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National Endowment for the Arts intersects local art and culture to help communities flourish

Maria Rosario Jackson. (Photo by Erin Sintos.)

Miranda Kyle, Culture Program Manager of the Atlanta BeltLine, leads an art tour on the Eastside Trail. Photo by Erin Sintos

Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), visited Atlanta last week to continue the important discussion of the integration of the local Atlanta art scene and its relationship with one of the most sought-after means of transportation in the city — the BeltLine.

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is a national, independent federal agency that is the largest funder of the arts, arts education, and public and private support for the arts. Chair Jackson’s focus within the NEA is the intersection of the arts and the influence it holds in the community and its transportation.

Chair Jackson is also responsible for upholding President Biden’s Executive Order that encourages the integration of arts and culture into policies, programs, and partnerships throughout the federal government. This Executive Order aids in serving marginalized communities as well as supporting federal agencies’ abilities to work with art and culture initiatives. NEA has supported projects associated with the BeltLine since its beginning. Earlier this year, the NEA announced a grant of $25,000 to the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership to support public art installations, performances, and events.

I headed to Ponce City Market through the drizzly morning air to meet Chair Jackson and members from Atlanta BeltLine leadership for a golf cart tour of the Eastside Trail. The tour, led by Miranda Kyle, Arts and Culture Program Manager of the Atlanta BeltLine, showcased murals, art installations and sculptures by different artists who represent their own sector of the multicultural Atlanta art world. “We strive for everyone to see a piece of themselves on the BeltLine”, Kyle shared during the tour.

Maria Rosario Jackson leads a roundtable discussion about the integration of arts and transportation. Photo by Erin Sintos.

NEA’s multi-year grants provide the time to build a proper relationship between organizations and artists, allowing them to make something more meaningful. “The process can sometimes be more important than the product”, Chair Jackson commented.

“The arts are the preconditions for other things we want to see in a community. It’s there to protect the humanity in us and others”, Chair Jackson stated as she sat at the roundtable discussion following the BeltLine tour. “The art is the identity of the place…It flavors and builds what is available to the people”, she added.

Parties in attendance included Atlanta BeltLine, MARTA, Smart Growth America, and Georgia Council for the Arts. Chair Jackson presented the integration of the arts and infrastructure as an “opportunity to fight erasure”. She also added that it was always important to consider what the community could access. Some of the goals of the inclusion of art in these public spaces include avoiding gentrification in an ever-changing city like Atlanta and adding value without displacing members of that community.

Members from Atlanta BeltLine, MARTA, Smart Growth America, and Georgia Council for the Arts participate in a conversation with Maria Rosario Jackson about BeltLine artist grants and community preservation through the arts. Photo by Erin Sintos.

Another topic of discussion mentioned was that public art has to have a safe, physical infrastructure, a density of people, and dedicated funding. Miranda Kyle added, “I think balance exists. Art drives a place to grow and encourages people to be rooted in these spaces.”

Chair Jackson concluded that she thinks the BeltLine is a unique artistic and communal atmosphere because there is no financial burden involved. “It is a public art gallery that anyone can enjoy”, she added.

The NEA has provided grants for artists’ projects beyond Atlanta, too, including Denver, Seattle and Philadelphia.

To learn more about the NEA, visit arts.gov or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

To listen to a recent podcast discussion with Maria Rosario Jackson, visit here.

If you’re interested in recent NEA grants to Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and other Georgia organizations, visit their recent grant search. 

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