By Rosalind Bentley
Though Georgia may be at the bottom of the list when it comes to state arts funding, hundreds of arts administrators, instructors and performers turned out Wednesday at the Fox Theatre Egyptian Ballroom to hear National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman.
Landesman, the Tony award-winning producer of “Angels in America” and “The Producers,” was concluding a two-day listening tour through Georgia to introduce him to arts communities. The visit was part of Landesman’s national “Art Works” tour, which is part of his platform to highlight the role the arts play in boosting local economies and making cities and towns more liveable. Landesman began his tour in Macon on Tuesday giving the keynote address at the annual Georgia Arts Network conference.
While he talked much about making the arts “a catalyst for positive change in a place,” during the hour-long session, Landesman spent a good deal of time talking about the role of arts in education. He cited a white paper that the NEA had commissioned through researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles, that found that poor children exposed to the arts in school often performed academically at higher levels than children of higher socio-economic means who had no exposure to arts in school.
“The education system can’t be about training teachers to teach kids to perform well on two subjects on standardized tests,” he said, to applause from the audience. “There’s a lot more to those kids’ futures than performing on those standardized tests in two subjects.”
During his tenure as NEA chief, Landesman said he intends to use his post as a “bully pulpit” to draw attention to the work arts groups small and large are doing that wind up improving the economies and the levels of civic engagement in their cities.
Atlanta’s event was sponsored by the Georgia Council for the Arts, the Fox Theatre Institute and Alternate Roots, an Atlanta-based arts advocacy group.
Among those attending the Fox event were Karen Paty, director of the Georgia Council for the Arts; Susan Booth, artistic director of the Alliance Theatre; Max Leventhal, general manager of the Alliance; Michael Simanga, executive director of the National Black Arts Festival; Flora-Maria Garcia, outgoing executive director of the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition; Lisa Cremin, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund; Camille Russell-Love, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs for the City of Atlanta; Leslie Gordon, executive director of the Rialto Theater; Anne Dennington, executive director of Flux Projects; and Anthony Rodriguez, artistic director of the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.