The Capitol steps erupted with activity Monday when musicians, actors and puppeteers gathered to protest arts funding cuts and the elimination of the Georgia Council for the Arts.
Hundreds of arts supporters chanted “art equals jobs” and carried signs that read “Look up, an artist created the gold dome,” and “How could you be so art-less?” Drummers kept the beat while a violinist played along with chants, and dancers performed in circles around a statue of politician Thomas E. Watson.
A $17.8 billion state budget passed by the Georgia House last week would wipe out the arts council, which supports the arts statewide, administers grants and maintains the State Art Collection. Before the House voted to eliminate the arts agency, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s fiscal 2011 budget cut arts funding to $890,735, down from $2.52 million this year. Georgia could be the only state without an arts council recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, unless the Senate restores funding cut by the House.
“If we do what some people want to do and cut this funding, I’m going to be ashamed to be from Georgia,” Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat, told the crowd. “This is a defining issue of who we are as Georgians.”
The biggest applause came when Fort said that arts encourage economic development.
“These are our lives, our jobs, how we support our families,” said Ismail ibn Conner, who works for 7 Stages in Atlanta. “A day off of work is essential when we’re fighting for our livelihood.”
Federal arts support of $878,300 would be “jeopardized” if the state arts council is eliminated, NEA officials have said; no other state agency meets its partnership requirements. Regional arts grants to the state also would be endangered, according to South Arts, the Atlanta-based agency that distributes them.
Staff writer Howard Pousner contributed to this story.