Atlanta Arts Are Worth More Than You Think

Jan 31, 2017

Atlanta’s creative output is impressive.

The metro region has 492 registered arts organizations from museums and galleries to movie theaters to furniture makers.

Statewide, the annual revenue of arts organizations is nearly $800 million.

To learn more about how arts influence the daily lives of Atlantans, Rickey Bevington speaks with Susannah Darrow, Executive Director of Arts ATL, a nonprofit publication providing arts criticism and coverage.

Interview Highlights

On what arts and culture is in Atlanta

Arts and culture in Atlanta can be anything from going to see a film at the Midtown Landmark Art Cinema, to taking a class at Callanwolde, to going to the High Museum, or going to see a performance at Squirrel House which is a small dance performance in a backyard.

On Atlantans’ attitudes about arts and culture

The city is absolutely swarming with arts organizations and people that are presenting and producing the arts. The number of registered metro Atlanta arts organizations is 492 - and that doesn't include working artists. They're all over the city.

On what she says to someone who says arts aren’t important

We hear that a lot. I think that the arts plays such a critical role in our lives. People forget that if you go to see a movie and then you end up talking about it with your friends afterwards -- it's part of this larger shared cultural experience we all have. Culture increases [people’s] pride in the city where they live which then makes it a more attractive place to live. For companies, and from an economic impact, there is a very clear correlation between the taxes that are generated by the arts, tourism dollars and all sorts of things that directly impact the city's economy.

On the diversity of Atlanta’s arts scene

Atlanta’s arts community is a very diverse place. [It] reflects the diversity of the city at large. That can be measured in a lot of different ways, of course. There's the the racial diversity of the city, the socioeconomic diversity, the age diversity. Geographic diversity is huge. Aurora Theater in Gwinnett County has done an incredible job [with] performances that feature Latino casts -- that's a huge subset of the population in Gwinnett County. That's something that happens all over the city and I can bring up countless examples of that.

On Atlanta’s arts brand

Atlanta has done a very good job of owning the identity around is this tradition of “Outsider Art.” [It] has really taken off on a more national and international scope. That is the class of self-taught artists who are not academically trained. [It] does not necessarily apply to a specific race of artist -- certainly there is a very large tradition of African-American artists. Howard Finster [is] one of the big names that comes up. But also locally Lonnie Holley who currently has a solo exhibition at Atlanta Contemporary. Also, Thornton Dial who's had a major retrospective at the High Museum recently. Another show that I think is a good representation of this is a [High Museum] exhibition of work by Ronald Lockett.

On social media’s impact on people's participation in arts and culture

Millennials and retirees are very close in terms of their participation in arts and culture and I think social media is a huge part of that. There is a great deal more accessibility to the arts that people haven't necessarily had before. Any time you can make something available to someone right in the palm of their hand -- they look at it a lot more regularly. Artists have been able to take advantage of that and they use it as a digital gallery. Work that might have previously been seen by a hundred people can now be seen by thousands of people. I don't think that it alleviates the need to have physical spaces to go see that work, but it certainly has opened up artists to a much wider audience than they had had available before. And it's a bit more democratic too. It's not something where there is the reliance on a gallery or a museum to showcase that work. I can just as easily look at a gallery in Kansas City as I can a gallery in Atlanta or in New York or in Dubai. That's presented a lot of new opportunities for artists and arts organizations that are working in any city and certainly I think that's happened in Atlanta.