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Friday, May 13, 2011

Artists protest proposed budget cuts

About 75 people gathered outside City Hall yesterday to protest proposed budget cuts to the Office of Cultural Affairs. Lining Trinity Avenue in front of City Hall artists, some in costume, and representatives from local arts organizations held a spirited rally with music, chanting and speeches, waving signs at passing cars and letting up cheers when cars honked in support.

"I am here to protest the spending cuts, they're in the wrong areas and they will be devastating to the local arts community, " said arts supporter Chris Schwartz at the rally.

The list of recipients of OCA grants in fiscal year 2011 included more than 70 awardees, including organizations as diverse as the Boys and Girls Club of Atlanta, Out of Hand Theater, People TV, Dad's Garage, Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, Center for Puppetry Arts, Art Papers, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, National Black Arts Festival, gloATL, and dozens and dozens of other arts organizations that help define Atlanta's creative culture.

The proposed 2012 OCA budget would reduce the Contracts for Services Program by 50 percent to $235,000. That amount's a drop in the bucket compared to the budgets of other Southern cities, according to Flux Projects founder Louis Corrigan.

“The city government of Charlotte invests nearly $3 million a year in annual cultural grants," said Corrigan. "The proposed 50 percent cut in OCA’s Contracts for Arts Services program would reduce comparable City of Atlanta funding to 10 percent of Charlotte’s level.”

According to a press release about the rally circulated by WonderRoot, nonprofit arts generate $274.8 million for the local economy and provide the equivalent of 8,211 full-time jobs.

“We are not looking for a handout,” said Flora Maria Garcia, CEO of Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition at the rally, “the arts is a huge industry in Atlanta.”

After the rally the artists moved inside to the City Council chamber for the Public Hearing for the 2012 Budget. Arts supporters voiced their concern about spending cuts to a mostly silent (and sleepy looking) city council, which included only five of the 16 members while I was there the first hour. Once the artists started to speak, the rest of the arts supporters in the chamber stood, some holding signs that read “Art Saves Lives,” and “Save Art in Atlanta.” At the end of each testimony of support for arts funding they remained standing silently waving their arms in the air in support of the message.

Some of the comments focused on Mayor Kasim Reed. Chris Appleton, co-founder and Executive Director of WonderRoot quoted from Mayor Reed’s 2010 Cultural Platform during his testimony, “I believe that $10 million is the minimum annual commitment we should be making [to the arts], and I would absolutely support it,” he read, before asking, “Where is the Mayor now?”

Check out more photos from yesterday's protest.

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