“What has been happening across the arts is not a recession. It is not even a depression. It is a catastrophe.” Bill Deresiewicz, Harper’s Magazine - Stages of Grief: What the Pandemic Has done to the Arts

Add Your Name to Support $9 Million for the Arts in Atlanta.

Our ask is only the equivalent of 5% of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated to the City of the Atlanta. Three pools of money for COVID-19 Recovery & Beyond:

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7 Million in seed money for a robust arts district.

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1.5 Million to small & mid-sized organizations for payroll. 

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Half Million for cash assistance to artists. 

9 million dollars for ATL arts

At the heart of every neighborhood and every company that makes Atlanta a place worth living, visiting, and loving, there are artists who were essential to making that happen. During a time of a national health crisis, it was the arts that continued to fuel the spirit of Americans. During times of civic discord, it is artists who amplify the need for social change through their creative expression. It was the arts and it will always be the arts that bind us together. And yet, for such a powerful and impactful sector the political will for demonstrating that Atlanta values its creative residents and workers is nothing short of anemic.

Resiliency: the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened. - Cambridge Dictionary

Resiliency is not equity. Returning to a state of inadequate funding and a scarcity mindset will not propel Atlanta forward. The arts are becoming critical for its role in economic vitality, public safety, health and wellness, small business growth, and in building community identity. We cannot return to sub par funding. The American Rescue Plan Act at its core was designed to be part of the solution to the equity gaps that exist in communities across this country.

In its mission to support equitable policies that lift up today’s creative workers, Art Works ATL and colleagues propose that the City of Atlanta set aside $9 million in American Rescue Plan dollars for our arts & cultural sector. This constitutes approximately 5% of the ARPA funds that are being allocated to the City of Atlanta. This for a workforce that represents nearly 33,000 (congressional district 5 alone) jobs (one of the top employers in Fulton County at over 45,000 creative industries jobs).

COVID-19 and arts (un)employment

From Americans for the Arts most recent data: “Artists have Higher Unemployment Rates. America’s arts and creative industries lost $150 billion in sales and 2.7 million jobs just through July 2020. The “fine and performing arts” alone (commercial & nonprofit) lost $42.5 billion and 50% of its workforce (-1.4 million jobs). The national unemployment rate in 2020 was 7.8%. Performing artists had some of the highest unemployment rates of any sector: actors (40.2%), dancers (45.6%), and musicians (27%). Source: Brookings Institution, 2020. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021.”

From a survey conducted by the former service organization, C4 Atlanta, in April 2020: “It is estimated that the average income lost locally is between $5,230 – $7,092 per artist and could be even higher since some artists reported losing $20,000+. These losses were reported after only 2-5 weeks of social distancing.” Over 1,000 workers in the arts responded. More current data can be found in this paper about the economic devastation on the arts community caused by COVID-19. It is an economic crisis that continues well into 2021.


The money will be allocated along three tracks:

  1. To build a comprehensive arts district that includes subsidized housing, studio, and office space for creatives. This area will include workforce development pipelines to careers in fashion, music, and film; as well as fine arts. This area or space will also offer subsidized creation/lab space (rehearsal space for dance, theatre, music studios, recording, etc.). It will become not only a place of creation but a destination for talent from all over the United States. It will add jobs, taxes, small businesses, and tourism dollars. A world class creation district for a world class city. 7 Million dollars in seed money.

Phase One: Creation Space - subsidized studios & office space, maker space, & rehearsal spaces for performing arts.

Phase Two: Cooperative Housing or Land Trust - Land is owned by a Trust and houses are owned by artists. The artists can remove up to $40,000 in equity upon selling the home to another artist. The sales prices are capped to curb gentrification and displacement in the surrounding market. A percent of rentals, monthly housing payments, and programming is invested to cover repairs and to build a pool of funds for health care emergency coverage for artists.

Phase Three: Community Space that includes performance and exhibition spaces for mid-sized companies.

