Chamber seeks new home for arts program

Since July, the Arts and Business Council — the arm of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce that provides support for arts groups — has been without an executive director. That vacuum has left some in the arts community muttering that the Chamber’s interest in Atlanta’s arts community has fizzled.

They could have a point. Now, the Chamber is looking to cut loose Business Volunteers for the Arts, a program that comprises the overwhelming bulk of the Arts and Business Council’s duties.

If the council is dissolved — and John Ahmann, the Chamber’s senior vice president of community development, would say only the Chamber is reviewing its options — then direct ties between the Chamber and the arts community will have been effectively severed at a time when arts funding is expected to drop.

City Councilwoman Julia Emmons, who recently introduced a measure to create a city-supported Atlanta Arts Council, interprets the Chamber’s plans as another move to put the city’s cultural life on the back burner. She says she hopes the volunteer program can hang on until 2003, when Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, a major arts supporter, can be installed as Chamber president.

Ahmann concedes that the Chamber, whose focus lies in developing broad strategic initiatives, and the labor-intensive service program — which matches volunteer executives with local arts groups — have not been a good fit. By shifting to the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, the program could emerge stronger, he says.

But the Chamber won’t take that step until it’s proven that Business Volunteers for the Arts can be self-sufficient, Ahmann says, something it’s never been under the Chamber.

“From day one, the Chamber has never really appreciated the Arts and Business Council and its value,” says Louise Shaw, a former council board member and the former director of Nexus Contemporary Arts Center. “I wouldn’t mind the Chamber spinning off the BVA if they addressed the big picture of creating a strong and healthy arts community.”??

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