Fulton County ponders major arts funding cuts

County facing deficit as high as $114 million


Local arts advocates are planning to converge at the Fulton County Commission tomorrow morning to protest a proposed 32 percent reduction to the county’s arts and culture grant funding.

In addition, they’re laying the groundwork to oppose an outright elimination of the program that could be proposed in next year’s budget as part of an effort to help the county solve a deficit that’s could be as high as $114 million.

At tomorrow’s commission meeting, advocates will urge commissioners not to reduce the amount of arts grants, or “contracts for services,” by $480,000 compared to last year. The fund, an easy target for budget-cutting officials, has faced numerous whacks over the years.

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If approved, the move could deal a blow to local arts organizations, some of which might have already received notices that they were recommended to receive funding awards. Those recommendations could potentially then be rescinded.

“For us, and for possibly other organizations, it could affect our ability to hire in the community,” said Jessyca Holland, executive director of C4 Atlanta, an arts entrepreneurship nonprofit located in Downtown. “For smaller organizations that have applied for specific project grants, that could greatly affect those projects. That could be a make-or-break proposition.”

Even if the move is blocked, there’s the prospect that even bigger cuts could follow. Later this year, county commissioners might consider cutting the entire arts and culture budget, which we’ve seen listed as $5.1 million. It’s part of a comprehensive look at discretionary programs during the county’s annual budgeting process.

The draconian idea is being considered thanks to a dwindling reserve fund, lackluster growth in revenues, and various measures by the state Legislature over the years that have hamstrung the county’s budget. GOP lawmakers from the northern ‘burbs have made an almost sport of finding ways to sap the county’s revenues and force commissioners to cut the budget.

Fulton County’s arts and culture budget is considered the largest source of government funding for cultural programs in the state. It dwarfs the Georgia Council for the Arts, which gave just under $1 million last year. If commissioners move forward with the plan, Holland says, “it essentially means that we’ve lost our largest government funder in the metro area. That’s a huge hole.” Smaller arts organizations could have an even harder time getting off the ground or getting that first seal of approval that could open the doors to private funding.

Which then raises the question: Who picks up the slack?

If you want to speak out, head to Pryor Street at 10 p.m. C4, which is helping to rally the arts community via Facebook, recommends supporters wear green. If you can’t attend, you can watch on Comcast Channel 21 or via livestream.