After nine years of continuous budget cuts, the Georgia Council for the Arts’ staff and its advisory board decided it had to plan its future by writing a new strategic plan.
To gather information about the arts organizations and artists its serves, the GCA planned seven public forums throughout the state.
The first forum was in Atlanta in October. The second was in the Springer Opera House on Dec. 7. The remaining five forums will be in Tifton, Macon, Savannah, Gainesville and Augusta, with the final one in February.
GCA’s budget of a little more than $1 million comes equally from the Georgia Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. About $3 million of its budget was slashed in the past nine years, and executive director Karen Paty said the GCA was almost eliminated.
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Because of that, Paty said it is critical to stress the relevance of GCA, which provides financial, as well as technical support for Georgia’s nonprofit arts organizations.
When Paul Pierce first took the job as artistic director of the Springer Opera House 24 years ago, he said he received invaluable help from GCA on how to run the theater.
One good thing that happened earlier this year, Paty said, is the department, which stood on its own, has now been moved to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Paty said the move was great for the GCA, allowing it to use the DoED’s marketing and the IT departments. Jhai James, the public information office, who is originally from Columbus, says a new website is being designed. There will be tools on the site that will make writing grants easier.
“We, the staff and board, believe that for GCA to be successful, we must be a reflection of the needs and aspirations of our state’s arts community and an incubator for innovation,” Paty said. “This plan will lay our foundation for growth and that growth must be charted by the collective voice of the arts industry. It is imperative that we move forward together, and that GCA not only be receptive to feedback, but that we act on it.”
Donna Atkins, the Columbus Museum’s development director, said the GCA has “from a historic perspective, provided critical operating support for our programs, educational events and certain operational costs outside of salaries, entertaining and capital costs.”
Pierce said the GCA grants have been critical to the Springer as well.
The largest grant amount for the Springer has been $88,000, Pierce said. “The median over the years is about $38,000,” he said. “This year, it’s $19,500.”
Atkins said the GCA has publicized its exhibit information statewide.
“In addition, the GCA has provided a forum for arts organizations to gain some insights into various topics such as private giving or general inquiries and has always been helpful,” Atkins said. “The GCA is going through what so many arts programs face, the reality of shrinking funding.”
Atkins was grateful for the forum, saying it gave an opportunity for “area arts organizations to voice their opinions on ways that the GCA can continue to make a difference and serve our community in light of the changing economic landscape.”
One suggestion that resonated among the group was that grants should award excellence but that all communities needed to be considered regardless of size or location.
While the GCA does not know what its budget will be in 2013, Paty reminds the arts community that the grants “are based on competitive criteria such as organizational capacity, artistic excellence and community impact, not need. Peer review panels score applicants on standards relative to their budget size and their available resources to ensure equitability in the grant process.”
Because of the GCA’s shrinking budget, Pierce thinks citizens should urge their legislators not to cut funding, but add to it.
“You should tell them that when they vote to defund the GCA, they are not preventing controversial art,” Pierce said. “They are preventing their own symphonies, museums, theaters and dance companies from getting funding. And sometimes they have to close their doors. Once you convince them of that, they may sit up and pay attention.”
One important agenda item was arts education in public schools, an area that has seen repeated budget cuts, Paty said.
An arts education survey will be sent to public schools and results should be available early next year, Paty said.
“In March, the staff and the board will meet to review all of the feedbacks, comments and suggestions and craft the first draft of our strategic goals, which will be available online though the spring for additional public comment,” Paty said. “The plan will be written and uploaded via the GCA website by July.”
Click here to read more about the Georgia Council for the Arts and its strategic planning forums.