Arts leaders respond to proposed Georgia Council grant cuts

Perdue’s proposed 2011 budget recommends $890,735 for the GCA, down from $2.32 million this year and $4.18 million as recently as fiscal 2008.

That 79 percent reduction to state arts funding since the recession began has metro and state arts leaders expressing grave concerns and the head of the GCA setting a new goal for her agency: “to stay alive.”

GCA executive director Susan S. Weiner said the budget slashing since 2008 “tells me I have to completely rethink how to maintain the agency’s relevancy to the arts industry of the state.” The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies ranked Georgia 44th for legislative appropriations to arts in fiscal 2009.

Alliance Theatre artistic director Susan Booth said a grant reduction for 2011 would endanger educational services the city’s biggest theater provides to metro students.

“The notion that that resource is going to receive a 79 percent reduction is difficult to understand, when as a state we’ve made a concerted effort toward shoring up our educational potential,” Booth said. “To me, it’s tantamount to a 79 percent reduction in commitment to our youth -- a daunting prospect.”

The Alliance is one of six arts institutions that received a top general operating support grant of $65,906 from the GCA this year. With an annual budget topping $8.5 million, it could sustain if it receives a lesser state grant for 2011. But Booth said programs that are not “revenue supported” could be cut back. She cited as an example the Institute for Educators and Teaching Artists, which reached more than 4,000 students last year.

Gwinnett County’s Aurora Theatre received a GCA grant of $13,148 this year, a small amount relative to its $1 million budget. Still, producing artistic director Anthony Rodriquez said the Lawrenceville troupe would feel the pinch of any grant reduction.

“Four million dollars was barely enough to scratch the surface of what it would take to support and help arts groups continue to grow in Georgia,” Rodriquez said, referring to the GCA’s 2008 budget. “If we can’t solve basic needs like transportation and education and water and we’re also cutting quality of life issues like arts and culture, then I think we’re going to have a very difficult time attracting big companies to Georgia.”

Georgia nonprofit arts and culture organizations generated more than $722 million in revenue in 2009 and contributed more than $386 million to the state economy, according to a report released Tuesday by the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition.

“So we’re not talking about ‘Oh, the [poor] arts,’” GCA executive director Weiner said. “We’re talking about a major industry.”

Weiner has trimmed staff, from 12 to five full-timers, and eliminated programs, including Community Partners, which supported arts nonprofits teaming up with government or private businesses to launch events with a community development focus, such as the Rome Film Festival. Last week, she also pulled the plug on the GCA’s Traditional Arts program, which supported folklife events and apprenticeships aimed at keeping state craft traditions alive. Weiner said the GCA’s Grassroots Arts Program, which distributes arts funds to community groups in every county, is next for elimination.

Legislators are expected to pass a fiscal 2011 budget in late March or early April.

“I encourage anyone who attends arts productions, exhibitions or performances to contact their state legislators," said Lisa Cremin, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, "and let them know that the arts are a valuable part of their lives."

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