Art Works Blog

State of the Arts: Georgia edition

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, First Lady Sandra Deal, and Georgia Council for the Arts Director Karen L. Paty at the Council's strategic plan kick-off event in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Georgia Council for the Arts

My wife Sandra and I were brought up influenced by music from both the church and in public schools. It is because of our parents that in our family every gathering was a musical event and home visits were a showcase of crafts. Through church and community activities, our children learned to perform in music, dance, and theater. Consequently, two of our daughters pursued an acting career: Mary Emily who has a master’s degree in performing arts from Catholic University, and Katie, who has traveled nationally performing in musical theater. We have been, and still remain, extremely supportive of their passion for the arts.

As you can see in our personal life, the arts and expressions of creativity have long been something valued and celebrated by our family; they run deep through our heritage. As governor, I know that the arts mean business for Georgia. With more than 12,000 businesses employing almost 200,000 people and generating almost $29 billion in revenue, the creative sector in Georgia is poised for significant growth in the coming years. According to a recent NEA research note, Arts and the GDP, Georgia is one of four states where additional spending on the performing arts will generate a significant number of jobs---more than 45 new jobs are created for every additional million dollars in performing arts production.

This kind of artistic and cultural enterprise facilitates Georgia’s competitiveness in a global market, attracting new commerce while retaining the type of talented individuals who contribute to building a distinctive state identity. In addition, we’ve seen time and again in both large urban centers like Atlanta and Savannah and small rural communities such as Colquitt, home to the internationally recognized folk life play Swamp Gravy, how the arts stimulate community growth and development, particularly when supporting tourism. Working together, the arts and tourism can highlight the unique character of a place and they can harness market forces to educate and entertain visitors, preserve cultural assets, and create community---providing fuel for the state’s economic engine.

Last year, House Bill 264 moved the state arts agency, Georgia Council for the Arts, under the operational umbrella of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. This move instituted a more cohesive economic development approach for supporting our arts industry, and leveraged additional state resources to support the Arts Council. The integration has been flawless as evidenced by several noteworthy collaborations between Georgia Council for the Arts and the Tourism Division. One of those projects is the Tourism Product Development grant, which was designed to financially support tourism development activities at the local level that sustain and create jobs, and support Georgia’s creative economies with an emphasis on local artists and the nonprofit arts industry. As a result of being able to better and more effectively leverage its federal funding, the Arts Council matched the Tourism Divisions’ grant budget to support tourism grants that involved the work of an artist or arts organization. When the request for proposals was announced, more than eighty applications were submitted, more than twice the amount prior to the addition of the arts component. Eleven of the 23 grants awarded support arts-related initiatives, such as festivals featuring music and storytelling and innovative productions that will introduce new art to audiences while creating more jobs for the creative sector. Such an enthusiastic response gives merit to the fact that the arts and tourism go hand in hand and, when they work together, provide benefits that support the economic vitality of the entire state.

The arts also go hand in hand with education. In this competitive global economy, arts education is necessary to ensure the development of a well-rounded, sufficiently prepared workforce that will meet employers’ demands for creative ideas, cognitive thinking, and knowledge retention. Research has concluded that when studying the arts, students hone their perceptual, analytic, and interpretive skills while developing imaginative thinking, effective communications, and unique problem-solving abilities. To meet those goals, Georgia schools are taking steps to incorporate arts into current curriculum requirements that include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics---turning STEM into STEAM. There are classroom models involving the arts being created that will determine the direction of our educational standards for the future. One such model is Drew Charter School. They are recipients of grant funding to develop one of Georgia’s first schools that will create STEAM to power Georgia’s economy for years to come.

Overall, there is no doubt that the arts are good for all segments of Georgia’s economy. Like Georgia’s traditions and history, the unifying factor these segments have in common is the arts. When individuals, communities, and businesses partner with the arts, everyone benefits. There is indeed a new vitality in the creative industries in Georgia, and we intend on sustaining that momentum by utilizing the arts to build and develop innovative models of partnership that will continue to move Georgia forward successfully into a productive future.

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