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Georgia’s Cultural Economy Drives Strong Communities

June 13, 2017  |  By Karen L. Paty, Executive Director, Georgia Council for the Arts
This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Karen L. Paty
Six o’clock on an early summer evening in Dublin, Ga. looks like a scene that you might intimately know— people living out their routines beneath a slowly cooling early summer sky; a quick stop at the grocery store, sitting down to dinner, working, cheering at a t-ball game, crafting and creating. It feels like “community.” It feels like the places we call home.

On this particular May evening in Dublin there was a discussion happening that we wish you had been a part of. Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA), in partnership with GMA and the Dublin Downtown Development Authority, convened a regional conversation with artists, local government officials, millennials and educators about the current role of the arts in their communities and their hopes for leveraging the arts as a tool for community and economic development in the future. This was one of four regional conversations that GCA and GMA held in connection with GCA’s new strategic planning process—LaGrange, Gainesville and Atlanta hosted the others. The discussion ranged from passionate support for arts education in Georgia’s K-12 public schools to the maker movement and the growth of the creative industries.

No matter where you call home, visioning the future of a given place through the arts makes good sense. Last summer, American’s for the Arts conducted a study, which found that 87 percent of the population believes the arts are important to quality of life, and 82 percent believe that the arts are important to local businesses and the economy. The nonprofit arts industry accounts for more than 30,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion in Georgia. When data from the nonprofit creative sector and the for-profit creative sector (film, gaming, design, etc.) is combined, those numbers skyrocket to $62.5 billion in annual economic impact, $37 billion in annual revenue and nearly 200,000 jobs.

Standing at the center of these opportunities is an asset that every community in Georgia has: artists. In partnerships with industries as varied as healthcare and transportation, the work of Georgia artists empower our citizens through initiatives not often expected but consistently serving to realize the best of our state. Georgia artists are working with cancer patients, community members with memory impairment, juvenile offenders as an alternative to incarceration, citizens transitioning out of homelessness, teaching job skills and job readiness, and veterans. Artists are activating vacant spaces to revitalize downtowns, working with historic preservation to save and revive significant forgotten or abandoned structures, leading public art programs that gather and celebrate the story of “place,” bridging the gap between generations through oral history and writing programs, and the list continues. This work is, by nature, deeply rooted in collaboration and creative problem solving, and it produces real results.

Not the least of this work are the efforts put forth in arts education, a key component of workforce development for our youth. Decades of research has proven the value of the arts on a student’s academic life: increased test scores, raised graduation rates and lower rates of disciplinary action. Students involved in the arts are also more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, and to be civically engaged adults. Further, in our increasingly competitive global workforce the skills developed through arts education—social-emotional, problem solving and creativity—are all skill sets that over 70 percent of business leaders identify as incredibly important when hiring.

As GCA endeavors to create a new strategic plan we are grateful for partners such as GMA and for the voice of our state’s citizens and leaders, such as yours. The cultural economy is not a by-product of spare time and excess resources, but a force that drives an economy to grow, communities to be stronger and prepares our students for college and careers. And so in the end, the central question we are driven to answer is: “How can we best support communities through the arts, and the arts throughout Georgia’s communities?” We hope that you will join us in this work.
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