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Georgia is trying hard to be dead last among 50 states in financial support for the arts

Update: Georgia Senate Appropriations Committee restored funding for the Georgia Council for the Arts on Tuesday. The budget now has to be approved by the full Senate and by the House-Senate conference committee before going to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature.

“Georgia is in a race for the bottom.”

So said a community leader during a panel discussion this past week.

Although the topic of the discussion was not the arts, it might as well have been.

Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a $17.8 billion state budget that would totally eliminate the Georgia Council for the Arts. That would give Georgia the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country without a council for the arts.

“It’s an embarrassment,” said Carol Tomé, Home Depot’s chief financial officer and past chair of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund. “Arts enrich our communities.”

It’s not as though Georgia had bragging rights before the proposed elimination of the Georgia Council for the Arts. The council’s annual budget has been $2.52 million, which put Georgia 47th among the 50 states in per capital spending for the arts. In his budget, Gov. Sonny Perdue had proposed cutting that budget to $890,735.

Yes, Georgia is in a race for the bottom. We apparently have not been satisfied by ranking 47th. We want to be dead last.

What’s worse is that if the House budget goes through and the council is eliminated, the National Endowment for the Arts has sent a letter saying that Georgia stands to lose nearly $900,000 in federal arts funding.

It’s not too late. The budget now is in the hands of the Senate and later it will be forwarded to the governor. The misguided move to eliminate the council can still be reversed.

The arts community is doing all it can to keep Georgia from hitting rock bottom. A grassroots campaign to reach legislators is underway, and demonstrations and marches also are being planned.

Flora Maria Garcia, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition, said the elimination of the arts council could be devastating, not just in big cities but throughout the state.

Arts organizations in small rural counties that have little access to funding would be the ones hurt the most by this,” Garcia said, adding that much of the council’s funding goes towards arts education programs. “It’s not very much money, but the impact is huge.”

Garcia’s predecessor, Bill Nigut, said there’s a disconnect.

“Clearly the problem is that no one seems to be able to make the case on the importance of the arts to the legislature,” Nigut said. “They continue to not understand that this is important for our economy.”

Penelope McPhee, president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, said the council is an essential element to Georgia’s future.

“If Georgia is going to be a great state, we need to have great arts throughout,” she said. “The arts need state funding, local public funding and local private funding.”

Camille Love, executive director of the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs, was a bit more blunt.

“It is unfortunate that the legislature has not learned the value of arts and culture, especially in education,” Love said. “How ignorant do they want us to be? How under-exposed do they want Georgia to be?”

It was a common refrain among art lovers.

“I can’t even believe it’s a possibility,” said Tom Key, the Theatrical Outfit’s executive artistic director, about the possible elimination of the council. “If we want to take a step forward for young people and their education and for the state’s economic development for the future, we have got to sustain and hold on to the Georgia Council for the Arts.”

Ken Bernhardt, the new chair of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau who is a marketing professor at Georgia State University’s business school, said he appreciates the state’s financial squeeze and can understand the need to temporarily cut the council’s funding.

But Bernhardt said that eliminating the council would be a “disaster” for Georgia.

“It just screams the wrong message to the rest of the world,” Bernhardt said. “The arts are very important in attracting companies to move to Georgia. To be the only state in the country without an arts council, then other states would use that against us.”

Consider the facts. If we eliminate the council, we would lose $900,000 in federal funds, we would hurt the education of our children, we would damage our economic development efforts, we could destroy several struggling arts organization, and we would reaffirm our national reputation as a backwards state.

Coincidentally, while state legislators are considering cutting out the Georgia Council for the Arts, they also are weighing an excellent piece of legislation that could be a significant boost for the arts.

The proposed legislation would permit each county to pass up to a penny sales tax that could be used for the arts as well as other economic development and quality of life initiatives.

It would be the first time counties in Georgia could split a penny sales tax for a multitude of initiatives and would give each county tremendous flexibility on how to invest the revenue.

But Garcia said that if such legislation were to pass, it could not take the place of the Georgia Council for the Arts.

“It is not an either or situation,” she said. “These are two completely different ways to support the arts in Georgia.”

Although the sales tax legislation has strong bipartisan support, the bill has had its ups and downs working its way through the legislature.

“We are still very committed to moving this legislation forward,” Garcia said. “We have been very pleased with the bipartisan level of support that we are getting for this legislation. The reception has been very positive.”

Georgia has a choice on what kind of state it wants to be.

Will it be a state in a race for the top? Or will it be a state in a race for the bottom?

Let’s hope we make the right choice.

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. Scott April 19, 2010 10:27 am

    Just when you think the morons we elected cant get much worse…boom, they exceed expectations. There are some pretty powerful voices against elimination of the GCA, but Sonny’s horse park needs that million dammit. We need regime change in GA…complete and total. Whats funny is this screws the rural counties way more than Atlanta, and these guys are too stupid to even see that. I guess its good ol baptist values at work (dont they preach against dancing?). I’m beginning to wonder were it is I am living. When did GA become so 3rd world???Report

  2. Yr1215 April 19, 2010 11:26 am

    Ok. Here’s my possibly controversial opinion on this. The end of GCA won’t be the death knell of the arts community.

