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Since then, a $1.6 million renovation of the New American Shakespeare Tavern and a $1.4 million overhaul by 7 Stages are the closest any independent Atlanta theater groups have come to Woodruff-sized improvements. But arts consultant Arthur Brooks argues that blaming the Orly crash and the Woodruff's fund raising acumen for the currently anemic condition of the local arts community misses the point somewhat.
Yes, the crash wiped out a generation of wealthy arts patrons in one day, but the constituency of the group that was lost -- old-money, old-school white folks -- no longer represents the kind of philanthropy that's needed to bridge the demographic gaps facing our city, says Brooks, a former Georgia State University professor and the co-author of last year's "The Arts Economy in 20 Cities: Where Does Atlanta Stand?" As the title suggests, the study compared support for the arts in Atlanta with other cities and found us wallowing near the bottom, both in terms of financial grants and ticket sales.
Certainly, the Woodruff has made it all too simple for corporations to sign a check and claim they did their part for the arts. (Only last month, the Woodruff Foundation gave the center -- with which it shares a name but no organizational ties -- $25 million toward a planned $100 million expansion of the High.)
With its well-oiled fund-raising operations, its high public profile and a publicity machine practiced at giving deep-pocketed donors the biggest PR bang for their buck, the Woodruff takes the risks and guesswork out of giving to the arts, something many CEOs and grant writers appreciate.
A donation to the Woodruff also requires no time-consuming research to determine who's artistically deserving, who most needs the money or who might embarrass your shareholders by using their funds to hang elephant dung on the wall and call it art.
As new Woodruff communications director Kathleen Smith puts it: "We tell people when they support us, they're supporting Atlanta."
And that's just the problem, says Sanford, the former Fulton arts council chief. "A city Atlanta's size should be ashamed it's giving all its attention to four institutions," she says. "It's unfortunate that many people think all there is to the arts in Atlanta is the Woodruff, and the [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] advances that idea."
Certainly, that was Teodoro Maus' perception when he relocated here as Mexico's consul general. "When I arrived in Atlanta," says Maus, now a member of the Georgia Council for the Arts, "I gave money to the High and the Alliance until I discovered all these other arts groups that were doing great work but struggling to get by; I started supporting them instead."
As Maus learned, great work alone wasn't paying the electric bill. Indeed, Atlanta's veteran directors have discovered that critical acclaim and box-office success can lift you only so high until you bump your head on what the iconoclastic Sean Daniels describes as "sort of a glass ceiling" beyond which further growth seems unattainable.
The Dad's Garage founder calls the affliction "7 Stages-itis," with apologies to that theater's well-respected founder, Del Hamilton. Hamilton, Daniels says, is heralded as a theatrical savant in France for his work with the newest, edgiest international playwrights. In Atlanta, that and $4.75 will get him a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Among arts organizations and even other nonprofit groups, there's the palpable feeling that the Woodruff Arts Center and its four divisions -- the Alliance, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum and the Atlanta College of Arts -- are funding hogs, draining the trough so as to leave smaller groups undernourished.
Ned Rifkin, who left as director of the High in 1999 to take charge of the smaller Menil Collection in Houston, says he frequently was made aware of this unspoken undercurrent. "When I would meet with other arts leaders and even groups like the zoo and Atlanta Botanical Garden, I felt there was a ripe resentment of the High, that it took more than its share of the money."
"Nobody wants to talk about it because they don't want to piss off powerful people and get screwed," explains a local arts leader who asked not to be named so as not to get screwed, "but most people in the arts scene believe it's true."
When Maus ponders the challenges facing Atlanta's arts community, his mind drifts back to a single naked breast.
As Mexican consul general, he had pushed for a Latino component to the planned Cultural Olympiad. The result was 1993's "Mexico! A Cultural Tapestry," a months-long, metro-wide festival showcasing dozens of performances and exhibits from South of the Border. Maus was thrilled at the chance to expose his adopted city to his native country's culture, but mindful that exposure has its limits. When an all-female modern dance group came to town with a piece in its repertoire that it typically performed topless, Maus discreetly suggested the dancers cover up.
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