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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Atlanta has the most arts-related business per capita nationwide, but what about funding?

Elevate: Art Above Underground was an ambitious, two-month-long public arts exhibition centered around Upper Alabama and Peachtree Street downtown and backed by Atlantas Office of Cultural Affairs last fall.
  • Elevate: Art Above Underground was an ambitious, two-month-long public arts exhibition centered around Upper Alabama and Peachtree Street downtown and backed by Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs last fall.
Yesterday, the City of Atlanta sent out the press release: "Atlanta Home to Most Arts Related Business Per Capita in America," up from the No. 4 position last year. According to a study by Americans for the Arts' Creative Industries research project:
The city of Atlanta has the highest number of arts-related businesses per capita among the 100 largest cities in the United States and the second highest percentage of arts-related employees per capita in the country. ... According to Creative Industries, Atlanta is home to 3,573 arts-related businesses that employ 22,826 people. Last year, Atlanta ranked fourth highest in the number of arts-related businesses per capita out of the 100 largest cities in the United States.

In terms of counties, the metro area also had a good showing with Fulton County ranking fourth in the nation for business per-capita and third for number of arts-related jobs in the nation, while DeKalb ranked 10th and 21st in the respective categories. It's great news, if not entirely surprising. In a 2011 column, Creative Loafing contributor Cinque Hicks pointed out that

A casual look around Atlanta reveals that after years of deep freeze, more arts projects are springing up in the city than any time in recent history. A groundswell of new arts organizations is enlivening Atlanta from the bottom up. Scarcely a week goes by that some new arts production group, some new publication, festival or financial support vehicle isn't announcing that they've arrived on the scene.

Even Mayor Reed noted in the release, "The rankings don't surprise me because many wonderful arts organizations flourish in the metropolitan Atlanta region. But this report does confirm that the arts are a vital component of Atlanta's economy. And it supports my belief that great cities have great art. Thriving cities offer an outstanding quality of life, and the arts are a crucial component of a city's soul."

Which raises the question: Where does Atlanta rank in per capita funding to local arts agencies?

Neither Americans for the Arts nor National Assembly of States Arts Agencies has performed a parallel study for funding in major cities. But Americans for the Arts was able to provide some good estimates for local government arts funding to its local arts agency - Atlanta to its Office of Cultural Affairs, for example - for a number of cities. In 2011, Atlanta's per capita spending was $3.81 compared to $12.86 in San Francisco, $8.51 in L.A. and $7.15 in Portland, the third-, fourth- and fifth-ranked cities, respectively, for per capita businesses. (Americans for the Arts does not have the funding data for No. 2 city Scottdale, Ariz.)

Randy Cohen, VP of Research & Policy at Americans for the Arts, provided the data with a couple of caveats: "These data are from 2011 and might have changed a bit due to end-of-year rescissions, restored/un-restored dollars, and the like . . . so, they're good estimates. It does not include additional dedicated revenues for the arts, such as San Francisco's Hotel Tax Fund for the Arts or Denver's Scientific and Cultural Facilities Districts."

Still, the numbers paint a pretty clear picture: Funding in Atlanta is significantly less than the other top-ranking cities.

When Mayor Reed proposed a 50 percent budget cut to arts funding last year to $235,000, WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton penned an editorial for CL discussing this exact issue:

Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., Atlanta ranks fourth in the number of arts-related businesses per capita and second in arts-related jobs. By comparison, Nashville and Charlotte rank, respectively, eighth and 32nd in arts-related businesses and eighth and 41st in arts-related jobs. Last year, Nashville granted $1.8 million directly to arts and culture organizations and Charlotte granted more than $3 million. Yet Atlanta's proposed budget for 2012 would reduce the city's granting to $235,000 - half the amount given this year. This will not make Atlanta a competitive city for tourists, international corporations or new residents. Why is the grant funding so disproportionate?

Arts funding has dropped dramatically across the nation since 2008 (although things are starting to look up). Despite these funding shortfalls, Atlanta's art scene has managed to become arguably more vibrant in many ways over the same period, perhaps because hard times fostered a stronger entrepreneurial spirit within the local community. It's important that local artists and arts organizations have learned how to diversify their funding sources. Now just imagine if funding was proportional to all of the local creative activity.

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