    And as Maria points out, the ability of local communities to create more funding mechanisms for the arts will be beneficial to the arts. And this is in part about the devolution of government and authority to the local governments, which I generally think is a good idea. Those communities that want and appreciate art (Atlanta and Savannah come to mind) will be able to fund it with taxes if they want. However, I’m not so sure art and government ultimately offer much value to one another except in pre-college education.

    SCAD (with all its warts) has done more for the arts in Savannah than a thousand government initiatives ever would. Their new location in Atlanta may do much more for art in Atlanta than anything the city could conjure up. Just food for thought.Report

  3. Lonnie Fogel April 19, 2010 2:40 pm

    A city without arts and culture is not a city.Report

  4. Scott April 19, 2010 5:09 pm

    It wont be the death knell in Atlanta, but it will greatly cut it back. Where it will be the death knell is in other areas of the state, especially for school children who might not otherwise have any exposure to the arts. Lets also not forget the million + in federal funding that is lost due to GCA elimination. Yr1215, whereas we do appreciate the arts here in Atlanta, you’ve also got people elsewhere in the state who have no concept of the arts, and would never vote locally to fund them. It just strikes me that if every single other state can find the money why the hell we cant. Oh, thats right, we have to fund Don Balfour’s $2500/month Atlanta rental at the taxpayers expense cause he is too lazy to drive here from Snellville like the rest of usReport

  5. Yr1215 April 19, 2010 5:29 pm

    Scott, I agree about the waste side (and obviously hypocrisy abounds under the dome). Were all (or some) of those spurious projects eliminated, presumably GCA would be fundable.

    That said, just because 49 states do it doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea. Look at what the labor commissioner has been doing (of dubious legality) regarding getting people employed while still receiving unemployment or welfare benefits. 50 states (now 49) weren’t doing this, but I think its a pretty good idea despite the legality issue. (They should change the law, not be violating it.)

    I know it seems like a simple argument, but just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it a good idea. I would like everyone to be able to enjoy art, but if they don’t want it, why should they pay and why spend money on it?

    State arts funding (in the sense we are referring to) didn’t exist during the impressionist era. It didn’t exist during Michelangelo’s time? Why do we need it now? There were wealthy benefactors and sponsors, but there are plenty of those now too.

    I just think art is a result of the creative impulse, not money.Report

  6. Yr1215 April 19, 2010 5:38 pm

    Of course, as M.S. points out $2.5mm in a sea of billions is a drop in the bucket. The “efficiency in government” side of me would like to see more “non-need based” students pulling their weight for the University System of Georgia. Read: higher tuition for the kids and parents who don’t need subsidies.

    That (and Medicaid) is where the bulk of the spending is.Report

  7. ATL April 19, 2010 5:41 pm

    No arts funding of any kind… No State Transportation Plan… No comprehensive plan to fix the state’s water crisis– No leadership on anything that matters– How’s that republican thingy workin’ for ya Georgia?… Vote them out– and vote them out now (or in November that is)…Report

  8. Maria April 19, 2010 5:45 pm

    Depressing, isn’t it?Report

  9. ATL April 19, 2010 5:46 pm

    The arts and culture are vital to Georgia’s future– To be and remain competitive at the other end of this great recession Georgia will need more than cheap labor and low taxes… To attract the future work force that we want and need– quality of life issues are more than fringe benefits, they are primary attractors… True the arts matter because they matter and because they make us human– but they also matter to the bottom line… wake up– before Georgia becomes the new Mississippi…Report

  10. ACC 12 Booster April 19, 2010 6:45 pm

    I hate to rain on your parade, but if I were you, I wouldn’t get too excited about the proposed legislation to let localities raise funds for the arts with a penny sales tax. With the rise of anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party factions and their rapidly increasing influence in GOP Politics, I realistically wouldn’t give the penny sales tax for counties to fund the arts much of a chance in this toxic political environment. The legislative leadership was so spooked, and rightfully so, about the Tea Party rally at the Capitol last Thursday that they made sure to suspend the Georgia General Assembly and leave town on that particular day. With the extreme anger within the Tea Party and the conservative base over the size of government at all levels combined with the exceptional budget crisis and total collapse in state revenues, at this point I’d have to unfortunately have to say that the Georgia Council for the Arts is most likely a goner and any legislation to raise taxes of any kind and in any way, shape or form is almost dead on arrival, especially after last week’s increase in hospital bed taxes that was offset with an ever larger cut in senior citizens’ income taxes.

    There is a definite atmosphere of fear and loathing amongst Republicans under the Gold Dome right now because the angry Tea Partiers are threatening all GOP legislators up for re-election with defeat by even more conservative Republicans in their respective primaries over even the slightest perceived expansion in government or tax increase. You think these current conservative legislators are difficult to work now on pressing state needs? Just wait until you have to try and reason with Republican legislators that have been handpicked by the rising Tea Party movement to cut the size of an already bone-thin Georgia state government even deeper into the bone!

