Amid arts cutbacks, groups share $500,000

Grants awarded to 11 area organizations.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, which is announcing $500,000 in grants to 11 performing and visual arts groups today, doubled its giving to $1 million a year in 2009 in response to funding cuts of the sort that have been in the news in recent weeks.

The state recently trimmed the Georgia Council for the Arts’ budget, which peaked at $4.5 million in 2002, to $566,730, an allotment on par with late 1970s support.

The city of Atlanta is considering a 50 percent cut for its Office of Cultural Affairs grants program, from $470,000 to $235,000.

And a bill intended to open up a new source of funding for the arts and other economic development projects, which would allow communities to vote on adding a fractional sales tax, failed late in the state Legislature for the second year.

So the grants announcement by the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund to groups including Dad’s Garage Theatre Company and Theatre in the Square, which received the largest amount ($75,000 each), can be taken as a relative ray of sunlight.

However, when the Arts Fund doubled its giving in 2009 in what it called the Atlanta Arts Recovery initiative, the measure was supposed to be a short-term bridge for midsized metro arts groups over the recession’s troubled waters.

Those troubles haven’t receded, and director Lisa Cremin said it’s uncertain if the Arts Fund will be able to raise additional money to keep giving $1 million annually beyond the second round of $500,000 in grants it plans to distribute this fall.

Cremin said that foundation giving — the Arts Fund is part of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta — can’t compensate over the long haul for cuts in governmental and corporate support, both in decline due to the economy.

“I don’t think any one funding source can make up for the difference,” she said, pointing out that many arts groups are pursuing the “significant opportunity” of soliciting higher and a greater number of donations from individual givers.

The Arts Fund has fiscal challenges of its own: Its endowment, valued at more than $9 million before the market decline of 2008, is today worth $7.6 million.

To support the second round of $500,000 grants bestowed since 2009, separate funds were raised from corporations, foundations and board members.

Though Cremin feels the need for support in the arts community acutely through the intense competition for Arts Fund grants, she said she appreciates that groups are operating in a time of “remarkable changes” and that their levels of earned, contributed and contracted revenues will continue to shift.

The arts, like other businesses, “are in a profoundly evolving phase right now, adjusting to the new economy or whatever the economy is becoming,” she said.

Rather than fund groups exhibiting the greatest need, the 11 recipients of unrestricted grants announced Thursday are ones that exhibit the strongest strategic and programming plans, Cremin said.

“What we are buying into is their plans for the coming year,” she said. “We’re buying into what they want to do, so we are very focused on strong plans.”

The nine other recipients are: Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and Madison Morgan Cultural Center ($60,000 each); Georgia Ballet, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company and Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia ($50,000 each); Atlanta Celebrates Photography ($25,000), Atlanta Chamber Players and CORE (formerly Several Dancers Core) dance troupe ($20,000 each); and Out of Hand Theater ($15,000).

Meanwhile, despite its arts cuts, the state sounded an optimistic note Tuesday when it announced Gov. Nathan Deal’s signing of legislation that moves the Georgia Council for the Arts under the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s umbrella beginning July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

“Aligning Georgia Council for the Arts more closely with the state’s economic development efforts allows us to maximize its impact, build greater opportunities to develop cultural partnerships and increase the potential to leverage federal funding,” Economic Development commissioner Chris Cummiskey said in a statement.