by Boyd Baker, Founder of Community Arts Live and Good Gracious Show
When you think of an “arts leader,” what comes to mind? Do you see a museum director, a city council member, or a movie star?
Well, I am definitely none of those, but I am a long-time Atlantan who does his level best to promote and support the arts of the South personally and professionally. But an arts leader? I’m not that bold.
I was bold enough, however, to apply for the Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta Program (ALMA) hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) in hopes that I would learn more about who is doing what in our local arts ecosystem. I thought to myself, “the worst they could say was, ‘No, thank you. You’re not really an arts leader.’” But they didn’t. Before long, my journey to learning more about my city had begun.
ALMA, an effort to address the challenges and opportunities facing the Atlanta arts and culture community, was one of my first steps on that journey. By gathering a cohort of 50 arts advocates each year, the ARC aspires to give resources and support to those involved, while learning about the distinct challenges they face daily.
Once a month for five months, my cohort and I convened at various locations around the city for a full day of presentations and networking. Each session had multiple presenters. During that time, we heard from the Woodruff Arts Center President & CEO Doug Shipman, City Council Representative Amir Farokhi, founders of Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre, directors of arts programs from the Beltline and MARTA, the Georgia Department of Education, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and working artists. In addition to the phenomenal speakers, the ARC’s recent research on the region and its transportation and arts was shared.
Whether we were at the local theatre in Hapeville talking about their city’s massive arts efforts or at the Fox Theatre learning about equity and attention, each session was mentally stimulating. The sheer volume of ideas expressed during each session was inspiring. Everyone in the room had their reasons for being there.
For me, the most impactful point of the program was getting to meet people from all over the 10-county region. Where else could you share lunch with someone from the City of Canton talking about their refurbished silent movie theater, a Sumerhill sculptor working on a large commission piece for someone in North Carolina, a nature museum director from Dunwoody, and a funder of arts organizations all at the same table?
Being able to take a tour of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, while talking about the challenges of building a strong and sustaining Board of Directors, is not something most arts advocates would be able to schedule on their own. It was like an adult arts day camp. We had so much in common, yet we were so different. Because we weren’t all from the performing arts community or large multimillion-dollar budget organizations, we all had interesting perspectives to add to the conversation when a solution was offered.
When everything began, I figured five months was plenty of time to cover the arts. I was wrong. The time flew by, and we had barely scratched the surface of all the challenges we face as an arts community. We had just started to understand each other’s goals and dreams.
Those five sessions with ALMA are just the beginning of my integrated arts advocacy work in Atlanta. My fellow alumni represent some of the most passionate and creative Atlantans I’ve ever met, and for the rest of 2019, I plan on visiting as many of them as I can. In our internet-connected world, we don’t always take the time to visit people, talk through challenges in person, and create deeper bonds. When we do make the effort, the bonds we create are richer and the relationships we build can be transformative.
Here’s a challenge: research a festival, emerging city, local theater, or arts organization you’ve been curious about. Go visit, patronize their brand, join their board, or volunteer. You’ll be better for the small effort made. Arts only grow when people connect. Go connect!
Learn more about Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta Program (ALMA) here: https://atlantaregional.org/leadership-and-engagement/leadership-programs/arts-leaders-of-metro-atlanta-alma/