  1. Direct support to small and mid-sized arts businesses. Support will go towards overhead, particularly payroll. Priority will be given to culturally specific entities in zip codes where COVID-19 has had the most negative economic impact. 1.5 Million dollars.

  2. Direct support to artists living at 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and below. Priority given to BIPOC artists in zip codes where COVID-19 has had the most negative economic impact. The money will support artist-led projects that promote community healing. $500,000.

Why this is an open proposal to the community:

“...the U.S. Department of Treasury’s interim final rule on the ARPA’s Fiscal Recovery Funds explicitly encourages direct public input in allocation and priority of fund use. The Treasury “urges state, territorial, tribal, and local governments to engage their constituents and communities in developing plans to use these payments, given the scale of funding and its potential to catalyze broader recovery and rebuilding.” https://wvpolicy.org/public-input-needed-to-ensure-arpa-funds-reach-struggling-communities

These funds are meant to go beyond infrastructure projects and budget relief for cities. Investing in a community arts and cultural sector is a revenue positive mechanism for generating money for all citizens to benefit from.

Before there was COVID-19: the economic power of the arts

By the numbers - The United States - from National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

  • Nationally, the arts & cultural sector is a 900 Billion dollar industry. It represents over 4% of the national gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Artists are over three and half times more likely to be self-employed, at 36%. This is compared to 9% of all other workers. Self employed workers tend to face more challenges associated such as being underinsured, or access to loans and lines of credit or other business tools that promote growth and wealth building.

By the numbers - The state of Georgia - from National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that arts and cultural production accounts for $28,672,424,000 and 4.6% of the Georgia economy, contributing 154,259 jobs.
Arts and cultural Value Added in Georgia ranked 2nd among the comparison sectors. Comparison industries are selected industry categories using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) drawn from BEA's 2019 state level data for employment (full-time and part-time workers), compensation and value added by industry.
Georgia vacillates between 48th and 50th in the U.S. for per capita arts spending. For fiscal year 2022, the allocation remains at just 14 cents per state resident. To regionally compare our 14 cents to neighboring states’ arts spending projections for FY 22:

-Alabama - $1.47 per capita
-Florida $1.41 per capita
-South Carolina - $8.77 per capita

By the numbers - Metro Atlanta - Arts & Economic Prosperity in the Metro Atlanta Area Report.

The total economic activity of arts and culture in metro Atlanta in 2015 was 719.8 million dollars.

COVID-19 IMPACT on the Arts
From Americans for the Arts - A National Look

Artists/creatives remain among the most severely affected segment of the nation’s workforce, having lost an average of $47,564 each in creativity-based income since the pandemic’s onset.
As recently as March 2021, the percentage of job losses at nonprofit arts organizations is 5 times the average of all nonprofits (-31.8% vs. -6.6%).

  • 52% have been unable to access or afford food at some point in the pandemic and 43% have not visited a medical professional due to inability to pay.
  • 78% have no post-pandemic financial recovery plan.
  • 95% have lost creative income.
  • 74% had events canceled.

Local COVID-19 IMPACT on employment (BLS.gov) - Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Roswell MSA

In 2020, the total job loss for the Leisure & Entertainment sector, which the arts falls under according to BLS, was 61,500 jobs. As of June 2021, only 17,100 jobs were gained. The net loss of jobs from 2019 until the time of this report is 44,400. These numbers do not include the self-employed.

The Right Thing to Do.

Let us not return to the same-as-before. Let’s do better. This Pandemic has exacerbated the inequity gaps across small businesses, health access, and employment. As human beings, we must challenge one another to be a part of a movement that rectifies funding disparities. We have the power to do it together. This community, our neighbors, deserve a place of vibrancy. The children of Atlanta deserve the benefits that the arts bring: safety, a whole education, empathy, and a promising future full of opportunities and hope. Study after study can be found to support this claim. By underfunding the arts, we are saying “no” to a better city, state, and country. We are saying that humanity is not important. None of us believe that, but our local budgets scream it loud and clear.

