A First-Hand Account of the Georgia Arts March

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Daniel Summers, Jr., heads up marketing for the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA, but when we spoke on the phone yesterday, he made it clear that when he joined several hundred Georgia artists yesterday, Apr. 19, to march on the state capital, protesting plans to zero-out the Georgia Council for the Arts from the state budget, he wasn’t there on behalf of his job, but as a private citizen — a working, professional, passionate artist saying enough is enough when it comes to elected officials tampering with state arts appropriations.

Photos: La Schaffer

Summers graciously agreed to provide this first-hand account of yesterday’s march exclusively for The Clyde Fitch Report.

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Before we go any further, also, Summers wants all CFR readers to know that yesterday’s march is already having an effect. In an email this morning, he said that the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee restored “$860,000 in its version of the state budget for the Georgia Council for the Arts.” There are still hoops to get through, but the Georgia arts community is galvanized now, and ready for action.

Here are some links to local coverage of yesterday’s march, and here is the CFR post that explains how it came to be:

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And now, Summers tells us what it was like — and thank you, Daniel. We are with you in spirit and in soul:

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Today felt like a reunion occurring at a funeral; I was very happy to see so many friends come together, but was simultaneously filled with remorse for the occasion of the meeting. As I stood in the crowd outside the Rialto Center for the Arts, I looked around and saw so many of my friends within the arts community. Each of us seemed to be representing others who couldn’t be in attendance. Still, I think that we had more than 300 marching. Someone said that they thought we had almost 500.

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Before we started out on the march, some of the organizers gave impassioned speeches as to our cause and what we were asking our legislature to hear. Our message was simple, yet powerful: Save the Arts. Signs bore messages ranging from the poignant (“Arts = Jobs”) to the funny (“You can’t spell ‘SMART’ without ‘ART’!”) and were flashed at office buildings, cars, buses and onlooking pedestrians. As we marched through downtown, traffic was stopped by the police and the only sounds were those of our chanting to “Save the Arts!” Jokes were made that we should be singing out chants with diverse harmonies, but who had the time for a proper rehearsal?

As we climbed up the steps of the Capitol, we shouted at the television cameras and paused so that our signs could be clearly picked up. Some gave interviews to reporters, while others kept up the chants, clapping, drumming and dancing behind them. Notable leaders within the arts community gave speeches as to the values of the arts, the amount of money brought to the state by way of both direct and indirect revenues, the number of children educated through arts programs. Passing cars honked in support and the rallying crowd shouted back. For about two hours, under a beautiful Georgian sky with the azaleas and dogwoods blooming and a cool wind blowing, the arts community of Georgia came together and demanded that our fellow citizens understand the detrimental effects of passing a budget eliminating our arts council.

At one point, someone asked me if I thought the march was successful. “Yes,” I confidently replied, “we marched. We shouted our dissent and begged that the Georgia Council for the Arts be saved. The media came and, hopefully, others will contact their state senators and demand that they save the GCA.”

“But, do you think they will?,” I was asked in reply. “Only if we keep up the pressure,” I said. “Only if we help them understand all that is at stake.”

After the march, to help be sure that we were heard, myself and about five others went to the Coverdell Legislative building for, what we believed, would be a meeting of the Senate’s Finance Committee. After arriving for the meeting, we were told that Georgia Council for the Arts wasn’t on the agenda for that meeting; it was one based on tax codes. However, we discovered that it was more appropriate that we stop by the office of State Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the GA Senate Appropriations Committee. His committee would be discussing the GCA during their meeting tomorrow morning.

The five of us quickly crossed the street and made our way to Sen. Hill’s office. The senator was in another meeting, but his staff graciously heard our concerns. They mentioned that their phones and emails had been flooded by support for the GCA. While they didn’t want to make a statement on the senator’s behalf, they seemed to imply that our collective voice was being heard. They were not sure if tomorrow morning’s meeting would be open to the public, but would try to get word back to us once they knew. Again, we stressed the main points at hand: GCA grants give a 374% return on investment in state taxes alone, the matching federal/NEA funds that we will automatically lose if we do not have an arts council, arts funding means jobs which means more Georgians employed and contributing to the state’s economic success, the number of children served through GCA grants, etc.

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I left that impromptu meeting feeling that we had done a good job. Our audience seemed to hear our message and they responded positively. We stood up for the arts in Georgia. Now to see what tomorrow brings.

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