The Cyclical Relationship: Local Business, Local Government, and the Arts in Atlanta

Posted by Ms. Camille Russell Love, Jul 10, 2012 0 comments

Camille Russell Love

There is an undeniable compatibility with the arts and the City of Atlanta local economy. According to the newest evidence provided by the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV report on Atlanta, our nonprofit arts and culture organizations are a $300 million industry.

This calculation is a combination of the expenditures of these organizations ($168.1 million) and that of the attendees to cultural events ($131.9 million), excluding ticket prices. This local spending by residents and visitors to arts events benefits not only local business but local government as well.

Local government revenue from the above mentioned cultural expenditures, according to the AEP IV study, are $14 million. Proper distribution of these above mentioned government funds, in support of Atlanta’s booming arts industry will continue to heighten the city’s economic standing—without question. A good example of this cyclical relationship is a 2011 project of the Office of Cultural Affairs, Elevate/Art Above Underground. Local businesses, ranging from mom and pop shops to large hotel chains, gathered in support this downtown contemporary art and culture initiative.

Downtown Atlanta received a rather bold, immediate, and affirmative reaction following Elevate’s implementation. Elevate/Art Above Underground, a 66-day performance and visual arts exhibition in 2011, filled vacant properties, street corners, and plazas to showcase artwork ranging from 13-story murals to contemporary dance, video, installation, and poetry.

Although public funding allocated through our percent for art program was the direct source for the artist commissions, additional funding to execute an exhibition of this caliber was provided through local Atlanta businesses. Donation of art space, hotel rooms, theatrical lighting, food, advertising, and cash support nearly doubled the exhibition’s initial budget.

Within one month following the close of Elevate 2011, a total of 101 local, national, and international articles were published regarding downtown Atlanta, the arts, and most importantly their relationship to the businesses and surrounding economy.

The bulk of the visual work, commissioned through percent for art via Elevate, was adopted by property owners and has now been incorporated into the permanent downtown landscape. In addition to the adopted artwork, other aesthetic improvements to the downtown district were implemented surrounding the close of Elevate.

Underground Atlanta was publicity earmarked for a potential “art space” by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the MultiModal Passenger Terminal broke ground nearly three blocks from the exhibit site, and the Office of Cultural Affairs was granted $100,000 in support funds to redesign a 3,000-square-foot downtown building into a permanent contemporary art gallery. Other privately funded downtown improvement projects are at a notable increase as well.

Privately-funded city improvement projects, such as the downtown streetscape projects, fountain, artwork and plaza restorations, and park and playscape additions will introduce more local government revenue to the cyclical stream. The city of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA), as a local government agency, provides funding and opportunity to artists as well as we offer cultural experiences and services to all Atlanta residents and visitors free of charge.

For such large-scale, free public offerings like Elevate, or the Atlanta Jazz Festival, with a whopping 250,000 in yearly attendance, the cost of production is high, to say the least. In maneuvering the ins and outs of providing free programming for citizens, we pay serious attention to the status of the economy and keep an eye out for any financial changes; for they may directly determine the fate of our ability to program within the following year.

Contracts for Arts Services (CAS), a program facilitated by OCA, is funded 100 percent through government allocation. The program supports artistic and cultural organizations and individual artists within the City of Atlanta. In previous years the budget has been consistently $400,000–$500,000 expanding and contracting slightly with each budget year. More recently, the fiscal year 2011 CAS budget was in severe danger of being reduced by nearly 50 percent. A positive turnaround for this 2013 fiscal year: OCA’s Contracts for Arts Services budget award was doubled. The office is now able to allocate $1,000,000 to local visual and performing arts entities.

Success in the market and a notable impact of the arts in regard to the local economy has undeniably influenced the Mayor of the City of Atlanta to increase the allocation of funds to the arts. This relationship of business, art, and government within the local economy is a strong and promising configuration for Atlanta’s future. Businesses in Atlanta may easily support local arts and culture with proof that the dollar spent is a direct investment in the well being of the local economy and each business therein. The reward of great aesthetics and an increased quality of life is icing on the cake.

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