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News: Fulton County commissioners maintain $1.5 million funding level for arts in 2015

Fulton County Board of Commissioners in session.
Fulton County Board of Commissioners in session.
Fulton County Board of Commissioners in session.

Local arts organizations applying for funds from Fulton County can breathe a bit easier.

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners kept arts funding at the same level as last year at the annual budget meeting Wednesday. The county’s $611 million budget for 2015, still being finalized, includes $1.5 million earmarked for contracts for services via the Fulton County Arts Council.

In contrast to past years, all of the board members seemed to have gotten behind arts funding. Commissioner Emma Darnell even lamented the financial security of arts organizations. “[Several organizations] even have beat-up furniture,” she said.

Although there was some back and forth about line items, the commissioners approved an alternative version of the original budget unanimously. The 7-0 vote was the first unanimous vote since 1991. (Last year’s was 5-2.)

The budget left millage as is, increased the library budget by more than $7 million and restored hours at libraries (cut last year) and gave county employees a 2 percent cost-of-living increase.

John Eaves, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners
John Eaves, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

“The reduction of library hours was the most unpopular cut in the 2014 budget,” said Fulton County commissioners chair John Eaves in a statement.

In contrast to past budget hearings, where arts advocates held signs and made multiple public comments, few arts advocates attended yesterday’s meeting. Most of the public comments were from Fulton County employees encouraging cost-of-living raises.

Among arts advocates who attended, Collins Goss, development manager at Horizon Theatre, spoke about the revenue arts brought to the city. “In 2013 Fulton County gave the arts community $1.5 million for contracts for services and in return the arts community invested $365 million back into the county,” she said. “That is money at our theaters but also at our local restaurants, shops next door, gas stations, everything. To me that is a really incredible return on an investment. We encourage you to maintain those levels.”

Tess Malis Kincaid, an actress, director, teacher and arts administrator who has worked at Georgia Ensemble Theatre for 22 years, spoke about how the arts have made a difference.

“Through my years I have seen the community grow to a great place for arts,” she said. “In Roswell, I have seen the area grow from a quiet suburban city to a best-selling, very artsy one.

“As a teacher I have seen the impact on young people. I have seen families and young professionals who choose to move to the area because of the arts. The arts are the heartbeat of the community.”

After the meeting, Chris Escobar, artistic director of Atlanta Film Festival, expressed relief, commenting that Fulton County has benefited organizations not just from delivering funds but also “in the stability of those dollars: being able to count on those dollars not changing drastically year to year helps a lot in terms of being able to plan and think strategically.

“What was encouraging was they kept it level, despite budgetary hardships we all understand. It’s not easy.”

He was also heartened by the increased recognition and awareness and consideration for the arts and for contracts for services.

Eaves’ website stated that county funding exceeds the state’s contribution. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reported that Georgia was dead last in the country for funding for fiscal year 2014 and is projected to remain at the bottom for fiscal year 2015. The agency’s Per Capita State Arts Agency Appropriations chart shows neighboring states faring much better — Florida ranks number 4 for funding, with Tennessee 16, Alabama 23 and South Carolina 32.

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