By Doug Hooker, Executive Director of the Atlanta Regional Commission
Arts and culture are both an important asset and a critical sector for metro Atlanta. For one, as a region we certainly benefit from the economic impact of both commercial and nonprofit arts. The nonprofit arts sector alone has a $719 million annual financial impact and employs more than 23,000 people in the region. The for-profit film, television, music and other creative industries represent a $62 billion economic impact for the state of Georgia, much of that in the Atlanta region. Corporations seeking to relocate look for vibrant cultural scenes to attract and retain workers. For example, in its search for a city for its second headquarters, Amazon specified their desire for “a community where our employees will enjoy living, recreational opportunities, educational opportunities, and an overall high quality of life.” Our arts and culture bring demonstrable benefits to our region both today and in the future.
Yet even above the measurable economic benefits, arts and culture gives metro residents much more: a space to experience lives other than their own, to facilitate dialogue on issues, and to learn. According to the CultureTrack 2017 study, Americans are motivated to attend cultural events by their desire to feel inspired and less stressed, to interact with others, to have new experiences, and, yes, to have fun. As a region, why shouldn’t we strive to provide these intangible benefits for ourselves? Arts and culture achieves the goal of creating a more connected, better functioning community. Not to mention, people simply enjoy arts and culture.
To reap these benefits, however, we must invest in the people who create and produce the artistic and cultural experiences we enjoy. Atlanta’s arts leaders work to shepherd both the economic and the social benefits to the community. Who are the region’s arts leaders? They are individual artists, managers of nonprofit and commercial arts organizations, and board members of these organizations. They champion our arts community for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. Yet the success and impact of the sector is dependent on them. They are the reason we have strong institutions and so many chances to enjoy arts and culture. They help us create and export great art, and they help us to attract people to our region to enjoy cultural experiences. Our metro arts leaders are the linchpins to the success of arts and culture.
Bolstering the field, then, means investing in our leaders. It means training and connecting current leaders while simultaneously growing the next generation. There is not one approach to encouraging leadership development. It will take financial investments by funders in leadership development and internal support for leadership development at all levels within organizations – not just executives. It will also require arts leaders individually to seek out and engage in leadership opportunities outside of their organization — and beyond arts and culture.
One such opportunity is the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta program. More than 600 leaders have graduated from our program since 2004. We are proud of these leaders, but that is one program in the life of an arts leader. It is a jumping off point – and hopefully an entry into a career of learning and making connections across the community.
It’s time to recognize that investing in leadership is not just about providing opportunities to arts leaders. There is a benefit external to the arts: artists and arts leaders are active problem solvers whose trade is creativity and communication. By having cultural leaders at the table, working with the rest of our region’s leaders, we’re setting up metro Atlanta for success. We’re creating pathways that allow all of our region’s leadership to be more flexible and innovative. Investing in arts and culture is investing in the region as a whole.
Photo above: Members of the 2017 Art Leaders of Metro Atlanta class