit at the State
Capitol featuring the work of contemporary GA artists.
In 2011, Paty managed GCA’s seamless integration into the Georgia Department
of Economic Development (GDEcD), restructured the agency’s advisory board and
implemented a new five-year strategic plan that redefined the agency’s mission, vision
and goals to better provide an opportunity for the arts to become an integral part of the
lives of all Georgians. Under her leadership, the agency fulfills its strategic plan by
continually cultivating innovative collaborations and building long-term, statewide
partnerships that result in both policy and programming to support Georgia’s vital arts
In recognition of her valuable contributions to the arts and to the state of
Georgia, in 2018 Ms. Paty was again named one of the “100 Most Influential Georgians”
by Georgia Trend magazine. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of
Directors of South Arts, the University Advisory Council of Middle Georgia State
University and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Assembly of State Arts
Agencies. She is a graduate of New York University, where she was also a recipient of
the university’s President’s Award for Service. Prior to joining GCA, Karen was the
Associate Director for Civic Engagement at Hands on Atlanta where she oversaw the
agencies work in social issue education, social entrepreneurship and programmed the
annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Summit honoring the legacy and modern day
movements of civic and social activism. Ms. Paty resides in Decatur with her husband
and two children.


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