In a city teeming with untapped creative potential, the 2017 mayoral race has drawn a bumper crop of candidates who realize this election represents an unofficial referendum on Atlanta’s future as a capital of arts and culture.
A recently released study by Americans for the Arts found that Atlanta’s nonprofit arts and cultural “industry” accounted for about $604 million in spending, supported more than 19,000 jobs and poured roughly $27.3 million into the local economy. While impressive, strong leadership and effective policies in City Hall over the next four years will be critical.
With so much at stake, ArtsATL posed five questions to the candidates running for mayor in order to gauge their respective commitment to ensuring the city’s cultural vitality, if elected. Only one candidate, Rohit Ammanamanchi, failed to respond.
The candidates who shared their answers with us include Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Vincent Fort, Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood, Cathy Woolard and Glenn S. Wrightson.
To help arts-focused voters make an informed choice for the mayor’s election on November 7, we’ve curated the most salient and specific candidate responses and organized them by subject.
ARTS FUNDING AND LEGISLATION
A dedicated, local source of funding — such as a proposed 1/10 sales tax — is a hedge against short-sighted budget cuts for the arts at the state and federal level. Explain specific steps you would take to promote and fund public art in Atlanta or legislation you would support to achieve that goal?
Keisha Lance Bottoms – “I would consider an additional funding mechanism for the arts in the form of new revenue. A one-tenth of a cent sales tax for the arts would result in ten to fifteen million dollars annually in dedicated funding. I think Atlanta voters should have the opportunity to decide on such a plan.”
Peter Aman – “As a general rule, I am reluctant to dedicate portions of sales tax revenue to single budget line items, with two exceptions. The arts, as well as parks and greenspace, merit a formal budget set-aside. They are both quality-of-life investments that stand as a necessity regardless of economic cycles or budgetary downturns. I am committed to at least one-tenth of a penny (roughly $10–12 million) being dedicated for the arts and will work with the community to lobby for the legislation at the Gold Dome.”
Mary Norwood – “As mayor, I will establish a Mayor’s Arts Taskforce to develop a new vision for the creative arts. Membership will come from across our community. No ideas will be off the table for discussion. We will create a new and vibrant integration of the arts into our city’s everyday life. So I will not state what I would do as mayor; I will listen to what my fellow Atlantans have to say about the arts as a critical component of our city’s future.”
Kwanza Hall – “In my first budget as mayor, I will double the current level of funding for our Contracts for Arts Services program from $1 million to $2 million. Within that, we will create a funding category specifically for public art projects, including temporary projects. Also during my first year as mayor, we will initiate a public process to create a new Public Art Master Plan for the City. The existing plan is more than 15 years old. Finally, I’d like to see us be more proactive in going after private and philanthropic dollars for signature works of art and events worthy of national attention.”
Ceasar Mitchell – “If we are serious about art, we must adequately support programming and initiatives with dollars! My plan is to meet this fundamental need by passing the tenth of a penny sales tax. I would also work with other public officials on the state and regional level to find new funding sources and explore public-private partnerships.”
Vincent Fort – “I would fund the arts at a higher level than the city does now. I will use the .1 cent referendum as a way to increase funding. I also believe the city needs to commit more from the general fund.”
John Eaves – “If the voters want to fund the arts, we should provide them the opportunity to say so. A Special Local Option Sales Tax for the Arts might be one way to achieve the kind of funding we need to further support the arts above what we have done at Fulton County.”
Cathy Woolard – “I support expanding funding for the arts. Step one is to create an arts and culture plan for Atlanta. It’s been years since we had one, and we can’t move forward in good faith without a viable roadmap. As mayor, I’ll start with that. I’ve long been a proponent of a fractional sales tax to help fund public art. But we still don’t have this legislation in place. As mayor, I’ll be in the state capital in January with a proposal in hand that includes a 1/10 of a penny sales tax with dedicated cash to go toward arts funding.”
Wrightson — “[If elected I would] work to add 50 cents to each ticket for the Mercedes-Benz and Philips Arena to go to Arts and Culture Enhancement Funding.”
TRACK RECORD OF ARTS SUPPORT
In literature and politics, what’s past is often prologue. A candidate’s track record on arts and culture signals how they might lead on these issues as mayor. In what ways have you directly supported arts and/or cultural activities through your work as a public official or as private citizen?
Mitchell – “Each year, my Council office hosts several free community arts events such as Jazz in the Park, Movies on the Green and other family friendly outings. In partnership with the Atlanta Beltline and a global music streaming company, I will be launching an audio tour to complement the Art on the Beltline project.”
Hall – “I provided funding, in-kind services and staff time to support Flux Night and Elevate ATL and I was the founding council sponsor of Atlanta Streets Alive. I assisted Living Walls in identifying local property owners willing to offer space for muralists. Over the years, I have supported legislation for 30 murals in council District 2. I was also a founding council sponsor of the work of The Creatives Project (TCP), which creates opportunities for artists to live and work in the community, including identifying housing for them.”
Woolard – “When I was on the City Council, I worked with Atlanta’s arts community many times to advocate for an increased budget for the Bureau of Cultural Affairs. Early in my consulting career, I worked together with the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition to strengthen advocacy efforts in, and with, the Fulton County Arts Commission to help create community arts and culture plans in some jurisdictions in Fulton.”
Norwood – “Examples of my support for arts and cultural events include chairing major fundraising events for the Atlanta Opera Ball, chairing Southeast Horticultural Society major fundraisers, participating in Atlanta Botanical Garden capital campaigns and supporting the [Forward] Arts Foundation with a major fundraising event.”