    There’s a movement afoot on the hard right that is spreading to the political center, to cut the size of all levels of government down into the bone and down to the barest of bare essentials, to “right-size” government, if you will. Unfortunately, the rise of the Tea Party in national and Republican politics, while responding to extreme federal government spending gone out of control, may locally also sink any effort for the current and any future Republican-lead Georgia General Assembly to raise taxes to deal with pressing transportation, education and water needs in the near term and beyond. The bed tax was most likely the last tax increase we may see from that governing body for awhile.Report

  11. Yr1215 April 20, 2010 9:14 am

    There is the thing called the ballot box. The way the Republican slate of candidates is shaping up, I give Roy Barnes a slightly better than 50% chance, despite the polls. The Republicans are beatable now, and they’re going to be very beatable with the tea party floating around and no transportation progress.

    Rasmussen has him neck and neck with likely Republican contenders. Life would be interesting, as presumably the legislature would still be in Republican hands.

    We shall see.Report

  12. Yr1215 April 20, 2010 2:10 pm
  13. ACC 12 Booster April 20, 2010 2:12 pm

    Georgia Republicans haven’t done very much in the way of governance to endear themselves to Georgia voters, especially when it comes to pressing needs like education and transportation. But the anger at the national Democratic party is so palatable right now that it may affect the outcome of many local races, especially here in Georgia, the “reddest of red states”.

    Nationally, it’s looking like the Democrats may take some substantial losses in November in congressional races and there’s a very good possibility that grass-roots outrage at the Feds may very well spillover and effect the outcome of the Georgia gubernatorial race in November, despite the obvious weakness (and liabilities) of the Republican field at this point. Yes, Georgia Republicans are very beatable, especially after their lackluster performance of letting the state slip back into position to be passed up by local Southeastern competitors like Florida, and especially, North Carolina, but I’m not so sure that outrage at national Democrats won’t override outrage at state republicans and motivate local and state voters, who would otherwise be motivated to kick out a lackluster incumbent party that has clearly become a dangerous liability to this state’s future progress, to go into the voting booth and just push all “R”s to send a stinging message to national Democrats.Report

  14. ACC 12 Booster April 20, 2010 2:17 pm

    Thanks for the nearly instant update. I’m glad that the Senate proved me to be wrong!Report

  15. Yr1215 April 20, 2010 5:35 pm

    Not a done deal yet. Yes, I know; national Democratic party activity may completely hose any opportunity for democrats at the state level.

    So the state D party can get legitimately hacked with the NDP if they so choose, in my opinion.Report

  16. Scott April 20, 2010 11:47 pm

    Yr1215, just to clarify a point from your earlier post…Michelangelo and most his contemporaries were sponsored by the Medici’s who in essence were the government (the crown). Either that or the Papal Monarchs of the time sponsored most great art of the time…so government sponsorship of the arts has a pretty long history.Report

  17. Yr1215 April 21, 2010 8:43 am

    Scott, I know that. That is why I said: “State arts funding (in the sense we are referring to) didn’t exist during the impressionist era.” Note parentheses.

    Medici was not a democratically elected government. I don’t count royalty, or benevolent or malevolent dictatorships, when I refer to government sponsored art.

    If you want to go back to the days of crowns and kings, by all means go ahead. I’m just pointing out that monarchies are states, but not of the sort I’m referring to.Report

  18. Yr1215 April 21, 2010 8:45 am

    For the record, I also know the impressionist era and Michelangelo’s era were obviously two separate periods. I was citing two examples.

    In neither case, or anytime prior to the latter half of the 20th century, were artists paid by governments, but were instead paid by wealthy benefactors or through public performance of their work.

    This is a silly debate because this is a smidgen of the state budget.Report

  19. Scott April 21, 2010 12:33 pm

    Government is government, be it the crown, a dictator, or elected. They were your examples, not mine. I was just showing that there is a long history of patronage of the arts by the ruling class…but you are right, this is a silly argument (although a refreshingly intelligent one) considering if one looks at the AJC legislative pages and sees how our state is imploding due to the ineptitude that resides there.Report

  20. Yr1215 April 21, 2010 1:19 pm

    40 days of citizen legislators making law is not a good thing.

    I don’t like the idea of professional politicians either. So the best compromise I can think of is higher pay for the legislators with an almost year round session, combined with 8 year term limits. Without the term limits, I think the previously stated ideas would be a disaster.

    Forcing the legislators to sit in Atlanta traffic more of the year would be a nice byproduct.Report

  21. Yr1215 April 21, 2010 3:58 pm

    FYI, the National Endowment for the Arts wasn’t even created until 1965. So as far as US Democracy is concerned, our republic made it through 189 of our 234 years just fine without the NEA.Report

  22. Scott April 22, 2010 12:04 pm

    …and look how much better we are for it! 😉Report


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