Major gift for the arts

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta’s cultural capital, was recently gifted $38 million by the Woodruff Foundation (no relation). Today, the center’s leader writes about what that bestowal will do for the city and its cultural climate. In our second column, two writers teams up to explain the economic power of the arts and why they are so important to the business well-being of Atlanta.

A great city needs great art

By Virginia Hepner

Earlier this month, the Woodruff Foundation thrilled all of us at the Woodruff Arts Center with a $38 million gift. The largest donation in our 46-year history will benefit all of our existing arts and education programming as well as the first-ever major renovation of the Alliance Theatre.

The gift throws open the door to a world of new possibilities for the arts center. It’s a real game-changer. It will serve as a launching pad for a campaign to bring about both needed physical updates and long-term financial sustainability.

But I would argue what’s most important about the gift is the message it sends. With this unprecedented gift, the Woodruff Foundation has said, “The arts are important. The arts deserve the public’s support.“

That message is so welcome. Perhaps the greatest challenge all arts organizations face today is the sense that the arts are discretionary, a ‘nice to have.’ But that’s not right. Great cities become great when they have research-driven universities, beautiful parks and green space, major corporate headquarters, professional sports teams and world-class art institutions. Great communities need great art.

The Woodruff Foundation understands that. So do others in this community. For example, the Alliance Theatre’s oard of directors has already pledged more than $4 million to a capital campaign to assist with the renovation of the theater. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s board raised more than $1 million in a very short period of time when it became clear that would help resolve the recent negotiations with our musicians. And the board of the High Museum of Art led one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in Atlanta history when it raised more than $110 million to support the High’s expansion a decade ago. We are extraordinarily grateful for this support.

We know we can’t take any of this for granted. The arts world is changing, impacted by everything from an uncertain economy to new technologies, and Atlanta arts organizations have suffered casualties in recent years. Collectively, we must address important issues that will impact art’s role in the community in the future. Some examples:

Public Funding: The unfortunate reality is that Georgia ranks 50th – dead last – among the states in its support for the arts. Most of the institutions or attributes that define a great community get significant public support. The arts do not. While we appreciate any support we receive, the arts center pays far more in sales tax to the state than we receive in financial support from all government sources.

There are real world economic reasons for public funding for the arts. In 2007, the city of Atlanta arts and culture task force focused on the importance of attracting the ‘creative class’ to the state’s workforce. It concluded that “Arts and culture offerings are central to attracting these highly mobile knowledge-workers.”

Any region is defined by its arts and cultural vibrancy. It deserves investment from our local governments. And surely Georgia can do better than dead last in its support for the arts.

Arts Education: The arts make a difference in how our children learn.

The last couple of decades have seen a significant decline in the time and resources dedicated to the arts in our schools. But that trend runs counter to reams of research that shows how important the arts are in improving learning. A 2011 report of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities said “America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful and imaginative in the future. The best way to foster that creativity is through arts education.” Plus, there are clear connections between success in math and science and the arts. It helps to explain why so many Georgia Tech engineers also play musical instruments.

The arts can be central to helping our students build 21st century skills like critical thinking, communicating and working in teams. We and other arts organizations have great arts education programming. We need to work with educators and donors to find new, more impactful ways to use them.

Broadening our case: We have benefited from the community’s unfailing support over the last 50 years. And we hope we can count on it continuing for the next 50. But to assure that, we must broaden our base of supporters and patrons. We must expand our creative footprint to reach further into the community. We must provide greater access to and activation of our campus. We must connect with a whole new generation of patrons and donors who will vote with their feet and their pocketbooks to support the arts.

We believe they will … because everyone will want to play a part in helping a great community stay that way.

Virginia Hepner, a former banking executive, is president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center.

Culture’s economic clout

By Robert L. Lynch and Camille Russell Love

Standing up for arts funding often attracts debate from critics who see the arts as a luxury to be indulged in only when the economy is booming.

But do these critics realize who truly benefits from the arts? Certainly, the artists and audiences benefit. But so do businesses, residents, students and local governments, even those that aren’t directly involved in artistic or cultural activities.

The economic power of the arts in Atlanta isn’t a matter of hoping or speculating. The real figures prove the arts are an essential—not optional—part of Atlanta’s economy:

• More than 5 million: The number of people—about half from outside Fulton Country—who come to Atlanta for arts and cultural events and attractions.

• $131 million: The amount those 5 million people spend every year on arts attractions.

• $168 million: The amount nonprofit arts and culture organizations contribute in direct spending to the local economy.

• $300 million: The amount generated for Atlanta by the nonprofit arts and cultural industry.

That’s $300 million more per year for local businesses like restaurants, hotels, retailers and transportation providers. But the impact stretches even further. Atlanta’s arts and cultural organizations also generate more than $14 million in local government revenue and more than $13 million in state government revenue per year. Those funds translate into improved schools, infrastructure and other programs that benefit the city and its residents.

In addition, the arts are a driver of opportunity that help keep Atlanta working. Arts and cultural organizations and audiences create more than 9,400 full-time equivalent jobs and produce more than $232 million in resident household income. Across Georgia, arts-related businesses employ more than 89,000 people.

With those numbers, it’s hard to argue against a strong arts economy. And we don’t have to look very far within Atlanta to see evidence of this. Atlanta’s arts treasures, from the Woodruff Arts Center to innovative programs in every neighborhood, attract visitors and spending from around the world.

One example is Elevate, Atlanta’s program to enhance the cultural offerings downtown. Widespread exposure to their work benefits artists such as the Goat Farm — about 20 artists transforming dumpsters, alleys and parks into art galleries — or visual artist Joanie Lemercier, who installs light-based optical illusions of Atlanta’s urban landscape or any of the more than 100 artists who performed in October. The flood of new customers that visited the various neighborhoods to experience Elevate’s music, street art and performances benefits all local businesses, not just the arts.

We see it year after year in the Atlanta Jazz Festival, the largest free jazz festival in the country. Every May, visitors from the U.S. and around the world come to Atlanta to hear jazz legends and up-and-coming jazz greats. The festival generates millions of dollars in local economic activity each year, benefiting residents and businesses across the city, regardless of their tastes in music.

Atlanta also is attracting new visitors from around the world with the recently opened Center for Civil and Human Rights, located adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola. These and other attractions will be easier to access thanks to the upcoming Atlanta Streetcar, which will open up downtown to even more visitors without the strain of more traffic.

Although these new centers and attractions show that the city is committed to moving forward, the arts aren’t immune to market forces. Like any industry, arts and cultural organizations must be nimble and ready to adapt to a changing market.

In early November, the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, alongside Americans for the Arts, co-hosted the annual National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference. This national gathering of more than 600 arts marketing professionals was formed to explore the future of arts marketing and audience engagement. Attendees discussed how arts and cultural organizations can remain relevant in a world where tastes and trends seem to change by the minute. They tackled tough industry challenges as they examined ways to increase audience engagement, utilize new technology, adapt to new engagement models and increase the appeal of the arts across generations.

They did not find simple answers to these issues, but they generated ideas that will be enacted through the coming weeks, months and years. These conversations show that the arts and culture industry is commitment to ensuring that the arts remain an immeasurable cultural force and indisputable economic driver in Atlanta and other cities across the country.

Robert L. Lynch is president and CEO of Americans for Arts. Camille Russell Love is executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs in Atlanta.


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