The Art of Protest

Actor/musician/artist Vincenzo Tortorici and pal Trickster support the arts in Georgia by joining fellow protestors on the Capitol steps.
 Posted by Therra Gwyn-Jaramillo

This week I did something I almost never do:  joined a protest line and marched to city hall (well, in this case, the Georgia Capitol) and demanded  lawmakers make a change. Or rather, change back a change they made. 

Let me explain.

Late last week the hateful  news spread like wildfire through the arts community of the decision by Georgia lawmakers to dismantle the Georgia Council for the Arts, leaving us alone on the range, the only state without a statewide arts council. Embarrassingly, even with the substantial dollars that the arts and her artists bring to Georgia by way of what I call “commerce culture” and funds from the National Endowment For the Arts through the GCA, the House Appropriations Committee voted late last week to eliminate the Georgia Council for the Arts budget for fiscal year 2011.  This move would directly affect artists, schools, businesses and organizations from the coast to the mountains and everywhere in between.

I can go into a lot of reasons why that was a bad idea, even in these unsure economic times, but let me skip to the action part of the equation. Georgia’s artists, arts educators, writers, musicians, playwrights, actors, dancers, technicians, designers – you name the discipline – weren’t standing for it. My friend Keif, who was helping Malina  Rodriguez’s Dance Truck support the artists in the fray, called me early on Friday and with some amount of urgency in her voice asked me to get involved.  I immediately sent out a somewhat rushed press release to as many media outlets as I could reach before they left for the day on Friday. My hurried release pointed to a Facebook event page, started by artist  Ismail Ibn Connor, who invited – nay, demanded – that artists march through downtown Atlanta to the Capitol the following Monday to express their full displeasure about the decision. By early evening of the day he put the page up, some 600 artists and supporters had RSVP’d in the affirmative with hundreds more sending “maybe” as their answer, waiting to see if they could get out of work or other commitments. Sign-making parties were organized. For artists who some people  thought might not be good at math, they sure seemed to know the power of numbers.

I hurriedly contacted several artists I  knew and asked for comments on the situation and happily tossed the following in the press release for good measure:

For current working artists in Georgia and for future artists in this state, this is a situation that cannot stand,” said John Jaramillo, an international dancer/performing artist and Arts in Education instructor who is part of the prestigious  Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts through Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre at Woodruff Arts Center. John is a full-blooded Native American from New Mexico who makes his home and much of his living working in the arts in Georgia and the SE. “I have traveled and performed all over the world. I could easily choose to live and work somewhere else. I chose Georgia for the opportunities the arts presented, the wonderful cultural artists I have met here, the arts in education in the schools and the superb teachers that support the arts. Atlanta is supposed to be the pride of the South. What sort of ‘jewel of the New South’ is without a state arts council?” He went on to say, “I come from a culture (the ancient Pueblo Indians of the Southwest) where our songs and stories and dances and art have never been allowed to die out no matter how dire the outside circumstances. I have seen for over a decade now how artists support and enrich their communities in Georgia. I hope Georgia will support her artists, too.”

John Stephens ( Theatre Gael founder and Artistic Director of  Worldsong  and the Academy Theatre for Youth) had this to say:
After these many years, I am convinced that every child is an artist. It then becomes the responsibility of the citizen artist to do everything within their power to nurture that creative spirit for this coming generation. It is in the moment of creation that human beings are most alive, most sane, most connected, and most fulfilled. When we share our own unique artistic vision with others and encourage the emerging artistry of our children, we are, I believe, creating a future where the value of the arts and the inherent worth of the individual will no longer be an issue.”

I agree with both of them.  Artists are citizens too. We pay taxes, buy a house in your neighbourhood, teach your children, bring visitors in from other parts of the country, create new work, bring fresh voices to old favourites, and yes, we also entertain, enrich and preserve culture. And on Monday, we marched. Georgia’s artists, per usual, did their job well and with usual aplomb. I was proud to be in their numbers. See below how the march shaped up that sunny afternoon:

Artists in Georgia take to the streets.
March organizer Ismail Ibn Connor urges arts supporters to speak out to their elected officials.
Georgians for the arts and against dismantling the GCA gather on the Capitol steps.
Young Maggie Housworth makes her case for arts in Georgia.
A message for the governor of Georgia.
Facts on arts in Georgia.
Glass harpist Brien Engel beams his support for the GCA.
Nobody kicked her, but lawmakers should have been kicked for such a jello-headed decision to begin with.
Artists speak out, loud and proud.

And who doesn’t love a happy ending? See below.

April 21, 2010
Contact: Jhai James
Public Information Officer
 ATLANTA – The entire Senate has voted to approve the Appropriation Committee’s recommendation, which includes the $890,735 restored to Georgia Council for the Arts. This enables the agency to match its federal grant and retain regional funding that, combined, equals more than one-million dollars.
     Georgia Council for the Arts Executive Director Susan Weiner communicated the agency’s gratitude : “The entire arts industry of Georgia – from for-profit filmmakers and galleries, to nonprofit museums and performance groups, to arts education providers, and to our entrepreneurial artists – is deeply grateful.”
     One more hurdle remains before a final budget reaches the Governor: the Conference Committee, which is made up of an equal number of Representatives and Senators.  This Committee’s purpose is to reconcile the differences between their different budgets.
      Georgia Council for the Arts is the state agency that provides support for nonprofit arts organizations in Georgia. Established in 1965 as the Georgia Commission on the Arts, its mission is to encourage excellence in the arts, support the arts’ many forms of expression and create access to the arts for all Georgians by providing funding, leadership, programming and other services. Funding for Georgia Council for the Arts is provided by appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly, the National Endowment for the Arts and other public and private sources.
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Georgia Council for the Arts   260 14th Street, NW   Atlanta, Georgia 30318    404.685.2787