The announcement of Susan Weiner's resignation as executive director for the ever shrinking Georgia Council for the Arts hit email boxes via a press release yesterday afternoon and local papers, like the AJC, by evening.
As another chapter in a story that's had more downs than ups the last three or four years, this bit of news wasn't really all that shocking. At one point, with elimination over the horizon, Georgia almost became the only state in the nation without an arts council.
As Weiner fought to keep GCA going, her frustration was evident in more than a few of the pieces of correspondence she had sent out. With Nathan Deal's recent election, and the Republican fervor to cut taxes and programs they don't see as being in the public interest--of which the arts has increasingly fallen under since at least the early 1970s--a further reduction in GCA's budget and functions was more than likely, it was certain.
As the AJC article points out, the funding for GCA has dropped from $4.5 million* in 2002 to, as proposed for the current 2012 fiscal budget, $566,730 this year. At that level, the impact GCA once could have on any arts organization's fiscal year and mission is effectively nullified, which as been very much the case for the last few years.
What should draw people's attention the most, is that the agency is moving from being under the governor's office to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. As one of the folks who is ardently on the side of advocating for the arts as an industry and a major economic force, this should be an announcement that presages great things. However, this feels more like a smaller government via smaller powers move, and not a philosophical shift.
Which is a damn shame, because treating the arts no differently than any other industry could do wonders for a state in which the link between the arts and business communities is considered one of the weakest in the nation. In today's climate in which creativity, technology and innovation move at breakneck speed, with a lot of that pace being dictated from the bottom up, the arts have proven to be even more integral to the overall equation. It's in the arts that many of the new ideas on social innovation, interaction and information sharing spring forth, long before they have any monetizing value. And it's the arts that help create viable living spaces that make cities attractive to both businesses and employees as they search for places to live. In our ever more mobile society, being a livable community is a vital component to stopping and reversing a community's brain drain**.
With Weiner resigning after making "an assessment of the goals and objectives of the agency," it's a sign that the move to GDoED, at least initially, is going to be even more painful than many of us would like. However, maybe, just maybe, over time, the GCA can find new life.
The GCA had already amended it's mission from:
"The mission of Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) is access to the arts for all Georgians."
"The mission of Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) is access to the arts for all Georgians with the primary responsibility to the state's nonprofit arts industry."
While this announcement has an undertone of gloom and doom, let's hope that being a GDoED department will help GCA meet that amended mission. Beyond that, let's hope that more people will truly start to think of the arts as an industry and treat it as such.
* Admittedly, I work for the Atlanta Film Festival, an organization that benefited from GCA grants.
** In a recent piece in Forbes, Atlanta didn't even rank in the top 10 of most brainiest cities, even though it boasts one of the highest concentrations of institutions of higher learning in the nation.