Page 4 of 5
By mid-November, when it held its sixth and final meeting, the Task Force had dispelled any doubts that it was just another blue-ribbon panel that would spit out just another Arts Blueprint, submit its expense sheets and scatter off to boardrooms around the city.
Although the Task Force didn't actually do anything, in the classic, legislative sense, even avowed skeptics admit that the wheels seem to be in motion for big changes that could transform the state of the arts in the Atlanta region.
Just last month, arts consultant Elisa Glazer was forced to issue the heavy news that Georgia Citizens for the Arts -- the state's largest arts advocacy and lobbying group, whose board she chaired -- had folded due to lack of funds. Still, she's optimistic about the Task Force's lasting impact.
"It's a group of people who've never come together before," she says. "In other cities, that's resulted in a different profile for the arts."
That shift in how the arts are perceived has doubtlessly already begun. As awe-inspiring as it was to behold that much Type-A energy in one room, it's what happens after all those muckety-mucks go back to the office that counts.
Support for the arts has never been a top concern of Corporate Atlanta, but the Task Force has the influence to shift that paradigm -- in no small part because Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is leading the effort.
Her city may be flat broke, but Franklin -- whose first government job was running the Bureau of Cultural Affairs -- ardently makes the point that local investment in the arts is an essential tool in rebuilding Atlanta's fortunes.
"The arts have enriched my life and my family's life," she says. "People want to live in a community that's enriching."
Franklin will likewise be on board this year when the Task Force morphs into an ongoing "leadership alliance," whose first order of business will be to find private donations to staff and fund a new arts advocacy agency.
The Performing Arts Coalition's Bitz has yet to be convinced that another arts-support entity is needed, especially since many of its duties -- operating a region-wide arts ticketing system, providing artist networking opportunities -- would overlap with those of his and other groups.
But he concedes that the as-yet unnamed new agency will have as a birthright two things that many such groups have spent years trying to capture: the ear of the local business establishment and the backing of the mayor.
"Atlanta's problem has always been the lack of arts leadership from outside the arts community," he says.
The arts leadership alliance also will guide and fund high-profile marketing campaigns to raise public awareness of regional arts offerings. Already, offers of in-kind support, corporate donations and loaned executives -- as well as resumes -- have been flowing in.
The keys to that front-end loader, however, are arguably being ground at this very moment somewhere in the bowels of GSU's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. When it's released later this year, a privately funded study will recommend what form of tax- or fee-based arts-funding system would best suit Atlanta.
Would it be a special taxing district, like the one that last year delivered $37 million to more than 300 cultural institutions across metro Denver? Or a United Way funding model, like that used in Charlotte? Maybe we'd copy South Florida, which imposed a "culture tax" on video rentals and CD sales?
Atlanta is one of the few major U.S. cities that hasn't adopted some form of dedicated public funding source for the arts. It would entail a political battle, to be sure. But if there's any group that can sell such a plan to regional voters, it would be Franklin and her fellow movers-and-shakers on the Task Force.
If the arts community can hang on a while longer, there could be a break in the clouds.
Current financial status of select arts organizations
Latest in News Feature