Invest in immediate relief AND the long term economic growth of Atlanta’s creative sector. We can help bolster artists and creative workers and the businesses that benefit from them, while centering equity.

Funding that only goes to large, established nonprofits is not equitable. COVID-19 relief funding criteria needs to be more flexible. Black, Indigenous, artists of color (BIPOC) had higher rates of unemployment than white artists in 2020 due to the pandemic (69% vs. 60%) and lost a larger percentage of their creative income (61% vs. 56%).

A January 2016 white paper by the National Center for Arts Research also details key findings regarding culturally specific organizations (organizations that primarily target communities of color). A response to a 2015 study by the DeVos Institute, states, “…when the key motivator of diversity is externally driven rather than intrinsic and authentic to the organization’s mission, it raises questions of whether the commitment to diversity will remain beyond the funding that inspired it.“ The paper maintains that the culturally specific organizations are more prevalent in sectors with a lower overall average budget size (i.e. arts education, community-based arts, multi-disciplinary performing arts, etc.) than those with a larger overall average budget size (i.e. art museums, performing arts centers, orchestras, etc.)

Culturally specific organizations tend to also be younger than their mainstream counterparts. Though when average sector budget size and age are accounted for, culturally specific organizations are organizationally similar to their mainstream counterparts. Of utmost importance to ARPA funding structures outlined in this position paper, the study concludes, “Culturally specific organizations’ distinguishing characteristics deserve to be recognized and understood for what they are, neither good nor bad nor a sign of ineffectiveness but simply a different starting place.”

Statement of Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity

The authors of this proposal wish to see this new funding mechanism serve the citizens of Atlanta with sensitivity to the influence of power and privilege, and to align it with anti-oppression and inclusion principles. We look to remove structural inequities, systemic injustice, exclusionary conditions and implicit bias in traditional funding models. Models that create high barriers to access disproportionately exclude arts organizations that are minority led. We must keep evaluating this fund with respect to service impact. The intermediary funder will evaluate funded organizations on merit, both artistic and stewardship. Additionally, organizations will be evaluated on the inclusion of artists, service reach, and on authentic community engagement with respect to principles of inclusion.

Thank you for taking the time to read this proposal.

ARPA & Art Advisory Team

Saskia Benjamin
Susannah Darrow
Anne Archer Dennington
Georgian for the Arts
Angela Harris
Christopher Escobar
Joy Young

Art Works ATL Team

Jessyca Holland
Waduda Muhammond
Priscilla Smith
Elizabeth Labbe-Webb
Shawn Watword
Joe Winter

Data/Research Sources

Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 - Americans for the Arts

Artist Space Development: Making the Case, Maria Rosario Jackson w/ Kabwasa-Green part of the LINC ten year study. Urban Institute.

Artist Space Development: Financing - LINC, Urban Institute, Chris Walker.

Americans for the Arts, Creative Economy - https://www.americansforthearts.org/by-topic/creative-economy

Atlanta Regional Commission & Americans for the Arts - https://cdn.atlantaregional.org/wp-content/uploads/20171113-afta-aep5-presentation.pdf

AND https://atlantaregional.org/plans-reports/arts-economic-prosperity-in-the-metro-atlanta-area-report/

Bureau of Labor Statistics - https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet

DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY 31 CFR Part 35 RIN 1505-AC77 Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds - https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/FRF-Interim-Final-Rule.pdf

National Assembly of State Arts Agencies - https://nasaa-arts.org/research/creative-economy/

White Paper by SMU on Culturally Specific Organizations: http://www.smu.edu/~/media/Site/Meadows/NCAR/NCARWhitePaper01-12.
This White Paper was written in reaction to the survey by the DeVos Institute that decided that money should be given to larger organizations to have the greatest impact:

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Net job loss since 2019 in Atlanta metro
Have lost work during the pandemic
Have not been able to afford food at some point during the pandemic
Avg Income Loss per Artist