Wrightson – “I have donated over $1,000 to the renovation of the Erskine Fountain in Grant Park [and I] attend Atlanta Preservation Center functions.”
ARTS FOR THE UNDERSERVED
Instead of a barrier, arts and culture can help bridge Atlanta’s racial and class divide if voters elect a mayor with an inclusive vision. How would you ensure the benefits of and access to the arts and cultural activities for underserved communities?
Aman – “As mayor, I will move the Office of Cultural Affairs out of the mayor’s office so that the executive director will become a commissioner. I will then work with the department to put a series of guidelines in place that put greater emphasis around two priorities. First, we must invest in greater geographic dissemination of arts and culture around the city. If you look at a heat map of Atlanta and where our public and other forms of art are, there is a clear correlation away from low- and middle-income communities. We need rules in place that deconcentrate our investments.”
Norwood – “Trade out artist studio and performance space for artists in exchange for participation in Centers of Hope for Atlanta’s children. [I] will use the mayor’s office to provide Atlanta children with exposure to the arts as a part of the work of the Arts Taskforce [I] will create.”
Mitchell – “Throughout my campaign, I often discuss my plans to create my “Seventh Period Program,” which is geared toward mentorship and enrichment in underserved communities. The program will offer Atlanta Public School students an opportunity to take classes at recreation centers, community centers or the Savannah School of Art and Design. Together, we can create an arts movement that builds upon the interest in S-T-E-A-M and promotes Atlanta as a city where artistic talent is nurtured at an early age.”
Fort – “The executive director of the [Bureau of Cultural Affairs] would have the specific charge to produce a plan which would show how all parts of the city would be served.”
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR ARTISTS
Major U.S. cities are adopting policies to address gentrification’s impacts on their creative community and raising the prospect of Atlanta doing likewise to stay competitive. Do you support artist-specific affordable housing or other incentives to help attract cultural creatives to Atlanta? If so, explain those incentives. If not, explain why you don’t.
Aman – “. . . Community-based apartment complexes designed specifically for seniors are very popular. Likewise, in parts of the city where artists have housing solutions that allow them to work and thrive as part of local collaborative communities, I am fully behind that. To that end, I am a supporter of the movement to re-envision warehouses on the Westside to support artists. Through philanthropic partnerships, we can fund mixed-use, free display space with free or subsidized housing, up above.”
Mitchell – “As part of my plan, I have an initiative called “Blight to Light,” which has the goal of creating 10,000 new affordable housing units. The program would transform the existing vacant and abandoned properties into homes that working families (read: artists) can afford. Blight to Light also includes a component to get the development community on board with growing and building our city by offering incentives for developers taking on new construction. To ensure that the development community is on board with this plan, developers will be asked to commit their support before and during the permitting process – not after.”
Hall – “I support artist-specific affordable housing initiatives and incentives. Part of my support for the tiny house movement, including my recently passed ordinance allowing accessory dwelling units in neighborhoods that are already zoned for duplexes, comes from my deep belief that we need a greater variety of housing options, and more affordable options, for members of the creative class.”
Eaves – “Yes, I support this idea a great deal. Just as I agree we need affordable (workforce) housing for teachers, police and fire employees, we should not leave out the arts practitioners. Incentives could include tax credits for artists who volunteer to teach their craft to young people in underserved communities (like Teach for America, as an example). We could also explore other homestead-type property tax exemptions to attract more artists to Atlanta.”
Woolard – “I’ll offer a 100 percent tax credit per-unit to any commercial apartment owner that pledges to run an artist-in-residence program on their property. This would unleash untapped potential for artists to create in our neighborhoods without them having to worry about how they’re going to make rent. On top of creating solutions for affordable housing for artists, I want to make sure they can afford to display their work. Investing in ways to keep gallery and performance space affordable and accessible is also a priority of mine.”
Wrightson – “I support artistic-specific affordable housing – I am a big fan of [20th-century architect/inventor Buckminster] Fuller and geodesic domes – would be interesting and fun to designate an area for building/occupying a geodesic dome art community – complete with garden space and common shared studio/work area.”
ARTS IMPACT ON QUALITY OF LIFE
Ranked 39th of 100 major American cities for the arts and culture industry, leadership at City Hall will help determine if we move closer to the top of the list in the next four years. Describe the specific impact artists and/or arts and cultural organizations have on Atlanta’s economy and quality of life. Provide an example(s) of how the arts have impacted you or the Atlanta community.
Woolard – “When Atlantans are empowered to create, people all over the world not only pay attention, they invest in this region. The benefits are more than just financial. When Atlanta artists are successful, it inspires our young people to follow their own creative paths. Art is such a positive influence in children’s lives, and it’d be a disservice to the future of this city to not capitalize on the creative heritage that runs in our blood.”
Hall – “Theater, music, painting, sculpture, dance, photography, films and all related arts add soul-lifting intangibles to the quality of life in our city. But they also attract businesses and create jobs and help renovate buildings and neighborhoods. Certainly, music is today our central cultural export. Understanding that, as Mayor I will work closely with our arts community to enhance and further elevate Atlanta’s music and arts profile across our country and internationally.”
Fort – “The arts humanize a city. In addition, they bring economic development. The ratio of economic benefit to arts investment may be as great as 13 to 1. The arts also attract businesses and families to move to Atlanta.”
Eaves – “The arts community and industry provide considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities across greater Atlanta. I believe it is important that we continue to support the arts and arts culture both on the national and local levels. The arts community plays a major role in Atlanta and the region — employing people locally, purchasing goods and services from local merchants, and driving tourism and economic development.”