Leverage arts to benefit all Georgians

Georgia is garnering national attention in the arts. Now is the time to leverage these efforts to build a more prosperous future for all its citizens.

While attending the Americans for the Arts conference this year, I was struck by the number of Georgia-based projects recognized. The Atlanta Beltline was held up as a national model for arts-powered urban revitalization. Chris Appleton, executive director of WonderRoot, an Atlanta-based nonprofit uniting artists and the community for social change, was named an “emerging leader.” Living Walls was credited with turning Atlanta’s urban landscape into a vibrant, if sometimes provocative, visual wonderland.

Colquitt, a city of fewer than 2,000 residents in rural South Georgia, has made a name for itself with 13 murals based on stories from the town production of “Swamp Gravy,” Georgia’s official folk-life play. One of those murals, “The Peanut Farmer,” has been nominated for a 2014 CODA award alongside 99 projects from around the world.

In Macon, the College Hill Corridor, historic neighborhoods connecting Mercer University and the downtown business district, has been revitalized with murals, video art installations, little libraries and a “Macon Makers” movement that is taking hold. By building creativity into the fabric of daily life, Macon is attracting and retaining talented and engaged citizens.

At Macon Arts Alliance, we’re building on an existing infrastructure of arts and cultural nonprofits representing more than 906 jobs and $34 million in annual economic impact. In partnership with the Georgia Center for Non-Profits, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and others, 11 regional organizations are participating in “Momentum for the Arts,” a two-year, intensive strategic development and leadership training process. Through this work, our region gains an arts sector primed to lead economic and community development.

Accomplishments are being made locally in cities large and small. Now is the time for Georgia to leverage its creativity statewide. Just as filmmaking quickly became the state’s second-largest industry, Georgia must embrace a wider view of the arts as a tool for economic prosperity, community revitalization and sustainable social change for all its citizens.

Jonathan Dye is the director of communications at Macon Arts Alliance.

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