Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How to sustain the arts in Atlanta: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Fulton County Arts & Culture Director Michael Simanga resigned in mid-December after six years in the position because "it was time for me to start working on some other projects," he says.

Those projects include promotion of 44 on 44, an anthology (published last November) that he edited with Lita Hooper and Sonia Sanchez of musings on the election of POTUS No. 44 Barack Obama by 44 prominent African-American artists and thinkers, including Chuck D, Pearl Cleage, Natasha Tretheway, and Jasmine Guy, among others. Leaving his post at FCAC, he says, will allow him time to become more "involved in building cultural institutions in Atlanta and to advocate for arts and culture."

In particular, Simanga is interested in helping develop the National Black Arts Festival, an organization for which he's been a board member and which also parted ways with its director in November.

"National Black Arts Festival started as a festival and the majority of the emphasis has been on the annual festival and I think that it should continue to produce a large-scale event whether it's biannual or annual," says Simanga. "It should also develop more of an institutional quality, meaning its educational programs, outreach, training, encouraging artists to produce and not just present, and also to create assets for the organization. All organizations have to assess, 'How do we develop and accumulate and how do we leverage our assets to sustain?'"

It sounds like Simanga and NBAF board chair Evern Cooper Epps have been sharing notes: "We're looking at building on our strengths and how do we develop and find opportunities not just for the arts program but for the year-round education program? How could we build that program and be more collaborative with our partners and in the schools, more than what most people remember us for, which is the summer festival?" Epps told CL in a November interview after the resignation of the organization's CEO and President Neil Barclay.

Envisioning new nonprofit frameworks and facilitating collaboration among arts organizations are among Simanga's priorities and he points to the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund as a local organization taking some steps in the right direction: "[MAAF Director] Lisa Cremin and the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund are doing very interesting work trying to figure out what is the framework for this very important industry and community," he says. "The arts community has to be much more active demonstrating and telling our story and why we're important to the economy and the social fabric, but we're not good at telling that story yet. Over 23 years, the National Black Arts Festival has pumped millions of dollars into the local economy and we have to make sure that the arts and arts community are communicating that."

"We have to find ways for those who are doing things that can be connected to share resources," he continues. "That's kind of what I see not just for large, but for small and mid-size organizations. We have to find ways for people to work in a more collaborative manner that allows for sustainability."

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: It's a tune that Atlanta's grassroots arts organizations including WonderRoot, Mint Gallery, local arts blog BurnAway, and DanceATL, among others, have also been singing for the past few years. It'll be worth watching to see how Simanga continues to engage the local arts community outside of Fulton County Arts & Culture.

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