Restoring funding remains a priority

Every other Wednesday, as a member of the Fulton County Commission, I listen to requests for funding for county agencies, projects and institutions. During our most recent budget process, some of the most ardent and most vocal advocates for their cause were supporters of arts organizations in Fulton County. All of the commissioners heard the requests of organizations supporting maintaining funding for both visual and performing arts.

A common theme was displayed on signs prominent in that crowd: “ARTS = JOBS.”

Consider that message delivered, and understand this: I couldn’t agree more.

Beyond the enjoyment and enhancement they provide to our lives, the artistic community represents a significant sector of our community and the region’s economy. According to the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, the Atlanta area has the fourth-largest number of arts-related businesses, lagging behind only New York, San Francisco and Nashville.

According to the Georgia Arts Council, the arts employ 100,000 people statewide. Fulton is home to an estimated 24,000 of those positions, the third most arts-related jobs of any city in the nation. Employers run the gamut from small visual and performing arts enclaves to regional theater companies to international movie studios creating films and television shows showcasing our area internationally.

There is no doubt the arts are important to Fulton and to Georgia overall.

This year, as we created a budget to fund programs and services in our county, county commissioners were faced with a daunting task: maintaining those services at a level of quality our citizens demand. We tried to do this in a year that saw the county respond to financial obligations to our seniors, county courts, public safety, our employees, public health facilities including Grady Memorial Hospital, local arts organizations and many other community programs.

The initial proposed budget called for significant cuts to Fulton’s arts and culture department. We could not let that stand. By a 5-2 vote approving the county’s amended 2014 budget, commissioners agreed to add $750,000 to bring that department close to its funding levels from 2013. This decision reiterated the county’s investment and continued interest in arts education, programs and facilities.

Even in tough financial times, the arts remain a priority for Fulton County. The county’s arts centers provide a vital outlet for people of all ages — to not only see photography and painting and to hear live music and experience theater, but to teach and participate in those endeavors as well. We are proud as a county to fund facilities such as Wolf Creek Amphitheatre and hope they continue to add to the lives of our residents for generations to come.

Beyond all this, I go back to those signs I saw at so many budget discussions before the Board of Commissioners: ARTS = JOBS. Message delivered, loud and clear.

John Eaves is chairman of the Fulton County Commission.