Thursday, April 15, 2010

State arts council facing elimination

The $17.8 billion budget passed by the House on Wednesday calls for the elimination of the Georgia Council for the Arts. Georgia would become the only state in the U.S. without an arts agency if that plan holds as the budget works its way through the Senate before going to Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The GCA, which awards competitive programming grants that touch cities, towns and communities across the state, was slated for $890,735 in the governor's proposed fiscal 2011 budget, down from $2.32 million this year and $4.18 million as recently as fiscal 2008. Even before the latest cut, Georgia ranked 44th among states in per capita arts appropriations in fiscal 2009, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
The only state arts support that would remain if the GCA is eliminated is $250,000 in granting funds that would be transferred to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to administer.
Allen Bell, program director for the regional arts organization South Arts, pointed out that the loss to Georgia's nonprofit arts agencies and the state's economy would be far greater than the savings from closing the GCA. The GCA received $812,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts in fiscal 2009, but Georgia would not qualify for a similar allocation if its state arts agency is eliminated. Ditto South Arts grants to Georgia arts groups that totaled more than $100,000 over the past two years.
Atlanta arts leaders say the elimination of the GCA would be damaging, especially in terms of outreach to students in the metro area and across the state.
Susan Booth, artistic director for the Alliance Theatre, one of six arts institutions that received a top general operating support grant of $65,906 from the GCA this year, said a reduction would endanger educational services the city's biggest theater provides to metro students.
Georgia Shakespeare artistic director Richard Garner said that its Will on Wheels program, which has taken performances and workshops to 50 Georgia counties already this school year, would have to be downsized into an "Atlanta-centric" program.
Garner said Atlanta students "can come see a show at Georgia Shakes or the Alliance [Theatre] at some point, but if you’re down in St. Marys, where we’ve had a long relationship and done teacher development and set up shop for a week at a time, those folks [would lose] access to the arts."
"I'm profoundly saddened," GCA executive director Susan S. Weiner said. "I’m sad for the nonprofit arts industry in the state of Georgia, which is huge. I’m saddened for our individual artists who earn an income from these nonprofit arts organizations. ... But I’m really sad for Georgians who recognize the value of the arts and participate in them."
As a state agency chief, Weiner, a former Savannah mayor and Perdue appointee, cannot lobby, but she can provide information to legislators and the governor. "I’m assuming that someone will call me at some point and ask," she said, "but meanwhile I’m preparing."
The GCA e-mailed an alert to state arts groups asking how the loss of arts council funding would impact programming, staffing and audiences. The immediate response, Weiner said: "enormous."
"Our clients are quoting us the number of programs they’d have to eliminate, the number of staff they’d have to move from full time to part time or furlough or eliminate," she said. "The biggest shock is the revenue loss."

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